Posts Tagged ‘brand


People have relationships with people, not with ideas, not with programs.

Few are the opportunities one gets to meet the future head on, face to face. And fewer are the opportunities to be part of shaping that future. Last Sunday, I was blessed with both.

I was invited by “Women in Front” (look them up on Facebook) to deliver a Personal Branding presentation to women planning on offering their candidature to the upcoming legislative elections. What I discovered is simply amazing.


I have never witnessed such an ardent resolve, most certainly not with men. I came to realize that taking things for granted, arrogance and prejudice provide a fake sense of security. That sense is enjoyed by some men in Lebanon; they even take it one notch higher by solemnly claiming that women are not fit for politics. I believe that the sheer fact of making such a comment voids the fitness (and right) of that man to be in politics, and on planet Earth for that matter!


Aside from the fact that I was surrounded by over 20 amazing women (eat your hearts out!), I was surrounded by 20 beautiful intellects. That Sunday I was with human beings determined to induce a positive change in a society that claims openness on the outside, but resents change on the inside.

That Sunday I was with Women (yes with a capital “W”) who, aware of the risks, are heading straight into the maelstrom. Each has a clear Program and associated agenda. Each has the education few men in politics have today. Each has a beautiful smile that inspires trust. But most importantly, all of them are transparent, honest, real.


These women do not deserve a chance. They deserve to be there, period.

You give a chance to doubt, to failure, to liars, to the unproven. And we have been giving that chance to “men” since 1943…

In a previous post (, I wrote:
“We forgot to look at India, Great Britain, Iceland, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Argentina, Bolivia, Switzerland, Philippines, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Finland, Lithuania… where women were not only elected to parliament, they were presidents, heads of state.”

I never voted, never will eventually; but I would not hesitate one second to head to the polling station this time, if one of the amazing ladies I trained that Sunday run for elections.

I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to meet the future face to face, and honoured to be given the humble opportunity to be part of shaping it.

One hurdle is left. How open-minded will men be towards a brilliant future shaped by gender partnership, instead of a grim future shaped by men only?

Only time will tell.



A Macaron is about vision believe it or not. It is about strategy. It is about branding. And victory tastes so sweet.


I met Khaled and Nour a couple of times and tasted their masterpieces. Le Gustav is not a pastry shop, it is not a cake factory, and it surely is not your average pâtisserie.

Le Gustav is about perfectly mixing the two most essential ingredients of a heavenly pastry, passion and art.

It is not a coincidence that I keep mentioning passion in all my writings. I will never stop.

My momentum is driven by folks like Khaled and Nour. They do to pastry what I do in branding, top everything with passion… The cherry on the cake.

A brand is not about big and flashy. It is mostly about passion and passion. Yes, twice the passion.

There’s the passion you inject in your brand, a breath of your soul. Then there’s the passion your market acquires for your brand. When the two passions collide, the explosion of emotions and feelings triggers the Big Bang of the brand’s universe.

Khaled and Nour did just that.

A brand is undeniably about innovation. The most sophisticated type of innovation is the variation on a theme. Take an existing industry or concept, add a dash of creativity, explore the possibilities, inject courage and vision. What do you get? A discovery with every bite.

A brand is also about sustainability and best practice, the power to replicate success over time. This is the key to magnify the brand’s power. If you start right, look at it as a Damocles dagger over your head. The challenge is to keep doing it right, and then, do it better.

Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak did just that with Apple. And even in its darkest moments, Apple earned more support from its loyal adept users than from its board members. Apple is not a computer. Apple is an innovation factory.

Le Gustav is not pastry either…

When you look at the right idea as the springboard to innovation, and when you grasp how the power of innovation can become the podium of your brand, you never fail.


Le Gustav is not a name or logo or location or sales… It’s not about a dozen pastries in a box. Le Gustav is the smile of Nour, the eloquence of Khaled, the passion they display when describing what they do. That, is what you taste with every Le Gustav Macaron.

That’s what you feel when you use a Mac.

Apple says “Think Different”… Khaled and Nour heard well, and did it right

Rarely a local brand tasted so good.

©Ibrahim Lahoud – 2011


From Advertising to Branding, the Few Feet Journey

My good friend Danielle Baiz (@meinlebanon) commented on my last post about the advertising industry in Lebanon (Read On Sale, An Advertising Industry) and asked me to tell the tale of my “shift” from advertising to branding. With a smile like hers, I had to indulge!

The story of my life.

I graduated (if I may say so) in 1978 with a Baccalaureate in Commercial Sciences, after being fired from one school and joining a smaller one. I never had the right stuff for numbers. I never will. The few times I wrote numbers were to “draw” them. I always had a sweet inclination for design and art. I later found out about the canyon that separates both, but that’s another story.

How I managed to graduate is still considered a miracle. It was that close of being accepted as a genuine miracle by the Vatican! I remember the principal of the Commercial Sciences department, right before being fired from that school, congratulating me. It seems he had been teaching that department for forty years and it was the first time he lands on a student (yours truly) who manages to score zero over eighty in Accounting, zero over eighty in Financial Mathematics and 2 over eighty in Maths (I guess that was for writing my name right 🙂 )! So I guess, we all agree that my graduation was indeed a miracle… with a little help of tiny sheets of paper with microscopic hand writing…

Right after graduating (if I may say so 😉 ) I got hired as a paste-up artist in a small obscure advertising agency right next to home. How this happened is now vague, but I guess someone nice enough introduced me to someone even nicer who agreed to hire an accountant as a paste-up artist!

There were no Macs, no scanners, no digital stuff. It was me, tracing paper, Letraset and rubber cement.

My career in advertising had just started. Long story short, I left advertising in 1987. I was a creative director. Amazingly, most of the marks I left behind were logos… What can I say about those 11 years? Ummmmmm… Nothing!

Did I learn? Yes. Did anyone teach me? No. Did I carry baggage with me? Yes. Do I still have it? No.

That year, 1987, Apple Computer, who was our client with offices on the ground floor of the same building in Dubai, made me an offer… as a Marketing Executive. Uhuuh, Marketing Executive. Cut. During my last year of advertising in Dubai, I used to stay in the office during lunch breaks which stretched between 13:00 and 16:00… Yeah, seems they inherited this from the Mexican siesta concept, backed by a Japanese study that confirms the benefits of a power-nap… So, instead of going home, I use to sit in the office and fiddle with the only Apple Macintosh Plus offered to us by Apple. In one year, I got so into Apple and the Mac that advertising that brand became a passion rather than a job. They noticed that.

Talking about 180 degrees shifts?! Boy! I accepted.

Apple was my first serious encounter with branding. Not that I practiced it at first. Apple was to me what every brand should be, “loved”. My passion was so intense, that a year later, I became the Regional Marketing Manager, and everyone used to call me Mr. “R”. I was so keen on never featuring the Apple logo without the ® next to it. Someone actually made especially for me a T-shirt with a huge black ® on the front. There, I learned what brands are, how they behave, how they strive to sustain visibility, memorability and recognizability. There, I learned that a brand earns both love and respect, just like human beings. I learned that, just like people, a brand should not brag, should not lie, should always keep its promises, and most importantly, just like people, a brand should be exactly what it looks to be, what it says it is.

Seven years at Apple. That’s how long I stayed. Seven amazing years where I saw the prototypes of Macs you’re using today, where I witnessed the launch of future strategies. I saw Steve Jobs deliver a keynote, and I understood  how a man can shape a company and how a company can shape people. The synergy between Steve and Apple was simply amazing.

During my last couple of years at Apple, I attained a level where ideas were boiling in my head. I had to do something that crowns my years of experience between advertising and Apple. My best friend was also in advertising. Just like me, he loved creating logos, but far better than me. He still is today my best friend and, in my opinion, the most talented corporate identity designer there is in the region.

One day, we sat at my place and started reflecting on the next move in our careers. And after a couple of hours, it struck both of us. The region was undergoing a major transformation. It was being invaded by foreign brands, by far more powerful and visible than local ones. This spelled danger for local brands… and heavens for us. Corporate Identity, that was the answer.

In September 1994, we started the first corporate identity and Strategic Design firm in the Middle East. We called it “IDentity”, yes, with a Capital “I” and “D”. This was the twist in the brand; “ID” was your physique, “entity” was your character, and the whole “IDentity” was your behavior.

I was so into branding now.

This time, passion was flowing, and the results were clear… Still are. We created some of the most recognized brands today.

There, I discovered that even accountants can be branders…

All it took was to be a “child of the street”. You look at people around you, and you see what no one ever teaches you, what they refuse to teach you. You see that brands make us who we are, but mostly that it’s actually good.

Once you understand the symbiosis between people and brands, and you grasp the breadth of how they feed each other, you develop this kind of passion that brings you closer to people.

So for the “No logo” gents and dames, there’s a continuation to the statement, “No logo, no people”. What makes our individualism is the way we deal with everyday brands. What we wear, eat, drive, carry… all tell everyone else who we are. When we speak, we top it all with our own brand. We are not the brands we carry; we are “which” ones we carry and how we display our choice of brand styles and mix. That, coupled with our own behavior, is what makes us easier to figure out.

Branding is by excellence about people, and hey! I’m a people person.

So, here’s your answer Danielle, I went into advertising looking for a job. But I moved to branding looking for a passion.

© 2010 Ibrahim Lahoud



Brand Promise my a**!

When was the las time a “Fast pain relief” medicine relieved your pain fast?

When was the last time a “30% whiter” detergent actually made your laundry 30% whiter?

When was the last time a “we care for you” outlet made you feel it cared for you?

When was the last time a “we try harder” car rental made you feel they even tried a bit?

When was the last time an “I’m loving it” made you really love it?

Oh wait, wait, here’s the best: When was the last time a “growing your potential” bank actually made your potential grow?! When they can’t even protect the heritage they “use and abuse” to sell new products and services?!

You work hard on designing a wonderful logo, a great-looking stationery, pay a copywriter to crack this amazing tagline, a top-notch architect to design your office and outlets, and…?

And what?

If this is how these people treat their husbands and wives, no wonder divorce rates are sky-rocketing!!

Which part of “Brand Promise” don’t these guys get?

Just to refresh their memory:

A brand does all it does for one sole aim, keep its promise. That’s how brands make money. A brand’s equity lies within its promise. A brand’s life is defined by how it keeps its promise… Just like a marriage!

So, to those luminaries who think that a nice looking logo with a cute catch line makes a brand, I say: No wonder you still think a bimbo (excuse my French) on a street corner is a bachelor bank manager looking for a date!

I got news for you: your clients and prospects are no as lame as you think. You can’t take them for a ride anymore. No sir! They know what a false promise is. Ask their respective spouses! 😉

Let’s not hide behind our fingers. Here it is straight in your face: When you break a promise, you are a liar! When your brand breaks its promise, it is as much a liar!

The thing is when you break your promise, you could, I repeat “could” try to patch things up, apologize, reverse the damage, and all it would cost you is a something like a lunch. When a brand breaks its promise and needs or tries to patch things up… Think, just think of the damages, and the costs involved in trying, I repeat “trying” and fix it!

Loosing credibility means losing the trust of followers. And when credibility and trust are wasted, what would a brand rely on to make others believe it is really sorry for not keeping its promise? This is the vicious loop a brand is stuck in when it does not keep its promise. That’s one vicious loop which, like a maelstrom, will keep dragging the brand down into the abyss of oblivion.

Some might argue, how could big famous brands break their promise? They’re doing great. Well… They are… sort of! But big brands are not always about the U.S. or Europe… Are they?

Look at big brands in Lebanon. “I’m not loving it” at all. No one really “tries harder”, and for heaven’s sake, don’t convince me that anyone really “cares for me”.

Big brands should start looking at small territories. Our notion of customer service over here is from another planet. Big brands with branches or franchises in Lebanon should keep a close eye on their outposts. When I am not satisfied, I will hate THE brand, not the branch! So finally, big brands are more at risk in smaller territories.

Now look at local brands, their promises, and how they keep them! I’ll tell you how: Like politicians! That’s how!

The equation is simple: Brand -> Promise -> Customer -> Friendship -> Loyalty.

And as the saying goes, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link!”

So, don’t say it, Just Do It, Try Harder to Care for Me. It will be the Fastest Pain Relief, allowing me to Grow My Potential. And that’s how I’m Loving It, Having It My Way!!!

©2010 Ibrahim Lahoud


I learned… Fine, now what?

The difference between information and knowledge is so huge; so much that actually few people standing on one end manage to see the other. Let me tell you, information is nothing. Information is what you do with it, and what you do with it is called knowledge.

So, in my last entry of 2010, I wrote about what I learned, basic information, utterly useless unless I make something out of it. I have been gazing at that entry for a while, pondering upon what knowledge I could juice out of it. Being a branding professional, I reached the following conclusion:

Based on a recent poll I published on my blog, 67.5 of the respondents believe that People are the most crucial asset of a Nation Brand. This is information. Then I asked “people” to tell me what, according to them, people could do to enhance a nation brand. That’s knowledge.

I’m still an ignorant… No one answered.

Here’s the insight. As much as we think that people make nation brands, nations also stamp people’s brands. Tell me where you live, I’ll tell you who you are. Personal branding finally, is a reflection of a bigger collective microcosm, one that encapsulates the characteristics of the bigger picture, be it a family, organization or country.

Every time you get a job in a new company, the first thing you are taught is the culture of that company as well as its values and code of conduct. You are clearly asked to subscribe to these beliefs, adopt them and strictly abide by them. If you have your “own” personal branding, does this make you schizophrenic?

Undeniably, being part of a family, we get imprinted by its core values and culture when developing our own personal brand. Same applies to the country we live in. So finally, personal branding is not “that” personal after all.

In a country like Lebanon, our personal brand is constantly pulled and pushed between family, work, politics, religion, our own vision of our brand, and… fear. Now brand this!

We’re constantly asked why don’t we do something about it! They simply don’t realize that we did. We did the unimaginable!

Lebanese are personal branding gurus. Name one country living under the constant specter of war and that manages to con the world about being a safe haven… And make it work.

Name one country where the religious divide is so wide, and yet manages to export the highest surface of naked skin, be the hero on Fashion TV, and become so degenerate that it succeeds morphing anyone into a singing celebrity.

Name one country that relatively lives under the poverty line and where a thyme pie still sells for a dollar or more, and where expensive fine cuisine outweighs casual dining or even fast food.

Name one country where people can manage at the same time to look richer than Wall Street, and stupider than a Bradypus Tridactylus. Go ahead, look it up if you don’t fall under this category!

The bottom line, we succeeded at creating a halo, a bubble that projects this wild image of Lebanon and Lebanese. It worked great, in a way. We still have to find a way to influence the news. Yup! That’s a tough one, but if we managed to sell ourselves as the lighthouse of the East without even having electricity, we could crack this one I guess.

The drawback, we live in a lie, one hell of a big lie. We are simply not who we pretend to be. We are not a safe haven, we are not safe from the religious divide, we are not above the poverty line, and we are not as smart as the amount of money we gather. So, for how long can we manage to live this charade and make others live it?

This, is knowledge.

The power of branding resides in consistency and sustainability, and we’re defeating both purposes. It’s true we’re doing a good job for now, but seriously, for how long? You know the Arabic saying that translates: “The rope of lies is short”? Well guess what? It is.

Branding is also about viability, not survivability. This might come as a surprise to the Lebanese who are more used to the latter…

Why do we create a brand? Let alone a personal brand? To sell… Duuuh! And what is selling all about? Creating a brand. Nice loop, no? Yep, quite nice until you realize that the golden assets of a brand are honesty and transparency. Hehe, yeah two more words we, Lebanese have a serious problem with… Ok, ok, let’s stick to branding.

So, consistency, sustainability, viability, honesty and transparency, that’s what a brand is all about! Can you handle that?

So that’s what I learned, and that’s fine.

I’m so consistent I’m almost boring!

I’m so sustainable I’m good for the environment!

I am viable. Ask my friends.

I am honest… Read my blog.

I am transparent… ummm… Read my blog!

Now what?!

I hate to disappoint you, but I’ll keep learning, because where some brag about the knowledge they don’t have, I’ll settle for the information I seek. You see, although Personal Branding is not that personal, still the most important word in personal branding is “personal”.



We keep hearing about “personal branding”. This is fine… so far. But when you really ponder upon the subject, you will discover that  a “person” is a relative entity which actually a part of the many. Which leads to an intriguing thought: Our individuality is conditioned by our integration within the mass. So in other words, a person is a person when it is an intrinsic part of a group of persons.

Wao! I had to read three times what I just wrote to grasp it!

So, if you ask me (and yes, I know you are), our definition, perception and evaluation of a person is dictated by the environment in which that person thrives at large, but most importantly by the small circles within which that person engages in interaction. And those circles usually are family, friends, and work.

I will focus on friends for a simple reason. Family is a conditioner. Since we’re born within a family, we spend the first 18 years of our lives being conditioned by our parents, family sociocultural inheritance and the safe haven they provides. So there, we have a little leeway to maneuver. Comes work, and there again, most of our behavior and person(ality) are “dictated by the amount of will we harness to progress our career, kiss the boss’s ass (or the receptionist’s…), earn a raise, or see our opponents drop.

With friends, on the other hand, we simply blossom. Our choice of friends is a very intricate strategy, happening most of the times in the depth of our subconscious, yet complex enough to explore. Yeah, I know, it’s getting ugly.

Our awareness about our own image or brand is an important factor in choosing friends. A friend has to enhance some aspect of our own brand. Depending on how smart (or lame) you are, you choose your friends to boost specific aspects of that brand of yours. You hang out with the jet-setter or the trendsetter, the geek because he or she expands your knowledge base or the weak because they help you shine. Yeah, yeah, you love your friends, I know. What you don’t know is “why”!

Why do you love a friend? Pick one right now and describe why you love him or her. You will end up stating their qualities, the ones that “you” like about them, the ones that you feel fit your image, personality and character. In other words, that person is “fit” to be your friend. It fulfills a specific purpose, it’s a link in your chain of self-branding. Mind you, you’re the same to your friends.

So next time, you find yourself engaging in the friendship ritual with another person, try to reflect on what that person represents to you and what you represent to him or her. This will be a wonderful way to understand the importance of a balanced chemistry between bot of you.

At the end, you will be labeled as a group or a bunch (or a posse), even sometimes a couple (no, not as in an item) and you will enjoy the bliss of the friendship brand. You will be safe inside that brand. You will be protected by the others, giving you the range to screw up from time to time and not be noticed. Because, once the friendship brand prevails, you, the “person” become part of a bigger scheme, where what makes you who you are perceived to be, is not how you act, but how your action integrates with the collective behavior of your bunch.

If today’s organizations realized the power of friendship branding, they would be in control of a powerful social weapon. Few (if any) organizations understand the true nature and power of friendship. But are they to blame? So many of us have yet to grasp it ourselves…

At the end, the same way we, as people, need to understand the science behind friendship to make the best of it, organizations have yet to understand the friendship behind the science to win their customers hearts.

©2010 – Ibrahim Lahoud


Building Brands With The Senses

This is a paper publish on Brand Strategy Insider.  A very nice look at how far we can take brand marketing.

Most marketing plans appeal to only two senses: sight and hearing. Why so limited? How come almost all marketing and brand building concentrates on two senses when we know appealing to all five is likely to double brand awareness and strengthen the impression a brand leaves on its audience?

Several surveys document our olfactory sense as probably the most impressionable and responsive of the five senses. Smells invoke memories and appeal directly to feelings without first being filtered and analyzed by the brain, which is how the remaining four senses are processed. We all recognize and are emotionally stimulated by, say, the scent of freshly cut grass, brackish sea air, or the perfume of roses. I’m convinced any car lover drinks in the smell of a new car.

Some are getting the hang of sensory appeal. Some supermarkets in Northern Europe are connected to bakeries by hundreds of meters of pipeline. The pipes carry the aroma of fresh bread to the stores’ entrances. The strategy works. Passers-by are struck with hunger and drawn inside the shop. A major British bank introduced freshly brewed coffee to its branches with the intention of making customers feel at home. The familiar smell relaxes the bank’s customers, not an emotion you’d normally associate with such an establishment.

Let’s not forget hearing and touch. Sound evokes memory and emotion. A familiar birdsong floods you with impressions of home; a hit song from your youth brings back the excitement and anxiety of your teens. AOL stepped up to the plate by using a voice familiar to many young Web users. Brittney fans discovered they can hear their idol not only when experiencing CDs and videos but also when launching AOL. Brittney lets you know, “You’ve got mail.” Kellogg’s has also invested in the power of auditory stimulus, testing the crunching of cereals in a Danish sound lab to upgrade their product’s “sound quality.”

Touch? One major reason online clothes shopping never took off is — you guessed it — people couldn’t touch the product. Amazon avoided this problem because people don’t attach so much importance to the feel of a book as they do to its content. Clothes, on the other hand, must be felt and tried on for size, color, texture, and so on. Physical proximity to product is elemental to purchase decisions. Shopping behavior depends on it.

If you agree so far, then tell me why it’s so difficult to find brands that promote themselves by appealing to all five senses. The only example of integrated sensory marketing I’m aware of comes from Singapore Airlines. The airline has demonstrated an understanding of the psychological importance of the senses in establishing and maintaining customer impressions. By appealing to all senses (music, fragrance, manner, and demeanor mingle in the cabin to evoke the airline’s image), the airline has created a branded flying experience.

So how can you appeal to all five senses on the Internet? Well, you can’t get them all. But you can optimize the tools available to you, one of the most neglected being sound. Why do you reckon you hear that familiar sound of fizzing Coke being poured into an ice-filled glass when you visit the Coca-Cola site and the sound of brewing coffee on the Starbucks site? Meaningful sound is a cheap but very effective way of appealing to another of your visitor’s senses and of powerfully enhancing your brand’s message.

Sensory perceptions are unique to each of us, as memories are. We experience powerful stimulations from them. How come marketers aren’t appealing to our senses more? The opportunity of brand building by leveraging the five senses is wide open. Brands are hovering in the wings, as an audience of our highly receptive senses sits in a darkened theatre, anticipating a marketing show that hasn’t yet begun. Few companies have integrated their brand-building strategies to appeal to all the senses. This is probably the case for two reasons: not all media channels are able to connect with each of the five senses, and we really don’t know how to handle the phenomenon of total sensory appeal.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m sure we’ll get there. The question is how long you can afford to wait? The rewards can be enormous.


May 2020

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