Saudi Arabia is transforming as a country. It is transforming as a market. Consequently, its consumers are transforming into one of the most connected and empowered groups in the world. Yet, we still see brands being detached from the market and taking its consumers for granted.
Today, such bad practices have been growing the cynicism towards brands, and if we are to look into historical data from other markets, like the UK and France, where brands have also been conducting similar malpractices for years, we can predict that in the near future brands may find themselves challenged to operate in a market full of consumers who are cynical towards them.
At one point in time, Saudis faced a similar malpractice with the generic content that was being promoted to them. Yet, with time, technology and connectivity, we saw the rise of empowered content creators, such as UTURN, Telfaz-11 and others, who have given the people of Saudi content made by people like them. Content that is relevant, relatable, meaningful, entertaining, useful, purposeful and engaging.
Beyond content (of which Saudis are now the most advanced creators and consumers), Saudis have also evolved into the most sophisticated online video gamers, the most influential online trendsetters, the most innovative online entrepreneurs and, generally speaking, they have become the savviest digital technology users. Despite all this, the most globally established brands and their agencies have not been keeping up with their audience. Their teams are detached from the market, their content is not even at par with the content being created by amateurs, and their knowledge of the people, of Saudis, is at best shallow, if not misleading.
Today, brands are faced with one of two options: either they can partner with players who genuinely understand their Saudi consumer and are capable of creating relatable content, or brands can keep approaching the Saudi market with superficial caution only to suffer extreme cynicism and scepticism from the Saudi consumer.
So long as brands look at the Saudi consumer through uninspired graphical charts that are based on big data coming from these consumers’ media consumption, so long shall the knowledge of these brands about the Saudi consumer be as shallow and uninspired as their charts.
Data today is available in a number of seductively enticing forms constructed by detached ‘data scientists, and marketers are lured into a false sense of security, thinking they know exactly where to go and how to get there. What seems to be missing in all this, however, is the human element that is being overlooked in the focused pursuit of neat answers from extensive data analytics. Yes, the people of Saudi are communicating and are extending their reach globally through the amazing tools of technology, but they cannot be defined by technology. To get closer to the lives of real Saudis and understand the context they inhabit means dedicating time to thinking and analysis. Answers do not live in databases; they live fuelled by contextual knowledge and confident intuition. This requires more than ‘data scientists’ sitting in some remote area; this requires ‘insight-miners’ living and breathing everything on the people of Saudi.
If insights are to be generated by insight-miners, content is to be created by inspired local talent. Brands need to have local creative talent on board, who are well-informed, inspired and eager to make an impact on the behaviour of people.
Saudis, just like any other population, deserve to get branded content that is relatable, purposeful, meaningful and relevant.
However, if brands keep approaching them as these different and peculiar audiences with the prefix ‘Saudi’ before any deeper thought into the actual human is given, they will simply find themselves falling into the aforementioned cynicism trap.
For instance, today we know that the most strategic segment every brand has been somehow attempting to target is the Saudi woman. She represents almost 50 per cent of the population and drives 70-80 per cent of all purchase decisions. For starters, brands need to understand her as a woman, before giving her the label ‘Saudi’, with all the preconceived notions that come with this label, or the label ‘consumer’, as if she lives her life with the mindset of a consumer, and not that of a human.
In their attempt to understand her as a ‘Saudi consumer’, brands have lots of data on her media consumption from third-party sources. Such data will tell brands about her digital behaviour strictly based on the platforms she has been on, the pages she has been following, the keywords she’s been searching for, etc. Such basic knowledge may give brands the illusion that they know everything about her, but there is so much more to her than the pages she has been on.
With the right effort in the right place, we get to meet the same woman up close and personal throughout the different stages and aspects of her life. As she interacts with us, we get to meet the aspiring young professional who is balancing her eventful social life with her busy schedule on a platform like Yasmina. At the same time, she is reaching out on platforms such as 3a2ilati as she is striving to be the best modern-day mother to her young kids. And when her kids grow older, she seeks to know more about them on Saudi Gamer. Finally, when she decides to master her craft in the kitchen, we get to meet the practical, uncompromising chef on platforms such as Atyab Tabkha.
Now let’s go deeper into what such data could possibly tell us about Saudi women.
Every brand has looked at the same data points to conclude that Saudi women are much more independent and empowered; therefore, a message coming from a brand should aim to celebrate her individuality and empower her aspirations. From there, the specific relevancy and meaning of the message is left up to some poor writer and his or her luck in getting some nuances accurately. Globally, we know that 80 per cent of millennial women claim that they are never able to see themselves in such content.
However, much deeper human insights can be found about Saudi women. For instance, on the notion that she is seeking her own independence, we know that this starts with ‘self-love’, evident by the fact that on Yasmina more than 66 per cent of Arab women told us they are seeking to learn to love their individual selves. This has triggered us to create more content teaching the Arab woman how to love herself and increase her self-worth, and inspiring her to realise her own self-potential. And this is done through the lens of images of real women, not the picture-perfect unrealistic model.
Also, seeking her individuality means she is seeking her own individual solutions to her own individual challenges; hence, homemade skin remedies are one of the most popular topics online, given the fact that skin solutions made for the collective will not cater for her own individually peculiar skin challenges.
Then, on the notion of having a busier schedule, we see the effect of this on the type of tips she is seeking for either home-cooked food recipes, parenting or beauty tips. We now understand that busy does not only mean less time for beautification, but busy also means going out more often, and engaging in new activities such as going to the office every day (20 per cent more often in the last year), going to the gym (7 per cent more often), driving a car (79 per cent), going for a run (13 per cent), or even using public transportation (28 per cent). Such
relatively new activities require more subtle beautification than the obvious beautification when preparing for a major outing.
For example: she always knew how to look her best if going to a wedding, but today, she is wondering how to subtly look her best every day when going to the office, the gym or the grocery store. Hence, when we asked Saudi women about the hacks they are mostly interested in (and such hacks could have been around their careers, families, romance etc.), we saw that 59 per cent were interested in beauty hacks and 41 per cent in fashion hacks. Anything to inspire them to navigate their new world.
In conclusion, women as a segment among Saudi consumers offer just one example of how big amounts of data can lead to a shallow illustration of an audience, giving brands the illusion of knowledge, while if we dig deeper into the same trends and behaviours we can understand the genuine human motivations behind such a behaviour. This is the only way brands can create more relevance and meaning. Consequently, it is the only salvation for brands not to fall into the trap of their consumers becoming cynical towards them and their activities.