Sara Faisal of Imagination Middle East: 'Marketers must rethink how they communicate in Saudi Arabia'
Posted on 2023 Dec,31

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Sara Faisal, Senior Strategist at Imagination Middle East, shares her outlook on the current state of the Saudi marketing industry with advice and insights for agencies looking to enter or expand their presence in the Saudi Arabian market.

Can you provide an overview of the current state of the marketing industry in Saudi Arabia and how it has evolved in recent years?

Driven by Saudi Arabia's ongoing transformation and growing global presence, the region's marketing industry has experienced exponential growth in recent years as businesses and brands mature and seek to expand their customer bases. 

One way they have accomplished this is by embracing Gen Z and millennial customers. Brands and businesses have increased their efforts to connect with these age groups, investing in understanding and predicting their preferences and behaviours, as well as exploring cultural trends.

We have seen an increase in the use of social media platforms, experiential marketing efforts incorporating technologies such as AR and VR, and the adoption of omnichannel marketing by businesses looking to transform their marketing strategies.


What are the key factors contributing to the growing demand for marketing services in the Saudi market?

The Middle East has become a hotbed for business growth and competition in the region is fiercer than ever. This has resulted in brands and businesses who are willing to take risks and innovate both their product offerings and how they interact with their customers.

The emergence of Saudi as a global player over the last decade and the recent focus on tourism has shifted consumer behaviour in the region, as international influences begin to change the content people interact with, and the way people shop. Global cultural influences such as Japanese animation, Korean pop music, American action figures and movies have diversified Saudi culture and been a key driver for the marketing industry.


In what ways is digital transformation affecting marketing strategies and opportunities in Saudi Arabia?

Much like the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia has been focused on digital transformation in recent years - we have seen this in the form of an influx of immersive experiences and online services.

The marketing industry in the region has grabbed the emergence of new innovative technologies with both hands - immersive VR/AR experiences and campaigns with interactive screens, and hybrid connections to the right digital and social media have become essential.

The rise of social media in the industry and the increasingly advanced capabilities that are built within these platforms have also encouraged a seismic shift in the industry. The use of AI generative tools and synthetic marketing through Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube shorts and Instagram reels are driving this growth. For example, optimising trending TikTok videos that are pertinent to the target demographic in accordance with AI-generated recommendations or preferences in a specific domain. Prominent organisations that achieved notable success in that sector include The Chefz, To You Delivery, Hungerstation, and Invego.


How do cultural and demographic factors play a role in shaping marketing strategies for businesses operating in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia places a high value on culture. It is central to everything, whether it is fashion, food and beverage, music, or entertainment. Language and communication - dialect and deep cultural understanding - are also important in the region, and expectations will vary depending on the demographics and location of the target audience. However, as Saudi Arabia continues to open its doors to the rest of the world and businesses look to capitalise on the opportunities brought by different cultures, languages, and traditions to the region, marketers must rethink how they communicate.


“As Saudi Arabia continues to open its doors to the rest of the world and businesses look to capitalise on the opportunities brought by different cultures, languages, and traditions to the region, marketers must rethink how they communicate.“


What industries or sectors within Saudi Arabia are experiencing the most significant growth and demand for marketing services, and why?

As the region continues to diversify and more women enter the workforce than ever before - now accounting for 35% of the market - we are seeing significant growth in a variety of sectors. Women account for 42.6% of the total local population, so these changes have resulted in significant shifts in the automobile, finance, and food and beverage industries as female purchasing power in the region increases.

Saudi also has a young and agile population, with a mean age of 30.6 years. This means that brands have an incredible advantage in creating and delivering outer-worldly and highly innovative experiences for consumers who are hungry for innovation and open to change. Enter the experience economy.

Driven by Saudi’s commitment to Vision 2030, the region has embraced the implementation of experiences as a key marketing tactic. Commencing in 2018, the Quality of Life Program is revolutionising Saudi Arabia into a prominent international hub for sports and entertainment, a top tourist destination, and a highly regarded nation for its citizens to reside in.

The program prioritises the advancement of healthy lifestyles and sports, the empowerment of the arts and culture, the development of more liveable urban areas, and the improvement of a vast array of sectors. In addition to fostering the development of vibrant new industries and providing economic diversification, the Program is beautifying communities throughout the Kingdom and enhancing local employment prospects. When these endeavours converge, the overall quality of life is enhanced.


What advice or insights do you have for marketing agencies looking to enter or expand their presence in the Saudi Arabian market?

Avoid stereotypes and relying solely on data, get close to the target audience, learn their behaviours, and communicate with them.