Why experiential marketing works in the Middle East

By Jalaja Ramanunni

Brands are constantly looking for ways to stand out from the crowd in an overcrowded market, and experiential events are one way to accomplish this.

Experiential marketing is a way to get customers involved with a brand or its products by creating memorable experiences. This includes events and other tactics that encourage direct participation. Experiential marketing brings a level of storytelling and inspiration rarely matched in other forms of brand communication.

The Middle East has reached a critical point for the experiences industry today – it is a region looking to diversify its economies with a young, dynamic population, and brands are willing to create bold experiences as a potent force for marketing.

Why it works

Experiences provide opportunities to create dialogue, meaning, accelerate cultural exchange and add value to their customers. “They allow meaningful relationships to be built, and brands championing this principle will see a multiplier effect. Compared with the US or Europe, we are underestimated as a region. There’s a world of opportunity for experiences in the Middle East with high foot fall traffic that brands can target,” reveals Adel Noueihed, Regional Managing Director, Imagination Middle East.

Creating a successful brand experience does not mean scrapping a digital or immersive brand experience. During the pandemic, many assumed that the experiential trend wouldn’t come back so quickly. “Everything is an experience – from design to digital – and we live in a part of the world that understands that. More money is now spent on experiences than at any other time in human history. If brands don’t capitalise on this opportunity, they risk missing out on one of the most powerful ways to connect with their customers and create an impact that will last beyond a product shelf life,” comments Noueihed.

Trends driving experiential marketing

Two things stand out in experiential marketing in the Middle East: “Firstly, we see technology becoming increasingly experiential, and mixed reality will really come into its own. It will continue to disrupt the future of work, with potential human digital twins being one example of new forms of emerging experiences,” says Noueihed. He adds that AI will get more sophisticated while Web3 will continue to grow beyond the metaverse and into decentralised finance. “Secondly, 2023 will be a crucial year for sustainability as more regulation comes into place globally. ESG will become a bigger focus area for many businesses in the region, especially with COP23 being held in Dubai later this year,” Noueihed comments. Technology also changes the game by allowing experiences to be tracked and measured for the effect that experiential campaigns generate.

For instance, during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Visa created the ‘Visa Masters of Movement’ experience that combined art, technology and football to create a world-first brand experience. NFTs were created by tracking footballers’ moves and replicating the movement with brush strokes. Visitors at the FIFA Fan Festival participated in the experience and had an opportunity to create art. The campaign reached over 60 million from the NFT art shared on social media, and the media coverage had a total reach of over 151 million.

Tailoring the experience

However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy. “Authenticity is key. Brands must understand that experiential marketing is about creating memorable experiences that resonate with consumers emotionally rather than simply pushing products or services. Brands need a clear vision of what they want to achieve from an experience – be it increased brand awareness, customer engagement or sales,” Noueihed says.

“Businesses will have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. They must be ready to embrace change and take a leap into the unknown,” he concludes.