The Third Wave – Shyam Sunder

An open letter by Shyam Sunder, head of marketing at Centrepoint UAE until recently

After an exciting phase of building brands primarily in FMCG and banking, on the advertising and activations side of the table in India, phase two of my career on the brand-management side of the table has been even more gratifying, with its equal share of pressure and challenges.

My focus has been on digital marketing, analytics and omnichannel marketing here in the Middle East. Being on the advertiser’s side has many advantages, especially for someone like me who grew up challenging conventions and taking risks. All those who worked with me in my real estate stint at ETA Star Properties experienced the constant urge and push to innovate, collaborate and settle for nothing but the best for the brand we built. Along the way, our projects included ‘Own a home for AED 1234 a month’, the prestigious Taj Exotica’s Grandeur Residences on Palm Jumeirah positioned as ‘Your Palace on the Palm’ and the CSR initiative ‘Homes for the Homeless’ with Habitat for Humanity International.

To create something out of nothing continues to be the best part of being in advertising and marketing. And when you work with the finest talent and an empowering leadership, traveling the world as a brand ambassador, learning and adapting and doing work that works is like
living a dream.

My move to retail wasn’t planned, as with many of the best things in life. Landmark Group had just reopened the Oasis Centre, which within months was reeling under pressure from the first super mall, Mall of Emirates. My assignment was to resurrect its fortunes. By listening to customers and tenants, repositioning the brand, creating a 52-week calendar of events and improving the tenant mix, we achieved the impossible of positive footfall and sales within 18 months. The exclusive properties created with the Double Shukran rewards, the Category Festivals, Women’s Wednesdays and Clothes for Compassion CSR initiative were examples of Oasis Centre finding its feet. By then the thirst for doing more saw me take on Citymax Hotels, which was the first home-grown budget hotel chain. Again, the start to the business was rocky. The brand had no recognition and no marketing  department.

The fundamentals of building a brand from scratch remain the same: customer understanding, continuous product and experience improvements, positioning, launching, creation of events and content, and building them into properties to drive footfall. When it’s done with passion and drive, then success is inevitable. My growth came quick and fast, thanks to the leadership at Landmark Group. The move from the smallest businesses to the largest consolidated one was unprecedented and looked scary to start with. It was a gauntlet I couldn’t refuse.

The Centrepoint journey remains the most challenging, and by far the most rewarding in every sense.
Transforming the ‘store’ into a ‘brand’ was the task in hand, and in that journey building the fashion credentials with a fresh new identity was the immediate focus. In the six years that followed, we did that and so much more, catapulting the brand to not just the regional but the international stage. The fundamentals were re-visited. The battle lines were drawn. And the mission to redefine the rules of retail advertising was set.

The first fashion season witnessed a strong identity, which was built on the brand’s biggest visual property: its concentric circles. A strong trade calendar was set in motion, with a good balance of prime and clearance events. Fresh content was infused into the social media handles as the shift from traditional to digital platforms was accelerated. ‘The Centrepoint Sale’ property was built with trailblazing campaigns, and the industry took notice.

The ‘Family Clock’ CSR effort to build emotional bonds was special. So was ‘The World’s First Spacesuit Design’ omnichannel activation with Google MENA. Owning key occasions such as Ramadan and back-to-school and consolidating our efforts were achieved with good and consistent work. The recent ‘Shine This Ramadan’ campaign was a stand-out. And the re-purposed brand campaign ‘The Boy Nobody Could See’ will remain my personal favourite in terms of creativity and craft.

The awards and recognition for the brand came thick and fast from New York to London, from Durban to Cannes. All in all, a brand transformation journey that all those incredibly talented individuals in Landmark Group and the industry who helped co-create great work across creative, media, PR, social, TV, print, radio, outdoor and digital are very proud of. So are our content partners including Google and Facebook MENA.

I leave Centrepoint in its best form ever, as it powers ahead to becoming the largest and the most loved fashion destination in the region. That brings me to the third wave ahead. Weighing all options which are sprouting up, thanks to many from the industry who have been very gracious in coming forward with ideas, recommendations and off ers. To start with, I am doing what I wanted to for a long while: tutoring. It has always been one of my many passions and I am enjoying working with the youth and fellow tutors across institutes and bridging the gap between them and the industry.

Here is hoping for some exciting times ahead.