I love Dubai; a branding lesson from the city of Dubai
Updated: Jul 13
Dubai, the much-loved city with its bustling harbor and zestful streets has come a remarkably long way from the fishing village that it once was. Today, Dubai is a brand one can’t help but fall in love with—a global city which is also one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
How did Dubai achieve this phenomenal transformation? Building a destination brand takes a lot of perseverance and agility, and Dubai, a rather young city, has excelled at crowning itself an impeccable brand.
The question is How?
How did a humble desert turn into this irresistible progressive city, a brand that is synonymous with a courteous and generous land, an ideal location for tourism, economic development, education, self-development and much more?
Through my experience in marketing and branding and the fact that I grew up in Dubai pretty much most of my life, I have lived this city’s journey to brand building.
Here are a few time-honored brand execution strategies that I have observed this city has faithfully followed and done right. There is definitely much more to the story than what I am trying to cover here.
Branding done right: The single big idea
The totality of thoughts, feelings, expectations people hold about a location are shaped by what it has to offer. And this is what turns a location to a destination. Thematically, the Dubai brand has been consistent and has aligned to a single big idea— to make Dubai the happiest city on earth.
While this vision became word not too long, the city has worked on its reality to build this vision by investing and transforming itself for some time now and only when the wheel caught momentum has it lead to fortune and strengthening of the overall brand.
Branding done right: delivering on the promise
For the last five decades, Dubai as a brand has delivered consistently and continuously. Its single big idea/vision resonates in its varied initiatives that are all based on the single premise—people will lead happier lives if their day-to-day experiences are seamless and efficient.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai has led the way on turning Dubai to a happy city. He has launched several unique initiatives targeted at raising the UAE’s international competitiveness, paving the way for a new phase of economic, social and cultural development using technology with Smart Dubai. His focus on sustainability has been much appreciated by Ban Ki-Moon, the former UN Secretary-General.
Dubai is always in the news—the planning of the world’s largest solar power project, free educational programmes, establishing a center for youth and several such feel-good real-stories. Sustainable development initiatives including fostering innovation, developing human capital, investing in education and scientific research, establishing good governance in the UAE government sector and promoting the growth of a knowledge-based economy continues to be the city’s focus.
There is incredible power when people are put first, and loyalty is one of them. But who are these people?
Branding done right: people centricity
A brand or destination appealing to the masses is rare. So how has Dubai managed to cater to natives, expats, tourists, multinational corporations, entrepreneurs and more? It merely saw all of them as its own— its people.
Dubai has been successful in identifying the different interests of its people and has addressed them in a systematic approach. It has grown to be a city with opportunity for all.
Emiraties - the natives of the land, are proud to belong here. They are well taken care of with educational schemes, secure jobs, safety and overall welfare. A country which has a minister of happiness and happiness CEOs across various government departments is bound to be rated high.
Dubai is also a happy home to expats from over 200 countries who have chosen this country over their homelands. The prospects the city offers, world-class educational institutions and facilities, career opportunities and its futuristic outlook, makes it easily the top choice of expats.
Tourists – Dubai has by far exceeded many Middle Eastern cities in its quest to become a world attraction, from shopping malls to theme parks and wild outdoor excursions and being the home of the world’s fastest growing airline, the Emirates, Dubai has evolved as an attractive tourist destination.
Corporations – The advantage of its geographic location makes it the preferred zone for multinational corporations to base their Middle Eastern operations. The existing facilities in the city make setting up an office effortless, thus making it the most preferred option.
Entrepreneurs – Globally, UAE is ranked 26th in ease of doing business and ranked 1st for ease in payment of business taxes, making it a favored choice for entrepreneurs.
Women roles in the city have also shaped well. For a country which had less than 20% of Emirati women as part of the national labor force in 2006, UAE has come a long way. Dubai Women Establishment is a government entity that focuses on increasing effective participation of women in the workforce. Working towards reducing the gender gap and helping women progress in career paths, earlier this year DWE released a plan to improve Emirati women’s participation.
When people are happy you can never be short of praise. But this means, you need to have your A-game at all times!
Branding done right: reputation management
In times of countries regressing due to conflicts and wars and economies stagnating, working to be a brand that promises a happy society is an effective brand reputation strategy. And with courtesy and hospitality being deeply ingrained as part of the region’s culture and its various initiatives, the Dubai brand has rightly earned the reputation of being a welcoming city.
Strengthening the foundation of its reputation further, the UAE launched its Vision 2021, aiming to make the UAE among the best countries in the world by the Golden Jubilee of the Union.
The latest ground-breaking initiative of Dubai is its winning bid to host the World Expo 2020 – a universal scale exposition. The theme that Dubai proposed reflects on its strategic thinking ‘Connecting minds, Creating the Future’. With this, Dubai will be the first country to host the Expo from the MENA (The Middle East and North Africa region).
Another card the city has played right is ensuring a healthy social media reputation by encouraging people of the city to act as marketers. Leveraging social media platforms to the fullest, the city launched a hash tag campaign, #MyDubai in 2014, inviting citizens and tourists alike to share their experience in the city through pictures and videos. The campaign, launched by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and backed by the Department of tourism, was a huge success with not just residents, but tourists also joining in.
One believes what one sees, whether it is through action or imagery, Dubai has endorsed this popular adage.
Branding done right: visual imagery
And finally, branding does extend its stunning aesthetics even to a destination, some trending instances:
The latest Dubai logo features the word 'Dubai' written in both Arabic and Roman alphabets, and represents the Dubai of today, which is an amalgam of cultures. Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) with its mission, “to position Dubai as the leading tourism destination and commercial hub in the world,” has done an excellent job with this new logo which was widely appreciated.
Staying ahead of the times in terms of innovation in branding, it was in April 2017, that Dubai became the first city in the world to have an official font of its own. Pre-installed on Microsoft 365, the font is currently available in 23 languages.
The Dubai brand both in theory and practice has aced the age-old marketing tricks— focused on messaging, audience, consistent delivery, reputation management and visual representation—but most importantly making all of this relevant to the times.
I would love to hear your views on this topic, do leave a comment below!