Claude Salzberger is the president of MBLM, a global branding consultancy. Based at the company's headquarters in New York, he regularly visits the office in Dubai. MBLM's expertise lies in linking brands, people and technology and it counts Shurooq and Dubai World Central among its clients.
Do you approach branding differently in the Middle East than in the West?
When you are dealing with brands the principal is pretty much the same all around. We apply the same principles and methodology whether we are in Dubai or Mexico or New York. The fundamentals of branding are universal in that sense.
How is technology affecting branding?
The citizenship of brands is becoming more important. If a building burns down in Bangladesh or something happens at Foxcomm in China, I'm holding my iPad and that affects my perception of that brand. It is technology that has made all of that possible in an instant. That is a trend organisations and companies need to be aware of but I don't think anybody has figured out to how to stay ahead of the game on that one. The other important thing that underlies all of this is the democratisation of brands: brands used to speak out to people and now brands are owned by the people and it's much more about a dialogue than a one-way communication. What facilitates that is technology.
What exactly do you mean by brands being owned by the people?
Your influence over brands, over a friend of yours choosing a particular brand of car or buying a particular thing - that conversation is happening across a whole other set of people than it used to. The influencers are not so much what ad you saw or what brochure you saw but it's actually your relationship with your community and who you are as a person. That community begins to determine what decisions you start making, where you shop, what you shop for etc. The power of that is much more in the hands of the people. One of the main examples of that is the reason Apple is still around today: there was a diehard group of people who wouldn't be without it. And then obviously after many trials and tribulations there was a major breakthrough with iTunes and that changed everything; that allowed everything to come after that and to broaden the core of Apple users to a whole new set of people.
Is social media playing an increasingly important role in branding?
Branding is entering a whole new phase in its development. It's really not social media that's changing things per se though it's an important component; it's technology that's changing the way people relate to brands and the way organisations communicate with various segments and audiences. That's really the revolution that's happening whether you are a corporation, or government organisation, a fashion brand or whatever it might be. Your smartphone is a mirror of you and all the things you care about are in there.