How to Build an Iconic Brand

How brands can distinguish themselves.

With an ever-changing landscape, marketing comms experts need to stay in the forefront with developing nimble and innovative new strategies for their clients.

Below, Curated Today interviews Jai Tolani, Communications & PR Director in Dubai for his two cents on shifts in consumer awareness, and how regional brands can leverage such changes for the better.

About Jai Tolani

Born and raised in Dubai with over 15 years of strategic communications and business management experience in the Middle East in both agency and client-side roles, Tolani brings a fortitude of knowledge regarding brand development in the region.Jai’s title is currently MENA Communications & PR Director at a leading marketing agency in Dubai. In the past, Tolani has worked at or alongside retail & tech giants such as HP, Huawei, Mubadala and many more, allowing him to explore the industry from progressive and dynamic angles.

1. Describe yourself in one sentence as a Director of Comms at a leading global agency in the UAE.

A trusted partner… a problem-solver. Ultimately a mere extension of the enterprising brands we get an opportunity to represent. 

2. You have a depth of experience in leading agencies such as Ogilvy and BBDO in UAE, and at the same time, you have worked in-house at a Mubadala JV; tell us about the main difference in your scope of work working in Agency versus in-house when it comes to strategy & planning. 

In general, I think the need to please far outweighs the work in-house! 

Having said that, I was blessed to work with some of the sharpest minds during my time client-side. There is surely more focus and a shared vision.

If I must pick one though, I’d choose Agency! The joy of helping brands and, in general, just making stuff happen is immense. 

3. When working on client accounts, please walk us through your typical way of brainstorming a new campaign. What tools do you use to truly understand the focus product at hand and the client’s target audience?

No special tools for me. Ultimately it comes down to few things:

  • Digesting the brief as quickly as possible
  • A willingness to listen (an open mind)
  • A good dose of caffeine… a blue marker!

A strong leader and a competent team go a long way too!

Photo by Norma Mortenson from Pexels

4. Due to COVID-19, residents of Dubai have chosen to stay in the country this summer instead of typically leaving. How can local brands leverage this to strengthen their relationship with their consumers?

I believe brands now well recognize that the power has shifted in the hands of the consumers.  In my opinion, the age of advertising and communications to influence consumers through some form of sublime messaging is thankfully behind us. There is a genuine gradual shift in consumer awareness, in no small degree in mature markets. Ultimately brands that stay tuned follow guidelines and focus on experience – at every point (physical and digital).

A case in point in Dubai is Instashop– with a brilliant interface, experience and product offering, they were bought over for $360m by Delivery Hero! Great success story.

5. When it comes to marketing, what do you think the most important aspects of a brand are in today’s challenging world?

  • For new brands – figuring out and communicating their “core purpose effectively.”
  • For existing and successful brands – I’d say navigating volatility and uncertainty.
  • For leaders –  the need to develop a strong Adaptive Quotient (AQ).

6. If starting a new brand in UAE, would you recommend off the bat to operate solely online, or are you a fan of having a B&M backup as well? Is physical retail shopping the future, or will the majority inevitably move online?

In 2019, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Event online sales topped $38 billion. They claimed to net $1 billion in sales in just 68 seconds!  Now at the same time and as per estimates from World Bank, some 1.7 billion adults worldwide are still unbanked, i.e., yet don’t have access to a bank account. While this represents a massive opportunity, it also shows us the gap, especially in some markets. 

So I believe it all comes down to category and geography. A right mix of both will continue to be seen.

For example, during #COVID-19, consumption of staples in places like the #UAE has mostly been documented heavily as being transacted online. The behavioral change has been at speed.  At the same time, the role of physical customer experiences when it comes to specific categories, for instance, luxury purchases, is hard to imagine without touch and feel, i.e., I don’t see a classic timepiece or jewelry worth a couple of thousand dollars being purchased at mass online!

"I believe that brands now well recognize that the power has shifted to the hands of the consumers."

7. In your opinion, how has AI and AR affected consumer experience? What opportunities do you see in MENA in this space?

I wish to offer have a stronger point of view on this; however, I am yet to build in-depth expertise in these areas. From my limited understanding, what I am excited about is the power AI that will be leveraged in healthcare industries.  I am fortunate to represent a few global and MENA brands in this space and it is fascinating to see, for instance, how AI could support newer treatments to solve some of humanity’s most challenging diseases. 

8. The regional market is saturated with global and local fashion brands, FMCG companies, hotel chains, and F&B outlets; what can companies do to stand out, especially during a Pandemic?

#StandTogether #Unite