The Evolution of Brand Dubai

With the recent launch of Dubai’s new brand logo and identity, it is only fitting to examine the social, cultural and economic factors that have shaped Dubai’s image. Rapid growth and development over the past decades has established Dubai as a global trade, tourism and finance hub, and set a new lifestyle precedent in the region.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a prominent psychological theory that seeks to understand human motivation & behavior. This theory views human needs in the form of a pyramid, divided into 5 key stages: biological/physiological, safety, belongingness/love, esteem and self-actualization needs. These needs are arranged in an ascending order, wherein the needs at the base of the pyramid have to be fulfilled in order to advance to higher levels. The lowest needs are the most basic such as food, air and shelter, followed by safety, which includes security, law & order, protection and stability.

Love and belongingness come next, which include relationships with family, friends, and the community. These are followed by esteem needs, such as achievement, status, reputation and responsibility. The highest needs are those of self-actualization, or personal fulfillment – think of this as “being all you can be” and reaching your full potential. These needs can be represented by any number of activities, from volunteerism and spirituality to entrepreneurship. We can also fluctuate between these need-states based on our current circumstances. For example, when searching for a new job or promotion, esteem needs are triggered. Thinking about volunteering, or turning your passion into a business? That’s the self-actualization talking!

Brands often tap into these human drivers. For example, Coca-Cola’s long-standing “Open Happiness” campaign specifically targets love and belongingness needs. When it comes to cities or countries, I believe they too, like humans, go through these stages as they evolve, and position themselves in one or more categories. Dubai is currently at the esteem stage, and on the precipice of entering the self-actualization space.

Let’s go back to 1990: Dubai was an up-and-coming city, with sectors such as banking, telecom, aviation and healthcare beginning to grow and flourish. This could be seen as the “safety” phase, where the city was established as a safe, secure environment to live & work. By this time, most regional banks had established a presence, government hospitals were thriving, and the telecom networks were in place.

Over the next decade, the “social/belongingness” phase began, with the establishment of major family-owned retail outlets, restaurants, community clubs, schools, parks and more. From retailers such as LuLu Group & Spinneys to community malls such as Burjuman and Al Ghurair Centre, from the proliferation of SMEs to the increase in schools & cultural associations for locals and expatriates; this phase strengthened the presence of various communities within the city.

The year, 2000 marked the beginning of Dubai’s ascent into the “esteem” phase, with business hubs such as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City being established. This decade also marked the development of major commercial, tourism and residential areas including DIFC, The Dubai Mall, Jumeirah Beach Residences, Palm Jumeirah and Downtown Dubai, to name a few. This phase continues even today, with new developments taking place all around us.

With a range of unique experiences being made possible in the city, Dubai will enter the self-actualization phase very soon. The first indoor air-conditioned city was recently announced, along with the Dubai Design District and the first mall by the beach. I’m sure many more experiences will encapsulate this phase going forward. Of course, it is important to note these phases can co-exist; think of your neighborhood grocery store, or a traditional souk, or even your favorite shawarma joint – the belongingness aspect definitely remains an integral part of the city.

As a proud resident of this wonderful city for the past 20 years, I look forward to seeing what comes next as Dubai enters into the stage that fulfills the highest level of needs for itself and its residents.

This article was also published in Communicate