Trends that will drive brand experiences in the Middle East

By Jalaja Ramanunni

2022 has been a transformative year for the Middle East – global events like FIFA World Cup Qatar and The World Expo in Dubai are pushing the region to take centre stage. With more foreign direct investments being poured into the region than anywhere else, it is no wonder that brands seek to establish themselves in the Gulf.

In 2021, the region saw a 97 per cent increase with projects coming into MEA – a number that is only expected to increase. However, while the Middle East has become a hotbed for business growth, this also means competition in the region is fiercer than ever and only brands that are willing to take risks and innovate will have a chance to succeed.

Brand experiences will play a crucial role in 2023 – this factor will set brands apart from competitors, help them get under the skin and connect with consumers in the region. These brand interactions will facilitate connections with the local population that will eventually convert them into long-term brand ambassadors.

How can brands get experiences right in 2023 and what can we expect in the Middle East? We spoke to three industry experts.

Adel Noueihed, regional managing director, Imagination Middle East

While a global downturn due to rampant inflation is expected to affect large parts of the world, we anticipate that the region will continue to see growth in brand experiences. Saudi Arabia continues to diversify its economy and the UAE is a global innovation pioneer.

There are three key trends to look out for:

Brand building over performance marketing

Performance marketing has taken over marketers’ conversations over the last few years, especially after the spend was diverted to online channels during the pandemic. However, we will see brands focus on brand-building through experiences again.

Reality will be mixed

We are moving into a world of mixed reality that is based on augmenting our existing world. It will not be a fully immersive online world, nor we will not go back to the past when it comes to brand experiences. Apple’s anticipated foray into this space will be one to watch out for.

We are still human

Technology is evolving at a rapid pace – AI can now paint well and write essays. However, they are currently fuelled by mass human input. It will be interesting to see how brands integrate this technology into their brand experiences.

Nancy Villanueva, CEO Iberia and Middle East, Interbrand

Businesses and brands have never been so central to societies and the constructs around which trust is formed have never been so central to businesses. Consumers today demand that brands demonstrate true leadership by finding a balance amongst exceptional products, unequalled experiences and responsibility. When this happens, new sources of growth materialise as brands can expand in multiple directions – more freely and fluidly than through traditional diversification.

In 2023, brands in the region should consider providing brand experiences with the aim of not only building consumer loyalty and advocacy, but also trust and affinity. Take the example of stc, a company that truly put the brand at the core of its business, which has allowed the company to develop a seamless ecosystem of products and services in different competitive arenas – financial, entertainment, and technology etc. – while creating value and growth for both, stc and its customers.

Moreover, according to Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2022 report, the fastest-rising brands also focus their efforts on setting a clear direction, ensuring that the entire organisation knows where they are going. This allows them to move fast, bringing new products and services to market and, where necessary, pivoting to address changing customer needs and hopefully foresee their expectations. Ultimately, strong brands encourage participation, bringing consumers on a journey with the brand and making them part of the movement to create an engaging brand world.

Sarah Owen, founder and CEO, Pumpkin PR

 The strongest driver of brand commitment is a single meaningful brand experience – even with unfamiliar brands. This is where businesses in the Middle East must focus their budgets in the new year to ensure they don’t get left behind. However, these experiences must be anchored in a clearly-defined brand narrative that reflects your brand’s values while meeting the wants and needs of customers in the region. This will be critical to both business success and brand growth.

Brands already have a head start, as consumers are becoming increasingly more in favour of brand experiences over products or services. But the challenge will be to make sure there is a meaningful value exchange between brand and consumers and having your brand narrative at the core of every customer touch point. This will make all the difference.

Brands must also consider their customers’ wants and needs and have a hunger to deliver innovative experiences that meet the needs of modern audiences. It is no secret that people are eager for in person contact, but brands must also consider that we now live in a multi-screen world – a trend that will continue throughout 2023 and beyond. Therefore, having the thirst for innovation and the flexibility to meet the ever-evolving consumer demands will be key to delivering successful brand experiences next year in the Middle East.