Apple, Google, Cadbury and Air New Zealand have been named among the most "authentic" brands in various countries, but what are their equivalents in the Arab world?
Businesses from this part of the world often find themselves catering to consumers within the region while also looking to connect with those abroad as they try to expand globally. But these two efforts need not be mutually exclusive when trying to create and foster an authentic brand.
"For a brand to be successful, it needs to have an original story that's engaging and authentic so that it relates as much as possible to its customers," says Grace Yacoub, the founder of Zaman, a brand development consultancy based in Dubai. "By doing so, the relationship is much deeper."
Zaman recently hosted a competition over the course of eight weeks, where more than 8,300 voters submitted their top picks for the most authentic Arab brands. While well-known local companies such as Emaar Properties, Abraaj Capital and Etihad Airways cracked the top 100, none made it into the top 10.
"I was surprised," says Ms Yacoub. "I don't know if it has to do with the way they communicate or the experiences. I'm not saying they're not positive and authentic, but that may be the other, younger brands engaged more audiences."
Other experts agree that engaging customers is crucial in building an authentic brand, though some also note additional ingredients are needed. Authentic brands tend to remain true to their origins and do not misrepresent themselves or change their message simply to attract new users, according to research from Millward Brown, a global consultancy that ranks the world's most valuable brands each year. And while some brand managers in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) might fret over the exact site where a company was founded, they might be relieved to know that only 26 per cent of respondents in one Millward Brown survey agreed that authenticity implied that a brand came from a specific place.
In Zaman's study of Arab brands, Nada Debs, a Lebanon-based furniture and home accessories business with two locations, ranked sixth overall. It produces one-off pieces, carved by a team of 20 artisans in a workshop, and got its start about a decade ago after the owner was asked to expand her clientele beyond family and friends.
The Lebanese owner, also named Nada Debs, was brought up in Japan and created an "East & East" concept that blends Japanese minimalism with Arab warmth and expressionism in many of her designs. "There's an emotional attachment to the brand," says a spokeswoman for Nada Debs, who notes that the furniture has been reviewed in countries as far-flung as India, Sweden, Mexico and Brazil. "Before [her work] existed, everyone wanted to buy a furniture piece by a Western or European designer," she says.
Other brands have resonated with customers by tapping into regional markets such as local art scenes. Soura, which came in third, is a magazine platform for photographers in the Middle East, while the fifth-ranked Foresight 32, a gallery, has spent two decades showcasing various artists from Jordan. Al Qasba, a cultural and entertainment district in Sharjah, and Rotana Hotels, which offers alcohol-free properties, also landed in the top 10 because of their ability to deliver on the Arab hospitality experience.
The winner, however, was an organisation called Animals Lebanon, which has focused its efforts on creating educational campaigns and pushing for new legislation to close dilapidated zoos and protect animals in the Mena region. "A lot of audiences believed in what they were doing," says Ms Yacoub. "There wasn't too much marketing from that end, but the way they behaved made them successful."