A globally powerful “Brand UAE” brings huge business potential with it, experts say, after the Emirates rose to third place in a closely watched annual ranking of nations by their worldwide image.
The country may not have the most valuable brand in the world, something claimed by the United States with its US$19.7 trillion name, according to data published today by the UK researcher Brand Finance.
But this country punches well above its weight in terms of its brand strength, with the Emirates now ranking behind only Singapore and Switzerland in terms of its global image, the London consultancy says.
“Although this is one index among many, it is an achievement to be celebrated and one that reflects the ongoing commitment, ambition and long-term vision of the UAE leadership,” says Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE Minister of State, managing director of the Dubai Expo 2020 Higher Committee and the director general of Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau.
“We have always been a country that has embraced the world with a spirit of openness and optimism. “
Andrew Campbell, the managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, based in Abu Dhabi, says the UAE’s improved ranking implies a “hugely positive” impact on its ability to attract investment, tourists and expatriate residents.
“Business is built on trust, as are brands,” he says. “If you are Apple and you have the highest-value brand in the world, it means people trust you, like you and value your products. And they are willing to do business with you. And the same applies to a nation’s brand.”
Brand Finance ranked 100 nations according to the strength of their brand, based on factors such as image and perceptions of tourism, investment, governance and security.
The UAE scored particularly highly, at fourth, in perceptions of the investment climate and markets, but less well in terms of its market size and openness.
“[The UAE] might not be seen as free and open as some other societies but it’s very stable. It has extremely good metrics for law and order and it’s seen as a very appealing place for expats to live,” says Robert Haigh, the marketing and communications director at Brand Finance in London.
“It might not be seen as perfect by some but certainly, from an investors’ point-of-view or from the point-of-view of international businesses and business travellers, it’s top-notch.”
Having a strong brand means a country is “more able to attract international investment”, says Mr Haigh.
“It’s very important that the country’s nation brand is managed well to add the maximum premium to the goods and services and tourism operations,” he says.
Helal Al Marri, the director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the chief executive of Dubai World Trade Centre, agrees that the image of a country is key to business growth.
“The international reputation of any city or nation is a significant driver not only of tourism but of the economy as a whole,” he says.
“In Dubai, to achieve the ambitious targets we have set of reaching 20 million tourists by 2020, we launched a new brand to speak with one voice to citizens and visitors.
“Based on the proposition that Dubai is a city where remarkable things happen, the global marketing campaign is currently live, actively promoting our city and our nation to markets around the world,” says Mr Al Marri.
Alex Haigh, the nation brand director at Brand Finance, says that smaller countries tend to have stronger brands because it is easier for governments to manage the image and there is a greater need to be competitive.
“The UAE and Singapore in particular have been able to do that quite well,” he says. “For some of the bigger countries it’s quite difficult to have a unified message.”
But the strength of Brand UAE may come as a surprise to some, given that marketing efforts are largely carried out by individual emirates.
“There does not appear to be very much done at the federal level,” says Mr Campbell.
“But there’s an awful lot done at the emirate level: Dubai spends heavily on its brand, so does Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and some of the others are starting to do that as well.
“If you’re a tourist and you say you’re going to the UAE, people may say ‘where’s that?’ But if you say ‘I’m going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi’, they say ‘oh right, Dubai,’” he adds.
The Brand Finance rankings – which use six key data sources including the World Economic Forum and IMF – draw in statistics across a range of categories, most of which apply at a federal level.
But some may query the significance of Brand UAE as a whole – given that some emirates are more in the global public’s perception than the whole.
Charles Wright, a principal at the global branding agency Wolff Olins, who previously ran the company’s office in Dubai, says he is surprised at the Brand Finance findings.
“Dubai is more famous than the UAE. I suspect the Burj Khalifa is better known internationally than the country,” he says.
But he concedes that, “among people who know, the UAE is well regarded.
“A beacon of moderation and stability in a turbulent region. But I doubt if many ordinary citizens in Europe or the USA have a clear impression of the UAE.”
But John Brash, the founder and chief executive of Brash Brands, which has an office in Dubai, says both the country as a whole and individual emirates contribute to the UAE’s overall image.
“The UAE is in a unique position: the nation in its entirety gets assessed for this exercise, yet at the same time, individual emirates are also building their own identities,” he says.
“Brand Abu Dhabi is going from strength to strength, and with last year’s ‘Brand Dubai’ launch, our two largest emirates are putting huge efforts into the way the world sees us …
“In addition, increasing global awareness of successful homegrown brands such as Emirates and Etihad plays a large part in the way we’re seen as a nation of achievement.”
But while Mr Brash says that Brand UAE is perceived globally as “dynamic, daring and luxurious”, he advises that it is important to broaden its appeal further.
To grow the UAE’s brand, it must be more inclusive and not as focused on five-star luxury, Mr Brash says.
“The next wave of UAE development needs to ensure we keep a wide appeal, that it’s not all concentrated at the top end.
“[And] also, do more to promote our unique history and culture. There are beautiful hotels and beaches across the world, yet the heritage of the Emirates is unique,” he adds.
“Make these changes, and the UAE as a nation brand can only grow stronger.”
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter