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Your playbook to get into the Saudi market (without fumbling), by Extend’s Ghassan Kassabji

The Ad Network, Extend’s chief growth officer, Ghassan Kassabji offers four tips for global and regional brands on how to reach the Saudi customer authentically and effectively.

  1. Saudi talent (the new oil of Saudi Arabia) We are in the midst of a creativity supernova in the kingdom – from the rise of local agencies to global agencies setting up their regional HQs in Saudi and hiring and training local talent. It is only with local know-how and specific insights that brands can succeed. Saudi is multifaceted, with different regions, dialects and humour (which is a big aspect of brand communication in the kingdom). We have seen mishaps by global brands who decide to work with global agencies that don’t have any footprint in the kingdom – and in some cases don’t have Saudis as a majority part of their teams. We are also seeing a trend of government arms and brands only choosing to work with Saudi-led agencies. And with Saudi being the largest market in MENA, the only way to connect with the Saudi customer is to empower local talent: from strategists to creatives.
  2. Social media and trends (a socially trendy kingdom) The Saudi consumer is tech-savvy, and one of the highest per-capita users of social media globally. Brands need to have an aggressive digital-first strategy, (say no to TVCs), be attuned to the latest platforms (yes, I’m talking about Snapchat and TikTok) and leap onto viral trends – the latest viral trend are brands creating memes from Drake’s Certified Lover Boy album cover. Additionally, Saudis keep up with global trends and pop culture, and brands need to integrate popular references in comms and marketing. A prime example of this is the use of music and visuals from Casa De Papel/Money Heist. While local content needs to be top-of-mind, brands need to be aware that Saudis are part of a global community and want to be part of the conversation.
  3. Influencers (the authentic influencers) The power of influencers on consumer purchasing habits is undeniable – and this couldn’t be truer in Saudi Arabia. The main issue is not about finding influencers (they are in abundance); it’s about finding the right ones. Brands need to have a robust and localised influencer strategy and trust that Saudi influencers know how to reach their audiences (please don’t dictate to them what to do). Brands need also to be aware of the increased regulations on influencer marketing in the region. It is strongly recommended for brands to work with agencies on the ground to ensure influencers are adequately vetted and free from controversy. This can come back to haunt brands later if not done correctly.
  4.  Leverage local and regional events (weave into society) As Saudi begins to lessen Covid restrictions, events – an integral part of Vision 2030 – are coming back bigger and better. Brands need to be part of the story of change that is happening on the ground. We are seeing an exciting meld of local and global events in Saudi, from the Saudi Seasons (Riyadh and Jeddah) to the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The two main events that every brand needs to engage in are Ramadan and Saudi National Day (September 23). Content around these two events has become an opportunity for brands to showcase Saudi creativity and stories, and connect with customers.

Your global and regional communication strategy needs to be properly localised to be effective in Saudi. Isn’t it time to rethink your approach to the most important market in MENA?

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