Creativity is not just the things we make; it’s the way we make them; the ‘doing’ that goes on behind the scenes. It is the fine blend between the strategic and the creative that makes an extraordinary brand experience. A robust creative strategy can create the ‘distinctiveness’ a brand needs to enter a consumer’s buying repertoire. The Berries interviewed Mohamed Abbas, Creative Strategy Director of Matter – a leading award-winning regional brand consultancy, to get his insights on how can brands stay creative in 2018.

BB: Brand Creative strategists straddle the business and creative sides of branding. Can you elaborate on what do creative strategists do ?

MA: Creative strategists are the pivotal link, turning business needs into tangible branding needs. They turn business questions into branding answers.

For them to be able to do that, they must have an extensive understanding of the competitive business environment, and a holistic view of the business needs, struggles and opportunities and then in turn formulate a corresponding creative brief that has branding and design answers stemming from business needs.

BB: In any creative setting, there is a rising tension between the creatives and the account team, this has led to the creation of the creative strategist. How can creative strategists bridge the gap between both teams ?

MA: We acknowledge that both teams are passionate about their brands and the debate that arises from different point of views, if left to become subjective, creates that tension that sometimes exists, we at matter have created from the beginning our own methodology that minimizes subjectivity and makes the conversation much healthier because they are both actively working on applying that methodology together and the debate that happens is constructive and gets the best out of both teams because they are transparently aligned on one goal, which is what’s best for the brand.

BB: In your opinion, What do brands in the middle east struggle more with, strategic thinking or creativity?

MA: Egypt has no shortage of creativity, from brilliant advertising campaigns, to deeply engaging online activations, with truly young, fresh creative minds behind them.

I don’t think we lack strategic thinking necessarily, but the languages that the marketing department and the creative department speak are very different, and they are not supposed to be the same.

I believe brands in the Middle East suffer more with the merger of both the creative and the strategy, not for the lack or weakness of either but rather their synergy and integration, through the creative strategist.

BB: Brands always find themselves in a dilemma when picking their partner agencies. In your opinion, should they go to local agencies for their deep understanding of the local context and markets or should they head to the global agencies for their world-class level of creativity?

MA: International agencies have long been the staple for creating outstanding strategy based brands that translate into engaging brands, and yes for a time i believe their experience and insight into consumer purchasing behaviours truly did make a difference, and that is largely due to their strong emphasis on strategy building first and foremost, not only good looking designs.

But the local market has been growing the past few years, from both ends, brand competition has been fiercer and so marketing departments have been really evolving, the same goes for local talent and agencies, by learning from big international branding agencies and using local insight and understanding, i truly believe the gap has been getting smaller

BB: One of the challenges that face brands in the region is the naming. Local brands find themselves trapped between coming up with a name that has a cultural connotation to resonate with local audience or choosing a western name to help them expand in different markets. Please comment.

MA: Very interesting question. If you ask around here in Egypt about brands that they remember or feel like they symbolize a certain category or evoke a certain bond, most people will name, Prill, Ariel, Pepsi, Cocacola, Omo, Tide, Pampers, Toyota etc… the list goes on. These brand names were either completely invented or are only relevant to a certain culture, yet it didn’t hold them back from being very successful in other markets

I’m not saying that local brand have not managed to do that, but my point is, that the name doesn’t have to be Arabic nor stemming from the culture to have that kind of strong connection. It sure helps in the early phase of the brand’s introduction in the market, to let people know what the brand is about or the meaning behind the name or the story of the brand, but that also can be achieved by marketing, communication and brand experience.

BB: One of the main motivators in any consumer journey is emotions and establishing a bond with brands. Does this statement apply to the Egyptian consumer? Please elaborate.

MA: The science of branding is based on global human truths, that transcends countries, borders and cultures. It’s a human need to connect with people and things in our lives based on their value and relevance to us.

With the rise of consumerism, the more options people have, the less they can choose based on functional differentiators, so in turn they look for brands with which they can affiliate and relate, as become an extension of who they are, for a validation of their choices.

BB: The pillar of a great brand experience is crafting a compelling narrative. In your opinion which brand in the Middle east masters the art of storytelling?

MA: I think the one that immediately comes to mind is the Dubai brand. Such amazing focus from everyone involved.

They crafted, a long time ago, a strong vision that translated into an inspiring narrative that is still being applied today.

From the rulers, the governors, the state officials, the industry heads are all aligned on one vision, one story to tell, even the citizens now are narrating the same story, it’s really quite the achievement even on a global scale, i don’t think there is one other city in the world that has managed to tell it’s story so clearly and so consistently to that level ever before.

BB: Till date, there is no single Brand from the Middle East able to gain a ranking in any global brand value index. Why so? Can you name a brand in the Middle East that might have future potential to make it to the ranks?

MA: I would name Dubai again, but i think the reason no consumer brands have indeed risen to that status is the same reason that Dubai has succeeded, there needs to be a very compelling and focused vision, that is engraved in everyone involved, from the business level, the marketing, the decision makers, the branding agency and the advertising agency, that kind of synergy has yet to hit it’s peak here in the Middle East.