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Getting noticed: How to build strong brand awareness for your startup

Jun 7, 2018 | Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs often dream of the sort of supercharged brand awareness that eclipses the competitors and becomes so ubiquitous that it enters everyday language.

But brand awareness doesn’t have to reach the status of Hoover or Google to be successful. Local companies here in the UAE that have gone from nothing to household names have done so by identifying their ideal customer, offering them sustained engagement and value without appearing to sell, and then harnessing that loyalty by exceeding customers’ expectations.

So let’s look at three key principles which are not only cost-effective but crucial to the sort of engagement every entrepreneur should be chasing.

1. Create a customer persona:

Put some time and effort into the process of understanding exactly who your ideal customer is.

We only have to look at one local UAE success story to see why it’s so important: Emirates moved very quickly from simply aspiring to be the flag carrier of Dubai when it was established in 1985 to repositioning itself by understanding who its ideal customer was. In doing so, it engineered a move from air transport into the lifestyle category to appeal directly to its customers’ aspirations.  And in YouGov’s Brand Index 2017 Advocacy Ratings, the airline came second overall, and top of the list in its Brand Index Ratings for 2017.

By understanding its buyer persona, Emirates was then able to create a series of messages focusing on its unique offering and philosophy. As its understanding of the ideal customer base developed, so too did its message and brand, as reflected in its many changing taglines: from ‘Be good to yourself. Fly Emirates’ to ‘When was the last time you did something for the first time’ and ‘Hello tomorrow’. Emirates constantly refines its message to appeal to its lifestyle customer base.

By understanding its buyer persona, Emirates was then able to create a series of messages focusing on its unique offering and philosophy.

What it means for you

The key takeaway here is that, whatever your service or product, if you don’t connect with your ideal customers on an emotional level and ‘speak their language’ by understanding their aspirations, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to persuade them to do anything, let alone part with their money.

2. Promote content marketing:

Put simply, to have a presence in the digital world, you need to have content. And the main aim of content marketing is to talk to your existing and potential customers from a position of trust so that you can get across the benefits of your brand without the turn-off of a straight sales approach.


Customers want to be engaged by each interaction, and they expect to take away some value from that engagement – but this is not as easy as it sounds. Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2017 report looked at some of the biggest challenges facing marketers. One issue it noted was that 27% of respondents found engaging decision-makers to be more challenging compared to 2–3 years ago.  This suggests the need to find a more creative approach to engagement.

So how do you achieve this? The answer is: don’t sell, but become a recognised expert. If you’re regularly offering fresh and unique content, there’s much more chance that visitors will share that content across the internet, in the process generating increased traffic and leads. And it seems to pay off: according to the CMI report B2C Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America, 78% of marketers felt their content marketing efforts were moderately to extremely successful, compared to 70% the year before.

One of the most effective content formats to increase visitors to your website is a blog. It can not only supercharge your SEO, but also greatly increase lead generation. Visitors who can take away some value from their experience are much more likely to convert into prospects and customers.

Other forms of content, such as infographics, videos and apps, can also be effective. Look at the UAE’s premier real estate company, Emaar Properties, which went from nothing to sponsoring Lotus’s Formula 1 team in just 16 years. It used technology in the form of a Newsfeed Smartapp to exhibit and promote the experience of its new Dubai Creek Harbour development directly into a Facebook newsfeed. This helped home-grown Emaar reach the top of the 2017 UAE Advocacy Rankings produced by YouGov’s Brand Index, making it the most recommended brand among consumers in the UAE.

As an added bonus, when compared to outbound marketing (paid advertising, trade shows, cold calling, etc), content marketing comes in at a fraction of the cost. An earlier report from Hubspot, in 2012, found that organisations using inbound marketing tactics saw a 61% lower lead cost than those using mainly outbound tactics.

What it means for you

But whichever content marketing format you choose – and it makes sense to add some variety to stand out from the crowd – the key lesson here is to promote it. Remember, building a brand is a process, not a one-off. So promote new quality content regularly and often, and it will help you build strong and sustainable brand awareness.

3. Create brand advocates:

As marketing author Bob Fuggetta notes in his book Brand Advocates, ‘brand advocates are your most loyal, passionate and engaged customers, and your best marketers.’ According to Fuggetta, they are 10 times more effective than any weapon in your marketing arsenal, and smart marketers are harnessing their advocates to turn them into powerful marketing forces.


Brand advocacy is based exclusively on customers’ experiences of engaging and interacting with your brand. Successful brands will therefore go way beyond merely satisfying their customers but will exceed customer expectation to deliver an experience that blows the customer away.

One local example is the Jumeirah brand which describes itself as ‘pushing the boundaries of what you expect when you visit’. If you get that right – and the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for the UAE suggests that Jumeirah has, placing it top among luxury hotels in the UAE – your efforts to offer unexpectedly excellent levels of customer experience will create brand advocates for your company.

So identify your advocates by asking the question: ‘how likely are you to recommend my brand?’ Then sustain your efforts to energise them so that they follow through. And in Jumeirah’s case, by associating its entire brand with the exclusivity of its original Burj Al Arab hotel, the towering sail is arguably still the emirate’s most recognisable building the world over, giving loyal customers a striking brand to identify with and talk about.

Remember, building a brand is a process, so it pays to keep in mind that this is a strategic and on-going effort. But the power of advocacy can’t be overestimated, and one of the reasons it’s so powerful is partly down to trust. Here I should mention the Nielsen Global Trust In Advertising report again, which found that 85% of online UAE respondents trusted the recommendations of friends and family.

Another reason advocates can be so effective is their sheer force of numbers: the global cybersecurity software company Symantec found that 60–65% of its customers were highly likely to recommend its products to others, and with over 50 million customers worldwide, that’s more than 30 million brand advocates building your brand and selling your products on your behalf.

Emirates is also remarkably adept at creating brand advocates. For example, back in 2016, airline staff were alerted to the fact that GQ’s ‘media star of the year 2016’, the tech startup founder and international influencer Casey Neistat, was travelling on Emirates from Dubai to New York. They upgraded him to first class, hoping to create an advocate and perhaps benefit from a bit of free publicity. But Neistat dedicated a whole ten-minute episode on his vlog to documenting the lavish customer experience in the Emirates first-class cabin, and the post went viral, generating more than 20 million views within days, and over 50 million in under two years.

What it means for you

The key takeaway here is that with minimal spend, it’s possible to react to a situation to create enhanced brand awareness if you treat your brand building as an on-going process. With one simple upgrade, Emirates energised an influencer into becoming a brand advocate to create a video all about them, seen by over 50 million people. So never sit back and say ‘my branding is done’ – the key is to stay on top of it for as long as you’re in business.

The key takeaway here is that with minimal spend, it’s possible to react to a situation to create enhanced brand awareness if you treat your brand building as an on-going process.

Understand, engage and harness

Potential entrepreneurs should appreciate that brands aren’t built overnight, but that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. In fact, as the key actions above demonstrate, the process of developing your brand – by understanding your customer, engaging with them and harnessing their loyalty – is well within your grasp. In fact, it can be done far more effectively, and at  a lower cost, than many other forms of marketing or advertising.

Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@virtuzone.com, or click here.

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