By Saleh al Shaibany — When you opt for a foreign-made label and ignore the Omani brand, it is as good as admitting that you are ashamed of locally-produced products. We may not be a manufacturing power or not even come close but at least Omanis have the national obligation to buy what is produced locally. Let me put it this way. Your job and your children’s future will one day depend on the success of the manufacturing industry. Perhaps it has got to do with the stereotypes Omanis develop about products and their countries of origin. Most local consumers associate excellence with foreign brands.
The Belgians make best chocolates while good crisps come from the United States. With some, it is also about social status rather than anything else. If you wear locally made shoes then your bank balance is not as good as your next door’s neighbour who insists on buying Italian shoes.
Ten years ago, we thought local industries failed themselves with the bad presentation of their products. Branding then was not good enough and marketing was a major problem. Innovation was also a challenge a decade ago.
Things have changed now on leaps and bounds but the local consumer mindset has not. We are proved right every time we go to a store.
Last week, I saw fresh beef from Salalah languishing in a remote corner of the display counter. People were buying New Zealand, Australia and even Indian meat and the majority of these customers are Omanis. What happened to the Salalah beef?
It is thrown in the bin after its display date has expired. And so are the locally grown bananas, carrots, cucumbers and mangoes.
It proves that Omani consumers don’t have conscience. Yes, it is about branding, not the product but branding the lack of patriotism with some consumers, one would argue.
In a recent symposium, a speaker urged Omani manufacturers to roll up their sleeves so they can have a competitive edge to break into the international market. How could they conquer markets outside their own borders when they are struggling right here at home?
The speaker, like the local consumers, was completely delusional about the whole thing. He was right on one thing, though.
The quality of locally-produced goods is competitive with international standards but perhaps many manufacturers themselves are not confident of that fact.
But quality may not be enough. They certainly need to raise a bar and sharpen their entrepreneurship skills.
Consumers respond to bold gestures, make promises that no manufacturers can keep and a certain degree of deception. How on earth do you think famous brands get away with fabricated ingredients and other marketing gimmicks that are no near to the truth? Unfortunately, these are the realities of marketing which local consumers may not understand or are too timid to pursue.
Some of them complain that getting the support of the consumers is one thing but getting financing to market their product is hard to come by.
Good and attractive packaging and advertisement costs money. The health of local goods hinges heavily on buyers. There is no magical formula or short cut to the problem. Attitudes need to change. Perhaps manufacturers blame a lot on lack of patriotism without realising that they need to change their thinking strategy. They put too much emphasis on corporate branding and that is where most of the cash and efforts go.
They need to stop glorifying the main office and put their individual brands first if they want consumers to respond in a big way. If that does not happen then they are leaving the fate of their brands to consumers to tell themselves that buying Omani made product is about national pride.
Perhaps again we should not just blame a customer. Are manufacturers or food growers proud of being part of a national drive to expand the economy?
Some may well be but I suspect the rest feel it is one way of demanding customer loyalty without doing much. In a nutshell, consumers are creatures of habit. It is difficult to change their buying routine even if you put a question mark on their loyalty.