Branding tips for Middle East start-ups

While the geek glitterati of Silicon Valley bicker over when exactly the next dot-com tech bubble burst, reminiscent of 2000, is likely to occur; here in the Middle East things couldn’t be more different. For those outside the region who rely on mainstream news to keep tabs on the MENA tech space, you might be forgiven for thinking that our greatest contribution to this field is the rising number of users on existing popular social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier this week leading technology blog TNW released a list of ‘the 15 startups of the Middle East you need to know about’. Making the list, in no particular order, were familiar names Maktoob , Bayt, GoNab!t and  few start-ups that are new to our radar here at Zaman HQ – Egyptian semantics-based search engine Kngine, online music streaming platform Mawaly, and Nakweh, a community platform connecting volunteers to NGOs and civil societies.

While the Internet penetration in the region remains quite low when compared to other more developed markets, there is an unspoken race on to see which nation will be the first to establish itself as the Silicon Valley of MENA. Likewise at the startup level many enterprising individuals in the region are keen to create the Groupons and Facebooks of our region with motives for startups oscillating between response to an observed market gap or as an improvement of an existing product or service. Whatever the motive is, creating a clear identity for a startup is crucial to winning over support from necessary audiences – investors and target consumers, which ultimately translates into staying in business.

We’ve had our fair share of clients in the startup category and from experience we know that often the reality is that most startups and small business tend to relegate branding to the backseat in favour of other priorities such as product development and funding. On the other hand, establishing a strong brand platform from the start enables startups to be recognized quicker and for a longer time.

There is definitely no cookie-cutter approach for creating a brand for a new business but here’s a list of tips for startup owners to consider in the creation of a strong brand to distinguish their product or service:

  1. Define your startup vision – cultivate a visual vocabulary for your brand which will become the platform of your company’s behaviour and the design of its experience in its employee culture, across collaterals, communications, and environments (interiors).
  2. State your purpose – articulate what you do, the market needs you fulfil in simple terms to your target customers, investors and industry influencers.
  3. Emotional persuasion is key – embrace that your personality and that of your startup are probably one and the same. It’s unlikely that you’ll have Ashton Kutcher or Lady Gaga to endorse your brand at the onset so channel your passion & enthusiasm into your start-up’s brand story and identity.
  4. Stand out from the crowd – don’t rely on word-of-mouth to show how great your service/product is. Invest in consulting a branding expert to develop a logo & brand kit that is unique and recognizable. And don’t postpone this until you are “established”.
  5. Be clear and consistent in your collateral – whatever your sector ensure that your offline branding (business cards, letterheads…) and online branding (email signatures, website…) are in sync.
  6. It takes times – like your business, brands need to be nurtured to grow strong and stay relevant.  Be consistent in your messaging, positioning and value delivery to your customers.

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