Branding for the Global Marketplace – The Case of China and The Middle East

The emergence of the everyday economy has affected every aspect of our lives, this economy can be defined as the things we do and purchase clustered around areas of: home, transportation, food, work & money, health, apparel, and entertainment, with this in mind the opportunities it presents has shaped to great extent the way we do business. Today we can book an apartment through Airbnb, reach our destination through Uber, manage our contacts through Cloze and design a business card with Canva. These companies have made their products that touched our everyday lives on the other end there is the lives of millions of young professionals and new work force eager to enter the job market place, except this time with online freelancing the job market has gone bigger. Online Freelancing has opened the way for professionals to work with clients from across the globe, it is a challenging but exciting economy that we are all living in, and it requires the people working in it to step up their work to gain advantage and remain competitive. Brand Creative Directors and Designers must research and gain more in depth understanding about the specific character of the country their brand is targeting unless it is an international brand taking an international identity unspecific to certain nationality, Dr Kieth Dinnie explains in a paper that “Commercial brands deliberately downplay their country of origin in order to appear as being ubiquitous global brands, present everywhere but from nowhere”, this caused gaining flexibility to appeal to sentiments and norms of any culture. On the other hand, Julien Cayla, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Business School, and Eric Arnould Professor of Marketing at Em Lon business school, define brands as cultural forms, this is very accurate and in order for us to understand these forms we need to gain knowledge about the culture it exist in, Cayla and Arnould see that it’s important to acknowledge the diverse ways of branding and thinking about brands across contexts, they further argue that common ways to think and write about brands are intimately tied to what might be called “Western Imagery” of marketing which refers to “the values, institutions, and symbols that are common to marketing as a discipline and form a discourse”, it is crucial to highlight a critical point that differentiates western thought from the Eastern as Northwestern Professor of Law and Philosophy, Charles  Taylor uses the term “social imaginary” to talk about the fundamental premises and expectations shared in the western world where the core component of the imaginary he describes is the primacy of the individual person and the importance attached to the individual desires, this clearly departs from the Eastern view with its collectivist culture where it positions the person as part of a collective and regards the interests of the group more important than the individual.

Branding for China

China with its developed economy, huge population and rich culture filled with iconographic and cultural associations creates a very desirable destination for businesses and brands to launch, the Chines design scene relies extensively on calligraphy and iconography, this is very much seen in the works of well-known designers such as Archer Zuo, Lok Ng and Cai Peng. Not to mention China has a rich reservoir of spiritual references which would be worth tapping on when marketing a brand in the Chines market, According to Douglas Holt, a leading world expert on branding and the founder of Cultural Strategy Group, he confirms that “in the branding arena there is a plenty of evidence to suggest that national myths are especially powerful tools for developing iconic brand”, hence, The Chinese market can be a challenging one. Here are some tips on how to approach the Chines market:

  • Don’t assume the chines market to be one, rather it is one large with a varying purchase power and knowledge about product category.
  • Find out what are the government plans for your product category as the government rules very much influence the industry.
  • Use high quality translations and localized photos.
  • Focus on a strategy that gets your targeted customers talking and influencing each other to promote your product.
  • The chines media market is huge with fragmented geography where it is hard to reach a narrow audience through paid media.
  • Social media is to be reckoned on, where chines are active in sharing their experiences with a product.

Branding for the Middle East

I have worked for 6 years in marketing and branding projects management in various industries in the Middle East, during which I was able to understand what this region is all about, whenever I see western brands launching in the Arab world I can’t help but to sometimes notice how they miss it and in other times they nail it. My understanding is also built upon numerous interactions with people in the industry a telling example was when talking to a brand manager of a well-known Egyptian online service that was trying to expand in other Arab countries, I asked why didn’t they freelance the design work through some of the popular freelancing platforms such as Freelancer, 99Design or Fiverr, her answer was “I tried it once the thing is they could not understand the exclusive nature of our culture”. With its booming economies it’s no surprise to see large companies targeting the Middle East, an example for  big brands is in the fashion industry such as H&M, or when Tom Ford and Jil Sander designed the Dishdasha (the best way to describe it is a long tunic worn by men), people working on this Dishdasha line in the UAE might’ve not known that in some Arab countries the word ‘Dishdasha’ has a another word ‘Thobe’ which is more common and understood across all Arab countries especially the Arab Gulf countries where it was launched, this if anything shows the complexities that this region has to offer. Some big companies when trying to enter the Middle Eastern market instead of building a sub brand that matches this new culture they’re trying to break into instead they acquire an already existing Arab brand to solve this problem of cultural differences an example is the latest acquiring of Amazon of Opensouq and couple of years earlier when Yahoo bought Maktoob.


The Middle East is a very challenging region to understand, businesses trying to promote their brands may find it difficult due to the overwhelming influence guarding this culture whether it’s ideological or traditional. Not to neglect its mixture of conflicting contradictions, with Oil wealthy Arab Gulf states with a more affluent citizens, thus purchasing power and there are the non-oil Arab countries. The Middle East has a high population of young people most reside under the category of Millennials, in the past ten years the region has gone through many conflicts among which one still persist in Syria, that caused a disruption in the economies of some Arab countries and affected its neighbors as well, causing many changes in these developing economies with a massive emergence of young people taking the online space to create their businesses, Jordan is one country that has shown a significant increase in the number businesses by young Millennials, often encouraged and funded by startup accelerators such as Oasis 500, a similar business incubator also can be found in Dubai called DITEC.

This brings us back to the main question in this article of what creatives and designers should look for when working on a brand for the Middle East:

  • First of all the Middle East has high density of young people with ages between 15-35
  • Although they almost all speak the Arabic language but it’s important to distinguish the difference between dialects (remember the Deshdash and the Thobe).
  • If you are to categorize Arab countries you can form these three classifications; The Arab Gulf Countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman), Arab Levant (Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), and North Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania).
  • The Arab Gulf coincides with a tribal norms and affiliation.
  • The English language is widely understood in the Arab Gulf region and Levant, whereas French is more dominant in North Africa including Lebanon.
  • Islam is the most dominant religion in the region that said each country might follow its own religious school such as Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hanafism in Jordan.
  • The Arab Gulf countries are oil rich countries making its citizens more affluent in varying degrees across these Arab states.
  • Regarding social media penetration Instagram is widely used much more in the Arab Gulf, whereas Facebook is more favored in the Levant and North Africa.
  • Despite the perceived perception about the effect of ideology on the everyday life of the ordinary person in the Middle East however not all follow a conservative interpretation of religion.




Cayla, J., & Arnould, E. (2008). A Cultural Approach to Branding in the Global Market place. Journal of Internal Marketing, 86-112.

Dinnie, K. (2008). Japan’s Nation Branding: Recent Evolution and Potential Future Paths. Journal of Current Japanese Affairs.

Taylor, C. (2004). Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke Univesity Press.



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