Tim Shorrocks on marketing a new vision of civilisation

The Chief Marketing Officer for NEOM is tackling one of the most ambitious development projects in history with a sense of purpose and a house of brands approach

Tim Shorrocks, CMO, NEOM

By Henry Clifford Jones, Senior Director, Venture Markets EMEA LATAM, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

Most destinations on earth have identities built over hundreds or even thousands of years. Those identities are shaped by the physical environment, by the flow of trade down the centuries, the heritage of different cultures and crafts, the skills their people have developed over time. They are things that are out of a marketer’s control. Unless that marketer is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for NEOM, the coastal region of North West Saudi Arabia that is the setting for one of the most ambitious development projects in history.

For NEOM, marketing does not just involve building a brand for a city and its surrounding regions. It also involves designing marketing propositions for all of the dimensions that give somewhere its sense of identity. “I think it’s one of the most interesting branding challenges that’s out there at the moment,” says Tim Shorrocks, who stepped into that CMO role in February 2022 after spending five years as the director of EMEA Marketing for Amazon Web Services (AWS). “We’re building an entire economy with sectors as diverse as energy, food, water desalination technology and so on, which means building a NEOM brand in parallel with sub-brands for our various regions and sectors. We are attracting investors and partners, but also building a tourism brand and attracting future residents and future employees. I know of automotive or FMCG brands that have built houses of brands over long periods of time – but it’s never been done on this scale or at this speed.”

A purpose-first marketing proposition – at a country-wide scale

It was the uniqueness of the challenge that Shorrocks found irresistible when he first took the call about NEOM. “I was very happy where I was, but the more I looked into it, the more I thought, ‘this is an opportunity I can’t pass up’,” he says. “I’ve found that a lot of the people joining my marketing team say similar things. The last 18 months have led to lots of people wanting more from their careers. They need to be doing something with a greater sense of purpose.”

A sense of purpose and a focus on sustainability have been designed into the NEOM project from the start. It includes The Line, a new architectural concept in vertical, urban living that is only 200 metres wide but 170 kilometres long and will involve no roads, cars or emissions, running entirely on renewable energy. Oxagon is NEOM’s innovation hub and automated port, also running on renewables and designed to embody clean innovation and the circular economy. Surrounding them are a luxury island resort, a mountain adventure zone – and a wealth of carefully preserved natural habitats.

“Sustainability is baked into everything we do,” explains Shorrocks. “From day one, the vision for NEOM is for 95 per cent of the region to be preserved as it is – as a nature reserve, from coral reefs to mountain habitats. We don’t want to overdevelop, which is why The Line looks the way it does, for example.”

A growing number of audiences on LinkedIn are already familiar with how The Line looks – a glittering wall stretching from the desert to the sea and incorporating green spaces, leisure and sports facilities and everything required for low-impact, luxury living. This familiarity comes from consistent video storytelling, a key element in Shorrocks’ strategy – and one he sees as crucial to NEOM’s success.

Building brand credibility through video storytelling

“We’re very focused on brand at the moment, but by brand I don’t just mean awareness,” he says. “It’s about building brand credibility and helping people understand what this highly complex project is all about. A lot of the trust and emotional connection comes from explaining what we’re about and what we’re doing. We see video content on social media as a massive opportunity for that. We’re moving away from the more intangible, visionary video campaigns that we launched with to communicating the progress that we’re making and what’s happening now. Being able to tell a complex story over different types of communication and over many months is a really valuable skill for us.”

A sophisticated approach to brand storytelling sits alongside an equally sophisticated approach to brand measurement. “At the moment, we’re running monthly surveys in all of our major markets to understand exactly how the brand is landing,” says Shorrocks. “We use a version of Net Promoter Score (NPS) to assess not just awareness but also perceptions – what’s the propensity of people to potentially invest here and potentially live here. Being more data-driven when it comes to the impact of what we do is a big focus for my team.”

That data-driven approach is shifting its emphasis from building awareness and understanding for NEOM as a whole, to leveraging the house of brands that Shorrocks increasingly has at his disposal. “Before I joined, the emphasis was almost exclusively on the NEOM brand, but that balance started to change in 2022,” he says. “Sub-brands are growing in importance, because ultimately it’s these individual aspects of NEOM that people are going to be interested in. If you’re a tourist, you’re interested in the island resorts that we launched this year. If you’re a potential partner, then you want to know what’s happening within Oxagon. That’s the direction of travel over the next three to four years. We’ll move towards communicating each of those sub-brands to the right audiences, in the right way.”

A time to push the creative boundaries

Shorrocks talks a great deal about the value of creativity and experimentation when it comes to connecting target audiences to different aspects of the NEOM proposition. In fact, he sees pushing the creative boundaries as a key opportunity for marketers in challenging economic times.

“From a marketing perspective, I think the global economic situation will actually create opportunities for us to buy media at better prices – and that creates the opportunity to do more interesting and experimental things,” he says. “It’s also a time when people are looking for new opportunities from a personal and professional perspective. And that’s exactly what NEOM provides.”