Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ayman Hammed on branding, Arab values and passion

Ayman Hammed, General Manager of CB’a Memac Design Solutions, is soft-spoken but so determinate and passionate that, despite the quiet tone of voice the willingness to achieve for both CB’a Memac and the client automatically shines through. “Branding, an often too generic word he says. “There are so many aspects, at CB’a, we construct a personalized brand platform, understand and develop brand, retail, institutional or product territory solutions There are CB’a agencies in 25 countries and the beauty of it is that we all benefit from the Ogilvy and WPP market research tools and in our case, also are part of the Memac 360 approach.” “In the end, what we are looking for is activation. All the expertise of the agency creates a synergetic activation of the brands. Each tool contributes to make the brand alive: Be it in packaging, corporate Identity, operational Marketing, retail Architecture, digital, publications and even promotional goods.” When it comes to the mission of CB’a Memac, Hammed says that “A brand is complex, with its own personality & culture. These are the intangible elements that make the brand both unique on its market and difficult to figure out. We design… conceive and formalise the intangible elements defining the brand strengths and specificity, in a pragmatic, desirable and lasting way. We also function on the strategic… to rethink each contact point with the consumer in order to valorise, enrich and position the brand. A mission that accompanies the brand on its daily life: Repositioning and positioning, new concepts, portfolio management, activation, distribution & retail.” “We can andvise the client on his positioning v/s the competition and we try to combine the target audience the client has in mind with that we are suggesting.” Actually, Hammed hit a nerve when speaking about talking to the client and trying to juggle his needs, so further probing of the angle was required. “The client sometimes wants to say he is “the best” but let us face it” Hammed pauses for a while and then continues with the evident that seems to elude most clients, “there is nothing called “the best” there is simply the best in a certain segment. In the end the best you can hope for with certain products is not to be “the absolute best” which is unattainable but rather “the relative best.” People confuse low quality with low price, actually, what is being looked for is the highest quality in the low price segment. For example, Toyota Corolla has a premium price of 20% higher than the other Naturaly, you also need to differentiate from others through the use of a Unique Selling Proposition that would set you apart from the competition.” When asked about techniques such as Brand Wheel or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Hammed argues that “the techniques in themselves are value neutral. They merely tell you where you stand and how you can change people’s perception by knowing your current position and positioning in the consumers’ mind.” Considering how difficult sometimes clients can be with their self-centered image in the Arab world, Hammed is decisive in his answer – although without using the composed tone of voice – “There is no real answer about perception v/s reality, especially in the client’s mind, he has to come to the conclusion of who he is now and where he stands on his own. No point trying to tell him. We might sometimes offer techniques that would help him point out, but unless he discovers on his own, we can’t do anything. And of course, the client in the end will judge works, and so for us to be able to deliver, we need to be aligned on assumptions, otherwise we would never go into the creative phase. What is the point if we still cannot see eye to eye with the client about fundamentals. In the end in this case, better resign the business.” When trying to ask him about how he integrates Arabic heritage and identity in Arab companies, and how certain companies coming from the region such as Zain have nothing Arab about their image, Hammed seems a little in despair when he answers “well, Arabic values cannot be put everywhere. In the end good connectivity, good customer service and capacity of reach have nothing to do with Arabs. They are global telecommunication values for Zain and all other companies. In this case, I’d like to ask what’s so British about Vodafone? Nothing! No pipers, no nothing. But, naturally, if you speak of a hotel, then Arab generosity is a value one would display. It all depends on the product and product category in question.” Hammed even pushes the argument further and asks “In the end, what is being an Arab today? What does it mean? What is our identity? Why do we have to insert our values defensively everywhere?” Considering that positioning and repositioning are some of the major aspects of the work of CB’a Memac, Hammed notes that “if there is still positive residual brand value, good will for equity, if there are no permanent negative memories associated with a brand and if the brand is not “dead” in that perspective, then a certain salvaging and repositioning can be done. Gucci made its products scarce to drive the sales and the prices up, Starbucks is now going back to its old logo, some other brands pulled back of the market and repositioned, but just like under-exposure of a brand is a major defect so can be the case of over-exposure as in the case of French Conneciton UK which overplayed its FCUK gimmick so much that they produced two full collections without the use of the acronym to downplay it after so much exposure.” Hammed pursues “just like plants, overwatering is just like underwatering. Same for brands” “One has to have clarity of business purpose when dealing with brands be it extending, positioning or repositioning. Let’s take the example of Mercedes which was confronted with the choice of either to revive Maybach, or to buy Rolls Royce or Bentley. They found that Maybach still had good residual brand value so they revived it, whereas BMW looked at its legacy and found that there was nothing it could salvage there so it went to Rolls Royce and Volkswagen went on and bought Bentely.” Hammed finishes off saying “why are you here today?” addressing himself to me “isn’t it because you have passion for what you do?” Before I even reply he goes on and says “one needs passion to do work, and so do we, and without passion there is not excellent work.” No wonder CB’a Memac are going stratospheric then!
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