Reviving brands in Yemen: a view from HSA

Mohamed Torki, chief marketing officer at HSA group
Mohamed Torki, chief marketing officer at HSA group

Yemen, often described as the world’s most humanitarian crisis on Earth, is known to many as a war zone, tough living conditions and a concentration of many problems. On the other side, it’s home to more than 30 million Yemenis and a country with fabulous history. For so long, building brands has been ignored given the country conditions. One company decided to invest into the future and build true meaningful brands to the Yemeni consumers.

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HSA, standing for Hayel Saeed Anam, is a huge family conglomerate that originated in Yemen more than 80 years ago, currently employing more than 35,000 people across all its operations. For many, the name HSA wouldn’t be familiar, but they are the group owning Arma company in Egypt, house of brands like Crystal oil and Al Hanem ghee – all are leaders of their categories in the market. They also have a large operation in Saudi Arabia, Africa and many countries around the world. The group embarked on a transformational journey for the business and the brands they own since 2019.

Mohamed Torki, chief marketing officer at HSA group, and a 20 year marketing veteran in Procter and Gamble and Mars in many countries tells the story. “As I started my journey with HSA at the beginning of 2020, I witnessed category leading brands in many segments of the business that didn’t connect with consumers for some time. The war conditions made priorities change, rightly so, to ensure business continuity at the time of crisis,” he added, “but then it was the right time to rebuild these brands’ equities and make them closer to the consumer needs.”

A journey of transformation started to make sure the Yemeni brands are no less than any international competitor in the market. “The marketing fundamentals of how brands grow were applied,” Torki explained. The newly appointed marketing team, together with the existing Yemeni talent, started their step by step journey by ensuring they build a strong foundation of consumer understanding, habit change knowledge, and the aspirations of the Yemeni population. “Anything that doesn’t start with deeply understanding the consumer and his/her needs builds the wrong foundation for the business,” added the CMO “it’s like being in a plane cockpit not knowing where to land.”

With a much deeper consumer understanding, the team embarked in defining the portfolio of brands and SKU’s that will lead the future growth of the company. With brands operating in 14 FMCG categories, the team needed to drive focus on the right brands and SKU’s that will enable a win for the company. “It’s never about how many brands we own, but about how many we have the right to win with,” explained Torki. “Once the portfolio has been defined, the team moved into contracting the right agency partners in advertising, packaging designs, consumer research, and media planning and buying to start executing their vision of best in serving the Yemeni consumers’ needs in a VUCA world”.

“It was amazing to find outstanding agency partners in the region opening up their arms to help in building HSA brands in Yemen, like Momentum and FP7, both part of MCN Network, and Matter branding for packaging design and brand character building.”

“Having real agency partners is crucial in achieving real transformation, and we were lucky with the choices we made.”

“In a period of 18 months, we were able to optimize our portfolio with a winning range, implement a full packaging uplift on more than 20 brands, all having a consumer perception similar or better than their international competitors, develop more than 14 TV advertising and bringing back strong communication on all our mega brands, develop omni channel communication that connects with consumers, activate social media plans to drive engagement with the youth, and launch more than 20 new innovative proposition serving the Yemeni consumer needs. Our company leaders are very clear that brand equity and brand value are the most important asset for the company.”

The results were outstanding: despite being the market leaders in almost all categories, we were still able to grow our market share in 11 out of 14 categories. “The conditions were tough: Closed roads, war conditions, continuous currency devaluation, and many more issues faced the team during the implementation of the brands’ revamp journey,” Torki explained. “But over and over again, no matter which category you operate in, having the right mental availability and the right physical availability, while being price competitive, prove to be a working formula under all conditions. We are now almost three years into our transformation journey and we aspire to much more to achieve.”