• Transform magazine
  • October 01, 2023


MEA brands discuss strategy and design at enthralling Brand Summit conference

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From Atlantis to NEOM to PepsiCo, the Transform Brand Summit MEA offered unique insight into some of the biggest brands operating in the MEA region. Dedicated to exploring the ‘The transformative power of brand strategy and design,’ the event was held at the prestigious five-star Raffles Dubai hotel.

Kicking off with a bang, the conference commenced with a gripping keynote speech by futurologist John Senai. The highly acclaimed future strategist and transformation specialist, who helps organisations form future-focused strategies, wowed attendees as he provided strategies and insights to navigate the challenges of today, in order to create a better tomorrow. He made the audience question what it actually means to be ‘adaptable,’ and showed how – through mapping historical trends – we can anticipate what is to come and learn the real value of evolving with the times.

At one particularly poignant moment, Senai said, “This addiction to certainty and stability has led us to an inability to be adaptable. Ultimately, we need to deliver agile optimism.” He left conference attendees with the advice to be courageous intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, morally and physically.

On the back of that, the Brand Summit audience was treated to an in-depth case study, led by Abjad Design’s creative director, Maher Bayoumi, and chief creative director and co-founder, Sheikha Bin Dhaher. The segment focused on the strategy and creative behind Great Arab Minds, an organisation which aims to reduce the emigration of Arab scientists, specialists, intellectuals, doctors and engineers in order to contribute for a brighter future in the region.

The Abjad Design team discussed how the brand strategy made use of the Arabian ‘Golden Age,’ a period of cultural, economic and scientific advancement. Naming the brand concept ‘intellectual pilgrimage,’ the visual design celebrates the UAE as the magnetic intellectual centre that brings great minds together.

Next up, Skyne founder Dennis de Rond, and creative brand strategist Lubna Farooqui, sought to answer what the future holds for decentralisation, blockchain technology and token-based economics. In a world where ownership is becoming increasingly centralised due to a bump in mergers and acquisitions, can Web 3.0 technologies provide a solution? The pair utilised case study examples of work with clients in which NFTs provided the brands with a new and exciting outlet to express themselves and build value.

Who doesn’t love place branding? The summit’s next session was a panel discussion between three companies who produce the Middle East’s strongest (or soon to be) place brands: Atlantis, Arada and Edamah. Hanan Eissa, Atlantis Dubai’s vice president of marketing and PR, discussed the exceptional launch of the new and luxurious Atlantis The Royal, which would, in fact, win two gold awards and one silver award at the Transform Awards MEA later that evening.

Meanwhile, Arada senior creative director Melissa Bayik provided useful insights for the audience, such as 71% of customers mentioning that brand plays a very important role in deciding whether they want to buy from a retail estate or not. “Branding is very important!” she emphasised.

Finally, Edamah’s head of marketing for corporate communications, Nader Khalfan, discussed the mightily impressive Bilaj al Jazayer, a 3km-long mixed-use tourism and recreational seafront development. Still very much in development, the project’s aim is to create a brand that expresses history and heritage while capturing the authentic spirit of Bahrain.

Before heading to lunch, there was still time to hear from Sean Trainor, founding partner at Salient, on the link between brand saliency and reputation that enables functional integration between brand, marketing and communications. Trainor believes linking brand saliency and stakeholder saliency can help brand and PR professionals recognise the value of reputation as a key performance indicator for corporate communication.


The afternoon’s sessions were just as enthralling and educational, starting with a panel discussion on audio branding. Joining us were MassiveMusic’s senior account manager, Emma Byford, and managing director of Dubai, Pierre Carnet, as well as Sixième Son’s managing director, Laurent Cochini, and Aldar’s vice president in brand activation, Fatma Farhan.

To what degree has audio branding taken off in the Middle East? According to Carnet, “Where we are today is that pretty much all brands are really multi-model brands and have touchpoints like sound that people can identify and immerse themselves in and recognise the brand by.”

Offering a client perspective, Farhan described how, when she looks at brand strategy, she doesn’t just look at the visual elements of the brand but also how it can be improved sensually, too.

Cochini added, “When the client invests into sonic branding, the investment is more interesting nowadays because there are so many more touchpoints.”

It seems like everyone is talking about NEOM, the planned smart city in Tabuk Province, Saudi Arabia. NEOM senior marketing director Antony Lawrence was next up to discuss the importance of developing its brand values internally to help foster a strong sense of purpose. “The ambition to build this new city is a 25-year project, so brand values are really important,” he said.

This sense of fostering a strong set of coherent brand values is to partially be achieved by NEOM’s commitment to redefining the future through its focus on sustainability, innovation and quality of life.

WithFeeling strategy lead Dr. Federica Busa then offered a thought-provoking session on experience planning. Using her project with the World Expo as a poignant backdrop, she explained how mindsets, skills and components can create physical and mental environments to meaningfully engage visitors and create memories that inspire and transform all audiences.

She said, “When you try to brand the World Expo, you start thinking of it as a product, which is limiting. The moment you try to put a branding framework on it, you’re starting to come across this bigger universe and something that needs to take in the requirements and expectations of stakeholders.”

Last but by no means least, PepsiCo’s vice president and head of design, Gianmauro Vella, discussed the art of bridging national and cultural divides through brand localisation. PepsiCo are experts in this field, as demonstrated by its hyper-successful ‘Mo Salah’ campaign in Egypt, which saw QR code subscriptions totalling the highest ever in brand history at 165 million.

“The product is just the first step, the experience is the second step,” Vella reminded avid listeners.

All in all, the Transform Brand Summit MEA provided an excellent chance for attendees to learn about a diverse array of subjects in the field of brand and design, along with the unique opportunity to rub shoulders with representatives of some of the most exciting brands in the Middle East and Africa.

The conference was then followed in the evening by the Transform Awards MEA, the results of which may be found here. Transform looks forward to returning to the region once again in 2024.