“Qatar needs its young successful story-tellers and the world will want to listen to them”
What’s your story, Qatar?
By Olivier Auroy
The 2006 Asian Games was a good opportunity for Qatar to reiterate its positioning in the Gulf by promoting sports, culture and education. The recent success of the London 2012, promoting the core principle “inspiring a generation” validated their efforts.
The Asian Games was just a beginning. Qatar will soon organise two world cups: the Handball World Cup in 2015, and, of course, the Football World Cup in 2022. How important is this?
Well, there is fierce competition between the states of the Gulf. Wealthy and ambitious cities such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jeddah, Bahrain and Kuwait are also making plans to attract people and investment.
Dubai has become the number one tourist destination in the Middle East. Capitalising on its existing infrastructures and attractive lifestyle, the vibrant city of the UAE cannot be equalled. Bahrain, trying to be a financial hub, is still faltering in the aftermath of political turmoil. So is Kuwait, although once upon a time, it was the most advanced economy in the region. Jeddah is a becoming a religious tourism platform for the Muslim world. And then comes Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, which has also invested in culture and sports. The Formula One Grand Prix has become a major international event in the automotive racing world. The city of Abu Dhabi is the main sponsor of World Rally Championship. The Ferrari entertainment park is open. Manchester City’s English Premier League title gave good credentials to the oil-rich Emirati investors. As for the loudly publicised museums of Le Louvre and Guggenheim, there are doubts about their final date of completion.
Football sponsorship spells it out
Football reflects pretty well the competition between the gulf cities. Emirates Airlines are sponsoring Arsenal. Qatar Holding just bought Paris Saint-Germain and was leading the mercato during this summer. It has to be said that Qatar also bought the French TV rights for football. French supporters will not forget the name of Al Jazeera.
As we can see, Qatar’s future is promising. With a few stunning museums to open and the hosting of forthcoming world sports events, the peninsula can become the centre of sports and culture in the region.
However, good destination branding (the technical term for branding a country or a city) is not only made of coups.
How do other countries do it?
New Zealand is a great case study. A small island in the middle of the South Pacific with 4.4 million inhabitants has been ranked as the number three brand in the world. Croatia is not bad either. Emerging from a deadly civil war, the small Mediterranean country managed to build his name through sports (football and handball especially) and tourism.
What are their secrets, considering they are not so rich? How did they make it?
Well, those brands understood the concept of branding: perception! Reputation and perception are not something that money can always buy. It is built over time. It is achieved through the commitment of motivated stakeholders.
Looking at the success of these two countries, we can define the rules of a good destination branding.
Rule number one: You need a good story to tell. Branding is about story telling. We can mention the remarkable job done by India with the notorious campaign “Incredible India”.
To tell a good story, you need a good scenario: credible, differentiated, relevant and exciting.
Rule number two: There must be something in that story that everybody will remember. It can be a powerful personality (what Nelson Mandela is for South Africa or Queen Elizabeth for the UK). It can be a landscape or a monument (the Eiffel Tower for Paris or the Taj Mahal for India). It can be its product (“Made in Japan”). It can be its entertainment industry (Hollywood, Bollywood or currently the Turkish TV productions for the Middle East). You need to build a strong image in peoples’ minds.
Let’s use the analogy of the cinema industry. When people are asked about the ET movie, they usually mention the flying bicycle with the moon in the background. A good story drives powerful images. And if you don’t write the story yourself, someone else will do it for you, but you won’t control it. The image of Kazakhstan has been driven, by default, by Sacha Baron Cohen and his movie “Borat”. Pakistan is good example of a country unable to manage its own image.
Rule number three: You need the right ambassadors to tell your story. Actually, all stakeholders play a very important role. From tourism officials to business leaders, from sportsmen to education heads, everyone must contribute. The recent London 2012 gave a brilliant example of how various celebrities and officials can speak the same language, for the benefit of the city of London.
Rule number four: You need to be consistent over time. The story must be delivered consistently year-after-year. Images can change. Spokesmen can differ. But the overall vision must remain the same.
Rule number five: The story must be appealing for the potential “consumers”. Poland might claim that its labour force is the best in Europe (the famous story of the Polish plumber). We are not so sure that such a statement would make the tourists flood to Warsaw and Cracovia. There was a time when Egypt was advertising its wonderful sunny weather to the Gulf people. That’s another point; you don’t talk the same way to different audiences. According to surveys, Oman means trekking to German tourists. For French tourists, Oman means Indian Ocean and suggestive souks. British citizens think of 4x4 adventures.
Looking at these rules, can Qatar make it?
Qatar has the resources. Qatar has the ambition.
In short, Qatar has the energy required to create a powerful and memorable image.
Qatar has established itself as a big player on the sports field. It is fast becoming one of the most important cultural hubs in the Middle East region. Through the Qatar Foundation, it has been investing in education for the last decade, like no other country. So yes, Qatar has a few good stories to tell.
We talked about the recent success of London and how British celebrities contributed to build the image of the Games. But it was clear to everyone that the population of London, the volunteers and the cheering crowds, made it happen for real.
This is why Qatar is right to support its new talents, its young athletes (Mutaz Essa Barshim) and its promising artists. They will be the story-tellers that the world will want to listen to. And this is why Qatar needs to make sure that the Qatari population will be properly engaged and motivated.
Oliver Auroy is the Managing Director of FITCH Middle East.
FITCH has been a close partner of Qatar ever since we created and implemented the visual identity of the Asian Games in 2006.