With Spotify launching its hotly anticipated services in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) last week, it’s clear many global brands consider the region a market far too big to ignore.

According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UAE consumer spend is expected to exceed $261bn by 2021 alone – presenting a massive opportunity for overseas expansion and business growth.

When it comes to marketing, MENA requires brands to apply distinctly different strategies to those implemented in Europe and America to truly get a foothold. Furthermore, the region has also experienced a significant shift from traditional advertising approaches towards influencer marketing. According to research from YouGov Omnibus and BPG Cohn & Wolf, 49% of brands in the region are currently working with influencers.

But for global brands wanting to operate in this region, there are key considerations to be made when considering an influencer marketing campaign. Otherwise, there’s a risk of being cast aside by an increasingly ‘brand disloyal’ consumer, according to McKinsey.

So, what to do? Here are my three key takeaways for unlocking the potential of the Middle East market for your brand.

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1) Tailor to your audience

Influencer marketing has been a fundamental part of marketing best practice in Europe and the US for a long time now. As a result, we often see global brands and their agencies trying to copy and paste identikit marketing strategies in the Middle East.

What’s frustrating is that this approach pays little to no attention to local context.

The Middle East is populated with more socially conservative societies where family-oriented cultural values are paramount compared to their Western counterparts – this must be a key consideration when planning marketing strategy for MENA.

For instance, content designed for unisex appeal won’t cut it with the majority of Middle Eastern consumers, who won’t be as comfortable with it as they would with content designed to cater to gender role-oriented tastes.

A large part of designing a MENA-effective social strategy comes through authentic content creation. But often, local C-suites more concerned with sales than brand building interfere by demanding an overly-promotional Instagram post, and influencers end up with little creative input.

This can be common in the Middle Eastern market, where a tendency towards the hard sell blocks the artistic and creative freedom that led to the influencer becoming influential in the first place.

2) Find the perfect West-meets-East visual sweet spot

Successful influencers and influencer campaigns understand that the key to harnessing their appeal lies in melding inspiration with visual cues and emotions that feel familiar to the audiences.

Popular Middle Eastern influencers like Fouz al Fahad and Huda Kattan – with their 2.5 million and 26.5 million followers respectively – do well because they suggest a global, yet local context through the way they visually express and position themselves to their audiences.

A global, yet local context: Instagram influencer Fouz al Fahad poses at a sushi bar for a partnership with Visit Abu Dhabi.

Whether that’s through using modest photos, trialling popular slang, sporting the latest fashions or tapping into the most ‘vanilla’ public discussions, the important thing is that what they do comes across as culturally authentic – and it’ll resonate as a result. That’s what we did when we consulted on social strategy to launch the Bahrain outpost of mega-mall chain The Avenues.

Using six local influencers – three men and three women, all of various backgrounds, including YouTubers and fashionistas – we let them run wild throughout the mall to cover all departments and sectors that the shops inside featured, creating photo and video content and uploading it to social media.

This helped ensure the people themselves owned the launch, rather than just a CEO cutting the ribbon, and drove significant footfall following.

Influencer marketing 2020

3) Language, language, language

One of the big things I’ve learnt in the Middle East is that navigating the maze of language dialects across MENA is critical to deploying an effective influencer marketing strategy. From Kenya and its Swahili-Arabic hybrid Scheng youth dialect, to differentiating between the popularly used Gulf and Egyptian Arabic dialects, there’s a lot that marketers targeting MENA need to be aware of.

To develop content that is effective, creators need to be in tune with how those languages are used by the locals, for example in moderating the use of slang in copy or forming hashtaggable content.

But one of the biggest obstacles is software, which might not be able to understand slang or process the language in the first place. This means brands and their marketing agencies need to support their influencers with locally-sourced translation services instead of resorting to automation, something they don’t have to consider in Europe.

In conclusion, a careful and nuanced approach to influencer marketing in the MENA region is essential to successfully navigate the clear differences and intricacies that characterise the region’s constituent countries.

With 60% of the population under the age of 30 (JCDecaux) and 10% of the world’s Instagram users located in this region alone, insight into what makes this audience tick is key to the next pitch for an overseas brief.

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