Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Islam Gouda.
Dr. Islam Gouda is a young professional with a passion for marketing. Dr. Gouda has an honorary doctorate from the University of California in Strategic Marketing as a result of the many articles, research studies and publications in that field. He also has a masters degree from the University of Wollongong in Strategic Marketing, and attended Lehigh university’s organizational leadership course, and an American University of Sharjah graduate in Marketing and Management.
Dr. Gouda is a marketing focused business experience with a strong analytical ability of using available market data for strategic marketing, business development, product development purposes along with the identification of new business opportunities and measurement of ROI.
Dr. Gouda’s specialties include leadership and communications skills with the ability to adapt to a wide variety of cultures and to manage and work part of cross-functional teams.
Dr. Gouda has a strong track of success on the definition and execution of the whole marketing mix for both consumer and enterprise segments: market intelligence, product management, demand generation, press, advertising, alliances — with a proven channel expertise, campaigns setup, channel enablement programs, execution, tracking, reporting.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before joining the American University of Sharjah, all my studies were in Arabic, but my thinking and influence from my friends made me want to be a computer engineer as I thought this would be the future at that time. When I applied at the American University of Sharjah my first semester, I had to undertake several elective courses one of which was marketing. I was fond of studying the psychology of the consumers and trying to create products and services that appeal to them in a scientific and measurable manner. I changed my major to the school of business and chose Marketing and Management as my major. I was an “A” student and my professors started hiring me as their TA for the subject and predicted a bright future for me pursuing my passion and what I love and not what others told me to be. My first job was at MasterCard Middle East, it was where I really enjoyed working with numbers and statistics about people’s purchasing patterns and behaviors and devised concise marketing strategies and plans. I did BTL and ATL marketing in addition to practicing social media and how to interact with the customers online, and for that particular company I give all credit to where I am right now and being the head of marketing in my next roles.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was part of MasterCard Middle East, I was also in charge of developing new products for the customers that were insights and data driven by the customer purchases. We wanted at that time to create a product that caters to women, a credit card for one of the operating banks in the Middle East that can be sold to the women segment. So, one of my suggestions about the packaging was to make the card colorful (pink) so women can feel that they can comfortably use it, and men be discouraged to get the card. When we launched the card neither men or women bought and when we created a focus group to understand why it came to our knowledge that women do not like to have pink credit cards but black as men do to feel equal with men as they earn and spend in the same way. So, that mistake taught me that not all standard theories are obsolete, and that customers’ insights change from one situation to the other depending on the industry, the product, and what they feel when making a purchase. So, the lesson learned was to not always listen to your instincts but first to talk with the people and understand what they want before deciding. Yes, it might take time, yes it would involve an ample amount of research, but it will yield the results that you want to achieve.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My current company understands the employees and capitalizes on their strengths and tries to empower them to overcome their weaknesses. The number one factor of success in any company is listening and understanding your employees and that is what my current company does. It allows free thinking and creativity, there is autonomy and no micro-management, and this is key giving freedom to the employees to creatively achieve their goals and objectives.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently part of the automotive industry, and the number one challenge is to understand how people react to the changing circumstances amid the COVID19 pandemic. What are the certain behaviors and decisions people would make when viewing a car rental proposition? Our number one priority is to understand that pattern of behavior to help them commute in the most safe and secure way and create messages that would unblock their protective moods that they have been in due to the COVID19 situation.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Branding is a lot deeper than we might realize when we’re reading about the newest marketing fads on the internet. Branding has everything to do with identity: who are you and what kind of business are you? What’s your name, and why should I remember it? How do you and your brand make me feel? The answers to these questions should be related to your products and services — but not limited to them. Your brand is what makes your business feel like a person, and a person is more than an automatic vending machine, business transaction or product; a person has a personality, and just like a person, your business’ brand needs to show its personality. Advertising, however, is about communicating what you have to offer through sales, coupons, radio and TV ads, and posters. An advertisement is soliciting a meeting between your ideal customer and your company, and the difference between a customer who knows your brand and one who doesn’t is like the difference between asking a stranger on the street to go to coffee with you, and asking a friend.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Brand recognition and awareness play a huge part in building credibility with customers and helping the sales team close a deal. Demand generation and corporate branding go together, especially for growth-phase companies. If a prospect does not know your company, the sales rep will spend the first few precious minutes explaining who you are. Wouldn’t it be better and more effective if your prospect had already heard of you? That way, instead of describing your company, you could spend time describing your offering. People buy products they like from companies they know and trust. Think Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks or B2B companies such as Intel and GE. In today’s market, brand credibility is your competitive advantage. Whether you are a start-up or a growth-phase business, it’s imperative for marketing heads to position the brand as a market leader and leverage their founders’ profile to create positive brand perception and customer behavior. Additionally, Founders and business leaders are constantly looking for financiers to support their growth and exit strategies. Investors view a company before investing, not just its product or products. They also consider corporate reputation, the CEO and founders’ credibility and financial performance before making an investment decision. Finally, in today’s digital era, buying decisions are changing dramatically. buyers are now as empowered as consumers. CIOs are not the only ones making the ultimate buying decisions, and how businesses interact with vendors is also changing. Marketers therefore have to design strategies that educate and engage customers, not “sell” to them. Content should be interesting, and search optimized for digital discovery. Delivering a personalized experience and making content and tools readily available when and where customers need them have great potential to improve the customer experience. Building your brand is key to driving sales, boosting partnerships, and accelerating growth. You want customers to trust your name, eager to learn more and be proud they can rely on your brand to run their business. Consider brand building as a long-term commitment and investment — not an expense.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- The number one strategy is to be honest with the customers, being transparent means recognizing and being open about both your strengths and weaknesses. If your product is not right for one of your leads, you should be secure enough to guide that lead in the right direction, even if that act means boosting your competitor’s bottom line. When Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, (now the Dove Self-Esteem Project) it transformed itself from merely a soap company to a company with a vision. Their new mission statement was that “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” By consistently aligning its marketing efforts with its mission statement, Dove has been able to change its public perception to a brand that authentically champions women’s empowerment and wants to change the conversation around beauty. The longevity and resources Dove has put into changing the advertising industry’s narrow view of beauty have also made Dove appear more credible with its marketing messages.
- The second most important strategy is to under promise and over deliver. Consumers don’t trust brands nearly as much as they used to, and one reason for this shift is that customers feel they’ve been lied to. Any time a customer feels as though he or she has been deceived or manipulated, in any way that customers will likely part ways with the brand responsible. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to all forms of customer expectations. If it takes you a week to ship a product, tell your customers it takes two weeks. If a product will last for 10 years, claim it will last for eight. That way, you will never run the risk of breaking your promises (at least, not with the majority of your customers). The Japanese car maker Toyota has been doing this for years, people know the quality of the cars and their durability, but they never promise customers that their cars will last for years. Customers experience such a brand promise by themselves without such being said in advertising or marketing campaigns, that is how their sales are always high, and people buy their products without any hesitation.
- The third strategy is to embody values that set you apart. Take Ben and Jerry as an example. For Ben & Jerry’s, it’s not enough just to turn a profit, or even to provide the best possible ice cream product to their customers. In addition to those two goals, they want to use their business to try to make the world a better place through charitable work (the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was founded in 1985 and receives 7.5% of the company’s annual profits to fund “community-oriented projects”) and activism (Ben & Jerry’s works to support causes they believe in, including GMO labeling and preventing climate change).It can be hard as a business owner to decide to take a stand for a cause you believe in. It’s a big risk — everyone isn’t going to agree with the specific things that you may want to support, of course, and the fear of losing customers can overpower a desire to do good. But for a business that wants to do more, no matter what “more” means to you, Ben & Jerry’s is a great role model.
- The fourth strategy is to always put the customers first. When it comes down to it, your ability to earn customer trust depends on your ability to reliably give your customers what they want. And one of the best ways to do this is to build a company-wide customer-centric culture. For example, Emirates Airlines provides the best flying experience to customers with varying budgets. You can have a great experience with Emirates travelling in economy class better than any other airlines the same way goes to flying first class. They simply put the customers first and make them the center of the transaction.
- The final strategy is to maintain consistency. Maintaining consistency ensures that your prospects and customers know what to expect. You can set both internal and external goals to maintain the quality of service. Brands like Coca-Cola and Nike have managed to maintain consistency over decades in business. Even with subtle changes in design over the years, there is a basic look that remains consistent.
- Finally, Trust is a byproduct of a commitment to quality and excellence. If you can deliver the right results to the right people over the long haul, they will come to believe and trust in your product and service offerings.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I think the best example is Burt’s Bees. They make all-natural personal care products, but their mission is much larger. Inspired by their founder, they “look to Burt as a model of how to live simply, naturally, and responsibly.” As such, a large component of their brand storytelling focuses on how Burt’s philosophies and lifestyle influence the products they make. Through a series of entertaining videos, they help us get to know the man behind the brand. The thing that impresses me the most about this brand is its ability to start small and then become very large on the grounds of a product that has never been inspired by the customers at all. When Burts Bees conducted focus groups and surveys, customers never said that they wanted a lip balm made out of honey, they just mentioned that they would like to see a more natural product in such a market. They have created the niche but did not find it, which is a case study to all marketers around the world of the fantastic job they have done. In order for us to replicate that, we need to read between the lines of what the customers says. People will never tell you we want this or that, but they will outline their aspirations and for such marketers needs to psychoanalyse the customers and create an understanding beyond what they are saying.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Before beginning any brand-building campaign, it’s important to first determine the campaign’s goals. What would success look like for this campaign? Are you trying to raise brand awareness, or do you want your campaign to result in a specific action? The simple exercise of exploring these options and parameters will help you develop a richer analysis of your efforts. Keep in mind that the more detailed you get in terms of goals and benchmarks, the better. Let us say, for example, that you want to send out your company’s freshly re-branded newsletter. Many marketers would fall into the mistake of sending the newsletter out and seeing what happens. But, much like the importance of a hypothesis in a science experiment, your priority should be to set certain benchmarks or goals for this campaign. Once the campaign is complete, you can revisit these goals to see just how the campaign measured up to expectations — providing you with a better idea of what you can do to improve for next time. You’ll also want to include competitor data in your benchmarks. While it’s important to measure the success of your campaign from an internal perspective, where are you in regard to the competition? Are you aware of the number of downloads their app has? Has their latest campaign resulted in a spike of followers on social? Knowing what you need to do to remain competitive will add yet another layer of complexity to how you measure the success of your brand building campaigns. Measuring the success of any campaign comes down to data. Fortunately, in the Digital Age where products are becoming smarter and consumer’s time online continues to increase, marketers have a plethora of data they can take advantage of. In today’s ever-online world, you can monitor brand activity across all channels in order to gauge engagement and reach. Analytics can be used to gain insight into demographics, interest, and awareness. You can then use this information to discover new areas of opportunity. Data can also be used to test campaigns and content. A/B testing content can yield impressive insight and enable your company to create smarter campaigns.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
The role of social media in building brands is an extremely important one. With social media, all consumers can share their voice and opinion. With the different types of social media platforms, companies have many ways to connect with their audience. Social media increases the amount of exposure a brand receives and increases traffic. Social media also helps to develop loyal fans and generates leads. Having a strong social media presence allows a brand to develop business partnerships, reduce marketing costs and improve sales. Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections. There are many essential social media marketing strategies to ensure a brand is optimizing social media. The first is to choose the right social media networks that fit the brand best. If a company is finding they aren’t getting any traction on some social media sites, it’s beneficial to change to other sites they could get traction on. The next strategy is to not overlook visual branding. Consumers respond to visuals so it is important to ensure all social media profiles look similar and don’t create a disconnect. The third strategy companies should use is to develop their own unique voice. To do this, companies should incorporate their company culture and values into their posts and make them authentic. Being consistent with topics and posting regularly are also important strategies companies should focus on when building their brand. The rise of social media has led to the rise of influencers. When building their brand, companies should connect with these influencers. When connecting with influencers, companies should make sure they are authentic, active, engaging, experts in the field and good leaders. Other strategies for building brands include not wasting profile space, promoting profiles and, most importantly, being engaging.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
The best tip I can give is to build a solid workflow and stick to it. In the short-term, it’s tempting to skirt around steps or tasks in my workflows to save a few minutes here or there, but in the end it has always come back to bite me and costs me an hour or two. Workflows are built for a reason — ensuring that a quality product can be turned out in a timely and efficient manner.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Help comes in all sorts of forms — from helping an elderly lady across the street, to supporting a colleague to get a huge project done, to consoling a friend who’s going through a bad break up. Contrary to the idea that people who help in big ways are doormats and will inevitably burn out or get walked on, research now shows that those who are the most successful and impactful in the world are also the biggest, most generous givers. So, if you are a teen, or in college, or a working member of the community dedicate at least 2 hours of your day helping others in any form and you will feel better and make others feel better as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My own personal quote in life is “Your character will take you places more than your talent, and your talent will take you places more than your skills, and your motivation is what makes all of these work together.” After many years of working and studying, I came to the conclusion that character alone won’t take you places, and talent alone won’t take you places — you need to be self-motivated in order for your talent and your character to work together and make something out of you. This quote is very relevant in my life because people used to tell me that I had the talent and the character, but my motivation levels were very low. When my passion for marketing started growing, I did not read much outside of my work experiences and the books that I used to read when I was at school. But I figured out that it is was not enough — for you to thrive in life you need to read and read and read and finally write about your experiences. Motivate yourself and reward it at the end of the day with an accomplishment that crowns your efforts.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would like to meet Bill Gates and have lunch with him, I want to understand what motivated him to create this empire and suddenly step out. It would be interesting to take his insights as well on future business changes in addition to his personal experience with marketing Microsoft to turn into one of the biggest companies in the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can reach out to me on LinkedIn (search Islam Gouda),
or on Twitter (IslamGouda11)
or send me an email on [email protected]