By Lisa Knight, Creative Director & Founder of The Brand Foundation.
Since 2007 Iraq has witnessed a number of multinationals setting up regional operations – GE, Daimler Benz, Shell, and global finance and banking institutions such as J. P Morgan Chase and Citibank publicly proclaiming an interest in the Iraqi financial sector, its only a matter of time before a cross-sector multinational influx occurs.
How does a multinational go about presenting itself to an Iraqi population of approximately 28 million people? Iraq, unlike the UAE or Saudi Arabia has a significant amount of historical baggage, local perceptions of large western organizations are unclear at such an early stage of re-development, and the idea of a multinational being welcomed with open arms is not guaranteed – neither is global brand recognition a given in a country that has largely been shut off from western media.
With the possibility of political baggage being directly associated with big, foreign businesses, especially those that are US or British owned, does entering Iraq mean a major brand positioning exercise is required?
In the case of Iraq, I believe it should. The Iraqi market is to be entered sensitively, with tact, diplomacy and an acute cultural awareness of the impact of a turbulent history. Imposing your tried-and-tested western brand on this market with disregard for its troubled past and cautious nationals could be an opportunity missed.
In the marketing and branding world, getting to know your customers has always been a vital research activity that helps you develop an appropriate brand dialogue, in Iraq the concept remains the same, however it isn’t a small market segment one is analyzing, it’s a population of tens of millions of people, the majority of which are potentially receptive to your proposition, provided you get the dialogue right – and dialogue, not just identity, is key.
Understanding their purchasing habits, lifestyle traits, beliefs and customs will lead you to appropriate solutions, including when and where to interact and what tone of voice to adopt. A bi-lingual logo isn’t enough to say “Hello/Salam, we’re here – we speak your language, so trust us,” – a far more considered, sophisticated approach is needed to achieve a deep-routed penetration whereby in time trust is established between your organization and your new customers.
Localization is just that. Local. Methods that work in other parts of the world, or other parts of the Middle East may or may not be appropriate for Iraq.
Lisa Knight is Creative Director & Founder of The Brand Foundation, a UAE-based branding agency that specialises in the property sector in emerging markets. Prior to that, Lisa led the creative team of the UK’s governing political party, firstly under Rt. Hon Tony Blair and latterly, Rt. Hon Gordon Brown. Lisa’s career spans 16 years and numerous industries: arts & entertainment, business & finance, fashion, travel, youth, sport, and international development.