Tallest, highest, biggest, shiniest, a Vegas like moneymaking machine… words often associated with brand Dubai. But dig a little deeper and what you hear from the locals is actually very different. This is a city about values and traditions, a home for families, businesses and culture. You only have to see how bustling the traditional Souks are and the perfectly preserved old town, to see what traditional customs mean to locals and tourists alike. The region is clearly about more than financial gains and a destination for the rich in which to play. But seemingly this deeper Dubai is invisible to the world.
Brand Dubai grew during an unsustainable boom, rather like the dotcom industry at the turn of the century. Here businesses went bust as they could not justify their over inflated share prices and they didn’t stand a chance of recovery when the boom turned to bust. But what of Dubai’s fate? Surely it is built on a more solid sustainable foundation?
If you judge Dubai on its image, then the brand equity has taken a hard hit. Dubai needs a stronger idea, one based on more than just short termism, financial reward and the glamorous set. A brand idea that signifies what’s great about the region, its rich heritage, its unique multicultural Arab and Western community and all that it has to offer. Right now Dubai needs a brand that will work hard to regain the trust and confidence of the people that visit, live and work in the region.
Brand Dubai is vulnerable. The region needs to look within to really identify what it stands for and use that to build a firm brand strategy based on values and culture. Dubai has learnt the hard way; global assumptions are tough to change, but if the city looks to project its reality rather than its image, perceptions will follow suit. Only then can it start to carve out a uniquely sustainable position in the eyes of the world.
Brand Dubai is vulnerable because Dubai is vulnerable right now.
Y’all know the story: our giddy property bubble popped, we’re super-over-leveraged and a severe globally synchronized slowdown is going down taking our trade and tourism with it. How do you put a positive spin on all that?
Although Dubai has made some major missteps in its short history, it is also caught up in a perfect storm- one that’s hurting most of the world’s globalized cities. Indeed, the more open, outward looking the city, the more punishing the effect of the slowdown seems to be (China aside thanks to massive state intervention). Dubai trail-blazed the open approach in the region, zealously integrating into the globalized economy. The strategy was sound, the foolhardy debt-fueled funding strategy much less so.
The comparison with the Dot-Com bubble is instructive. Most bubbles are based on a real market story that is overcome by a collective bout of irrational exuberance. Lets recall that eBay, Amazon and Salesforce were created alongside the Pets, etoys and Boo.coms. Even more pertinent is the realization that some amazingly innovative companies emerged out of the bubble’s wreckage – Google, Facebook etc – that took advantage of the oversupply (network, bandwidth etc in this case). I expect a similar pattern to emerge in Dubai.
Dubai has over the past decade managed to establish itself on that illustrious list of global cities: New York – Paris – London – Tokyo – Singapore – Hong Kong – Shanghai – Mumbai. Not too long ago I-Bankers were overly fond of bandying the ” “It’s Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai or Good-Bye.” phrase around when discussing the future of their industry.
This was a success of branding rather than substance or at the very least a premature addition. But once on that list, a city’s position can be surprisingly sticky. Deservedly or not (partially in my mind), Dubai is now a global brand.
It also makes sense to look at how other global cities are faring. Brands London and New York are going through their own, admittedly much milder, existential doubts. Everyone it seems is hating on their financiers and unbridled flavors of capitalism. Of course history comforts us to their eventual rebounds and rebirths.
This is all new to Dubai, at least in scale. The city’s fundamentals remain strong and its brand should recover with its prospects. Of course there is always the risk that the government will make a complete mess of managing the downturn, but I am confident they will pull through.
Dubai’s value proposition is Vegas, Singapore, Hong Kong all rolled into one.
Is this messy schizophrenia unique to Dubai? Think of Brand New York. Universal values may include: progressive, competitive, cut-throat, tolerant, international. But the brand also means different things to different people. NY is Silicon Alley, Madison Ave, Wall St, Museum Mile. It’s also dysfunctional politics, poverty, inequality, dirty, chaos, density. It doesn’t really make sense as a whole but it comes together somehow. (Of course NY’s brand is also heavily formed by its representation in the media, much more so than most cities).
What is Brand Dubai?
Progressive (relative to the neighborhood). Ostentatious. Fast-paced. Overly-tolerant (to those looking from the Middle East), Intolerant (for those looking from the rest of the world), Glitz and Glamor, Celebrity, Arab, Moneyed.
Brands are of course (not necessarily completely truthful) representations of the underlying organization / individual / country. Brand Dubai will evolve in tandem with the city. And this will out of necessity take on a more sober, sustainable tone (Dubai will never completely shake its Vegas-ness though). I agree that ‘trust‘ (of investors, expatriates, tourists etc) will be an important pillar. Though I would love to see Dubai champion not its ‘rich heritage‘, but rather its post-national, tabula rasa nature, unburdened by tradition, determinedly future-looking.
WIll be interesting to see how the new Brand Dubai initiative run by Mona Al Marri goes. The National:
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has officially established the Dubai Media Affairs Office “Brand Dubai” to co-ordinate media affairs regionally and internationally.
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