Archive for April 7th, 2010



By Ibrahim Lahoud

As anywhere else, it all started with family; fathers proudly featuring their full name on the sign of the shop, a heritage they left to their children and later, their grand children.

And then suddenly…

Names faded and brands appeared. This is the story of Brand Lebanon.

It is an undeniable fact that every Lebanese is a walking brand. The individuality manifested finds itself reflected in businesses, pubs and restaurants, beauty parlors, banks and insurance companies, supermarkets and cellphones shops.

But the most powerful branding exercise of all happened in the past 10 years. The right factors came together and created the branding boom:
A- Economically, the country was slowly emerging from years of stagnation
B- Then came the Cedar Revolution and all other political events. An amazing branding feat
C- Later came the entertainment / hospitality industry boom. Although there for a while, it matured recently

We’ve noticed how most of the financial institutions went on a branding rampage changing their names to trendier abbreviations, revamping their visual identities and redesigning their branches.

What happened?

This is the most compelling proof that branding works. Lebanon has managed to brush off the remnants of the dark times via the creation of appealing brands that placed us at par with the rest of the world.

What really happened is a manifestation of two of the most powerful drivers behind Lebanon’s image: Businesses on one side and branders and communicators on the other. They came together and decided to redefine the way the world looked at Lebanon. They all agreed that you don’t have to drown in dubious ideologies to retain your identity, and decided to free their minds and start from scratch, and so they did.

Today, Lebanon is an amazing jigsaw of brands that make it hard to guess whether they are international franchises or locally bred. The quality of brand development and strategies have led to the creation of some of the most famous brands on this side of the continent. Some have even crossed the boundaries to other continents. We have to admit, very few regional brands outside Lebanon have managed to do so.

Who’s the hero?

Look around. In every single communication-related industry, all over the Middle East and Gulf, there’s one or more Lebanese dressed to kill, eloquent to an annoying point and ready to convince you that branding is everything. What’s more, they always manage to prove it!

Lebanon has learned the golden lesson over its roller coaster history: Economic downturns are the ultimate times to brand and communicate. While the rest of the world was bragging about knowing so, Lebanon was simply doing so! And today, the Lebanese are masters in this discipline and are already offering it abroad.

Lebanon has realized that clearly, it’s the way you look that make people want to know who you really are and what you do.

And Lebanon can prove it!



Armies understand the importance of branding?

Only in Sweden:



Apple logo evolution on

A wonderful piece on <> about how big brands evolved their identities to match contemporary market trends. You could see how even some brands (like Nokia) were in a totally different business. Amazing. Check it out:



By: Ibrahim Lahoud

Does this ring a bell: You walk in your bank to perform some transaction. It all starts with the security guy stripping you naked with his looks – the purpose of which varies depending on your gender… – making you feel quite uncomfortable. You get to the counter and the person behind the desk doesn’t even look at you. Finally he or she gives you a simple stare which experts like you can translate into the “What can I do for you?” question. If it is a withdrawal, you might get lucky and get away with it in a couple of minutes. On the other hand, if it is a lengthier transaction which requires more effort…

And there and then, you start wondering: who’s the client? You or them?

This scenario repeats itself in hospitals, travel agencies, airports and any other “supplier” where, strangely enough, a smile and some courtesy could always be welcome. It’s like all businesses that entail higher stress levels insist on having at their counters masochists that thrive on the pains of stressed customers. Why do we have to enter those places with a cramp in the stomach just like our first job interview? I mean come on, who’s after who’s business here?

Forget the “customer service” cliché. It’s about “customer understanding” and that is a science, one that is very closely linked to how we perceive a brand. As a matter of fact, it is an intrinsic part of the brand, a facet that happens to be always facing us, the customers.

I was visiting a client lately who happened to be one of the higher officers. So after the macho security guy, the “I ain’t got no clue” receptionist, climbing stairs and taking elevators, I finally landed on what seemed to be another floor receptionist. She was chewing a gum – you could even tell without looking, just from the sounds she was making – and smoking a cigarette with passion.

What do you think was my first impression? No really!

Amazingly, and we tend to forget, the lowest people in on an organization’s chart can – and do – make the highest impact. Counter clerks, receptionists, drivers, delivery personnel, etc. are often our first contact with a brand; most of the time the only contact.

We all know what a first impression does… And why?

Because first impressions always see us watching our counterparts in their “natural habitat”, simply being who they really are. In our case, they are the true reflection of the organization they work for, and the brand they represent. If brands have their own philosophy, I wonder how a gum-chewing chain-smoking receptionist could project it…

When we see every kind of science being created, we are still waiting for Clientology.

Here’s an anecdote I was told a while ago: A guy calls up his bank to inquire about a transaction. First he’s prompted by the interactive voice system. The transaction he was looking for happened to be number 9 on the IVS. After punching all the right numbers to get to the right executive, he’s put on hold with an annoying elevator music. Finally he manages to get to the right person, gets asked a couple of questions before getting his answer. Total time spent, 5 minutes. The experience made him hungry, so he calls the nearby pizza delivery. The phone rings, a lady answers, he orders his usual pizza and gives his name, which on the pizza place computer, indicates the exact location. He hangs up. Total time, 2 and a half minutes.

And then our guy realizes: A round-the-corner pizza place is more efficient than his bank!

Clientology, like any science relies on understanding the issue, outlining the symptoms, asking the right questions and finding the right answers. I mean come on, we’ve put a man on the moon 40 years ago and we still can’t get it right with our client! All we hear are buzz words and sound bites being thrown here and there by consultants (ironically enough like me) trying to tell organizations how to satisfy their customers. And then… Nothing.

What do customers want? The problem is not in the question alone, but rather in the answers that we race to provide before the customers themselves. But if we really speak to those clients, we will often find out that brands, yada yada…products, quality yada yada… are all a matter of perception.

So the real question would be: What and how do customers “feel”?

Customers feel good about a pretty face or a smile at the reception, a human, not humanoid, voice on the phone, a quick action on a request… Customers feel happy in a nice environment. Before buying a product, clients live an experience. That’s why fast food outlets look casual and fashion shops look classy. That’s why doctors clinics look clean and communication agencies look crazy!

We thrive to “manipulate” the psyche of our clients in an attempt to gain their favor and sell our merchandise. That’s good… Well, except for one detail: We suck at psychology. We have to realize that if we know our brand and product well does not mean that we know who will buy them. In other words, calling those “target audience” does not bring us any closer to the inner working of their brains.

Market research and client understanding are two totally separate disciplines. We need to turn into a Mel Gibson in “What Woman wants”. We need to listen to the inner most intimate thoughts of customers vis-a-vis our brand, services and products, behavior, and messages.

We all know that we seldom say or show what we really think or feel.

There is no morale to this story, but rather a message: We need to start shifting a chunk of our  priorities from the brand and the product to those who actually buy into them. Somewhere, just a little bit of small-company-thinking does help. If we inherit from the latter the understanding of the client and the personalization of the experience, we might earn a PhD in Clientology.


April 2010
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Reason To Believe by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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