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MENA Power List 2023: It’s a turn for the books by UM’s Joe Nicolas


Joe Nicolas has been the CEO of UM MENAT for 4 years. His favourite hobby is Motocross in the desert.

Now is the moment to make an equal stand on the global podium. Only a few years ago, this region was looking outward for marketing success stories. More recently, we can see the tables have turned as global markets now look to us for innovation and inspiration.

We are experiencing an extraordinary moment in history. In a world marred by uncertainty, economic challenges and increasing polarisation, the Middle East stands out as a beacon of growth, development and prosperity.

The connected infrastructure, governmental support and optimistic population are a three-point springboard for exponential growth.

When stability of this nature is felt, the result is often creative execution through the freedom to trial, test and play. Today, this region is showing the world its creative brilliance through never-seen-before projects such as NEOM, Red Sea Global and Dubai Expo 2020.

And in response, the marketing industry is raising the bar to match their ambitious expectations. The next phase is where our region will change the game. As we collectively bring to the world our innovative propositions in technology, travel, entertainment, urban living and business solutions, we will shift the marketing proactive across many spectrums, but three new areas will have the most significant impact.

Scaling audiences in a connected world

In today’s interconnected world, geographical boundaries have blurred. The era of locally nuanced media has given way to homogenized global media platforms that are the same in every part of the world (except China), where shared content and experiences transcend borders. Platforms like Netflix serve as prime examples of this trend, as audiences converge to enjoy the same content.

Campaigns must aim to resonate with a global audience, fostering unity and shared experiences.

The success of local brands hinges on their ability to transcend regional limits and gain global recognition. Notable examples such as Emirates, Qatar World Cup and the multiple competing tourism boards across the Middle East have demonstrated the prowess of taking homegrown concepts to the world stage.

Google’s statement, ‘Consumers are borderless’, emphasizes today’s significance of customer satisfaction over geographic origin.

Previously, we segmented audiences by regions, delving into sub-categories and then interconnecting these categories through insights into regional-based preferences and established behaviours. However, in this new landscape, where global products are emerging, a novel approach must be crafted to cater to the demands of a true global audience.

For instance, consider a beauty brand: we now examine audiences from a more comprehensive perspective, such as conscientious consumers inclined towards sustainable beauty products. This audience archetype surpasses geographical boundaries, enabling us to establish a more expansive yet equally profound connection.

Setting global measurement benchmarks

The rising sophistication of the Middle East is also seen in measurement. In the past, we had to look to global research sources for standards and approaches, but in the last 12 months, we are now seeing global measurement solutions being developed in the region and gaining international visibility.

It’s time to strengthen our capabilities in measuring against global audiences and unveiling insights that speak about behaviours and attitudes that cut across borders and cultures.

Moreover, we have the unique opportunity to build new best practices from scratch, whereas other regions across the globe will be looking to upgrade or maintain existing measurement structures.

A new model of operational excellence

Thriving in the ever-evolving marketing landscape necessitates tapping into global networks and best practices. The synergy between talent, tools and tech is the driving force behind success. Innovation is unfolding at an unprecedented pace, demanding agile processes that enable rapid testing, adaptation and rollout.

Leveraging a global pool of expertise amplifies creative potential and facilitates the rapid evolution of strategies.

The ability to respond with agility will be the differentiating factor that sets game-changing brands apart from the competition. Whilst the rest of the world is acting more singular, pulling back on internationalism, and taking more inward views both economically and politically, the Middle East is bringing people together.

The benefits of unity are undeniable on growth and profit. Stability, creativity and an urge to do bigger and better things is making this region an attractive landscape for marketers to flourish, and it is already being seen in the great work that has been produced in this year alone.

As the world witnesses the Middle East’s creative brilliance through unprecedented projects, the marketing industry must continue to adapt to new realities and commit to creating game-changing work.

“Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” Albert Einstein.