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Act like a Saudi, think like a local brand – by DMS’s Brendan Walsh

History, heritage and culture are just some of the elements successful marketers will incorporate into their Kingdom-specific strategies

by Brendan Walsh, head of strategy, KSA, DMS

Having worked with strategic brands across the region over a number of years, 2022 steered me to a role focusing on our key clients in Saudi Arabia. The impact of Saudi’s Vision 2030 is real – from the bustling cafes of Tahlia to the freshly painted boardrooms at KAFD, it is clear the Kingdom is thriving.

Are you in Riyadh on June 14th? Do you want to meet the movers and shakers in Saudi media, marketing and advertising? Would you like the latest information and insights into the industry in KSA? Then join us for our first Campaign Saudi Briefing 2022: Vision and Ambition. Click here to learn more and register.  

It is forgivable to compare Vision 2030 to a ‘gigatonic’ version of the gentrification we’re seeing in many urban areas across the globe. The possibilities of job creation, housing developments, improved amenities and public services have helped to inspire deteriorating communities for decades.

However, some of the shortcomings associated with mismanaged urban renewal, including congestion, displacement, and the decay of cultural identity, could not be further from Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future.

Capitalising on their rich history, heritage and culture, strategic location, and economic strength: the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has established the holistic blueprint to build a vital society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation.

To understand how media will play a role in the future of Saudi Arabia, we need to deeply understand the vision, and what this means for the people of Saudi.

The vision is powered by social, economic, infrastructural, technological and environmental programmes to drive a better quality of life across the Kingdom. The benefits to society will mean exceptional education, bigger opportunities, inclusivity, diversification and empowerment.

The change has been dramatic since the transformation was rolled out in 2016 with
the planned completion of the many giga-projects being staggered into phases until 2030 and beyond.
So how can brands maintain the momentum with this young and optimistic population, when there is still so much change on the horizon?

Firstly, knowing an audience goes beyond their demographics and interests. It’s crucial to understand the relationships Saudis have with a brand, and what it represents to them. We know Saudi consumers are now demanding more brands that are ‘Saudised, experiential and different’.

A meticulous always-on qualitative research strategy is key to helping brands understand the perceptions, motivations and opinions of their consumers, which will help build and optimise an engaging media strategy to improve both relevance and perception.

To nurture a responsible and engaged culture, it is vital that Saudis feel inclusion. Information can create a sense of fellowship within society, and that content can range from inspirational to educational or entertainment.

The local publishers and producers are going to be crucial in building a communications strategy that will truly resonate with Saudis. If we look at major digital portals in Saudi Arabia such as Sabq.org and Hawaaworld.com, the editors and contributors are living the transformation within these cities. With millions of engaged and loyal audiences, these professionals can articulate stories that are relevant and meaningful. We are seeing more and more brands partnering with these publishers to develop authentic and trustworthy content. By combining the right balance of these local publishers with key social platforms, brands can deliver custom stories to multiple audiences at scale.

To ensure content makes an impact, it needs to tap into what matters the most to these audiences. Saudis are extremely patriotic and it’s crucial for them to preserve what makes them unique – their people, hospitality, ancient history, striking landscapes and the arts. Beyond their six Unesco World Heritage Sites, several of their cultural practices have been recognised by Unesco as Intangible Cultural Heritage, including falconry, sadu weaving, traditional drumming, dance, and poetry. Consider the inclusion of locations, themes, sounds and visuals to add a delicate cultural reference.

Furthermore, Saudis resonate more with Arabic-first content, pressing further the need to ensure brand partners are communicating in a relevant dialect. With the Kingdom driving such
a high demand for authentic Arabic content, we are seeing publishers like mawdoo3.com developing content studios specifically to address this growing demand.

Beyond this, there is an opportunity to create accessible content supporting the enormous advancements Saudi is making in terms of innovation and the future. From cognitive cities to sustainability, Saudi’s Vision realisation programmes offer an exciting platform for informational content themes to address the interests of niche and broader audiences across Saudi and the entire region.

The distribution of this content has possibilities far beyond individual portals, offering brands exclusive content that can thrive across multiple digital and social touchpoints, and potentially used to drive on-ground consumer engagement initiatives.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia is a nation to watch and offers enormous opportunities for both local and global brands. However, this is not a market to enter lightly; Saudis are not interested in generic brand communications. It is crucial you get to know your customers and speak to them in their language about topics close to their heart.