Key trends marketers in MENA need to know for 2022, by Rival’s Ema Linaker

What can we learn from challenger brands? Asks Ema Linaker, advisor and consultant, Rival.

What makes challenger brands successful in today’s crowded, complex and challenging customer marketplace? A challenger is defined not by size or age, but by the mindset and model it applies to growth. Any business can (and should) think and act like a challenger if it wants to drive fast, sustainable growth and remain competitive in today’s marketing landscape. What we have seen time and again working with brands in this ecosystem is that there are five core traits that brands in the Middle East all have in common. From Dubai Tourism, to Careem, Kraft Heinz, Etihad, Saudia, NEOM and the Dubai Mall brands we have seen them behave boldly in delivering their experience and with conviction and passion in what they want us to understand and know about ‘why them?’

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This article looks to distil into five key traits that we believe brands should look to have to consider themselves ‘challengers’. At Rival We believe you don’t need to be a start-up to be a challenger. There is hyper-growth potential in any business with the right marketing mindset and model. We work with business leaders to deliver market-beating commercial results by building brands and teams that think and act like challengers

  1. Courageous Focus & Creative bravery

Having a laser focus, an entrepreneurial state of mind, with business ambitions bigger than the resources available and a burning desire to do something memorable is what all of these organisations have in common. No Mr Average here please! Let’s face it even with huge advances over the past twenty years a lot of marketing we see is mediocre, run of the mill, designed to appease internal stakeholders first over delighting, exciting existing and new audiences. The first thing is to recognize that and start working with people and companies that don’t want that. And have a peripheral vision so that you continually push boundaries and deliver your message in new ways. Create value by keeping that cross-category, broader perspective and insist upon fresh thinking in everything that you do as a ‘challenger’ brand.

If you haven’t seen Babyshop’s wonderful Al Umobuwah – putting ‘Mum’ into ‘Parenthood’ – Grand Prix winner at Dubai Lynx then check this out – it represents everything Rival loves in creative strategy, effectiveness and bravery.

2 Consistency Of Experience Cross Channel – No Siloes or Egos

All of these companies have delivered time and time again throughout the last decade And it’s about sustained commercial success – not just doing something dramatic and then fading outbrand marketers need to keep an open mind, use their peripheral vision to think about things differently and not just observe the status quo. Challengers focus on adding value to the audience they’re trying to reach and the customers they’re trying to serve. They work backwards from what role their brand and product has in the lives of their customers, and relentlessly strive to create value in their lives. Get to know your consumers, their values, their ethics and don’t just view your brand through the eyes of your customer. Check-in with them to ensure that perception matches their lived experience.

We absolutely loved ‘The Book That Will Change Your Life’ by Ikea last year – check out the beautiful film here.

3 Add Value Through Commercially Based Decisions

Ensuring that the brand experience is focused across not just paid but owned and earned media means real focus, thoughtfulness and creativity in narrative storytelling is a prerequisite for successful challenger brands in the Middle East. For example, Dubai Mall and Dubai Tourism have been relentlessly focused on their role in helping support the diversification of economy within Dubai and the wider UAE. At every available touchpoint, both entities are single-minded in their desire to showcase the best that Dubai has whilst facilitating easy transactions and increasing revenue per visitor, tourist, business or citizen. Expo 2020 is an extreme output and example of what can happen when you want to ‘follow the money’.

Challengers focus on adding value to the audience they’re trying to reach and the customers they’re trying to serve. They work backwards from what role their brand and product has in the lives of their customers, and relentlessly strive to create value in their lives.

4 Use Data-Driven Decisions To Back Up Instinct

We have seen some strong creative in the region leveraging new platform Tik Tok to become more relevant and fresh.With the launch of new formats like TikTok Stories, TikTok LIVE and shopping integrations, there are a tonne of ways for your brand to stand out and get in front of the pack. 60% of TikTok users are Gen Z and Gen Z make up over 40% of today’s consumers (Mckinsey 2019).

For example, Kraft Heinz’s Tik Tok hashtag challenge reinvented the way people in the region saw the condiments giant. “As the market leader, Heinz strives to be relevant across age groups in the most engaging way. The TikTok hashtag challenge ‘Heinz it’ under our campaign platform ‘unconventionally tastier’ served this purpose effectively surpassing all major equity measures – emotional as well as performance which resulted in strengthened brand love among our target audience.” Rovini Illukkumbura, Media Manager, MENAT. The Kraft Heinz Company

5 Agility – The Ability To Pivot

The companies we work with aren’t afraid of using data to make key decisions quickly and align when the data and their customers are telling them the way they are doing things might not be relevant or appropriate anymore. This takes considerable effort to embrace change. To constantly look for ways to do things differently. NEOM is wonderful example of this ‘in action’. The latest campaign, ‘Made to Change’ brings this to life in a really tangible way. Check it out here.

To summarise, companies grow (or don’t) for many reasons. Market conditions, product quality, strategy and execution, leadership and team, etc. But increasingly, for the savvy, discerning modern customer with more and more options of where and how to spend their money, brand is a key differentiator for growth. Companies that invest in and build their brand by being customer-centric, balancing art & science, and leading with purpose are and will continue to see outsized returns on the mind and market share they’re able to gain.