Rami Hmadeh

Millennials in the Middle East are mostly ignored!

At the “International Roadshow: Middle East Insights” in the House of Communication in Munich Rami Hmadeh, Managing Partner Serviceplan Middle East, talked about several trends and characteristics of the region. One of the aspects he talked about was how  to adress the millennials. He specifies these thoughts in this article.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was hit by a demographic wave that saw its youth population grow at an unprecedented rate. The youth challenge is the most critical 21st century economic development challenge facing the Middle East. In a region where almost more than 60% of the population is under the age of 30, and over one-third of them, more than 100 million, aged 15 to 29 long-term prosperity and stability hinges on the opportunities afforded to this generation. While radicalism and terrorism remain critical security concerns, the majority of Middle Eastern youth are involved in a different fight: a fight for better education, jobs and affordable housing.

Arab Millennials are different from other Millennials around the world, and here’s why:

1. Middle East millennials lead the way globally in entrepreneurship

A major recent international report1 from HSBC Private Bank reveals that the Middle East is home to the highest proportion of millennial entrepreneurs globally.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are also home to the highest proportion of millennial entrepreneurs globally, outpacing Mainland China and Hong Kong.

The average age when Middle Eastern entrepreneurs set up their first business is 26, the youngest in the world. 46 percent of these entrepreneurs decided to become entrepreneurs at school or college, the highest percentage of any country or region globally.

Millennial entrepreneurs in the Middle East also seem to work the hardest. Their average workday is 12.5 hours, more than 2.5 hours above the global average for millennials. According to Sobhi Tabbara, HSBC’s Global Market Head of Private Banking in the Middle East: “Middle Eastern entrepreneurs are incredibly driven in meeting their goals, with a hungry young generation working significantly longer hours, compared to the rest of the world, to achieve this”.

And what’s interesting about these entrepreneurs is that despite the fact that around 63% of them come from a business-owning family yet only 23% of millennial entrepreneurs state they are shareholders or executives in the family business. Instead, millennial entrepreneurs seek to prove their own business ideas and grow market share.

2. And in terms of Video consumption

The world’s most avid YouTube users come from Saudi Arabia. The country contributes 90 million views every day, 50 percent of which come from smartphones. And according to a study by Cisco, by 2019, 80% of the World’s Internet Traffic Will Be Video. The rise of video consumption and content creation via YouTube has made online video the marketing weapon for targeting millennials in the region. Millennials are on smartphones hungry for content they want to watch, when they want it. The MENA region is a growing market, with watch time rising by 60% year on year.

The rise of YouTube in MENA is down to an important factor: there are over 100 million Arab youth today, the highest proportion of youth to adults in the region’s history. What is particularly interesting is how these millennials are consuming online video: more and more are tuning in to YouTube on their cell phones. Mobile watch time in the MENA region is one of the fastest growing in the world, rising by 90 percent year on year (2014-2015). The United Arab Emirates stands out for 120 percent growth of mobile watch time during this period, faster than the global average.

Millennials all over the Middle East are turning to YouTube to consume content that hits closer to home. Taboo topics are addressed and content mostly avoids government censorship, unlike traditional media.

3. They have the highest brand loyalty

Millennials in other parts of the world are promiscuous in their brand loyalty, which is a growing concern for marketers. However, according to the Google Consumer Barometer, millennials in the Middle East demonstrate more brand loyalty than their peers in the US, the UK, Japan or Australia. Saudi Arabia and the UAE show a significantly higher percentage of millennials who consider just one brand when they buy.

With a high take-up of smart phone usage, Arab youth spends an average of 15 hours a week on social media, according to a report by Northwestern University in Qatar, often using multiple platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, YouTube and Twitter. This makes internet and social marketing increasingly important for brands and retailers.

Whether in the MENA region or elsewhere, millennials do their homework before committing to a brand. Being one of the regions with highest levels of mobile phone use makes MENA a unique market: mobile use is almost 100% among millennials in the region. They discover, engage and buy via this medium. If they’re more loyal than their global peers, Arab millennials seem to be less forgiving if they encounter an issue on mobile sites: 43% of millennials in Saudi Arabia will look for another site that is mobile optimized if they experience any problems.

Now how can brands win these Millennials? How can they come close to doing that?

By speaking their language! Marketers and stakeholders representing these brands should put themselves in the shoes of these Millennials. For brands to strengthen loyalty, it needs to increase individualized communications. Personal attention and customization assures millennials that they’re understood which eventually leads to their acceptance and adoption.

For established brands to set themselves up for the future, they have to listen first, understand the behavior of the Arab Millennials and then create unique experiences. Business strategies are important of course, but to nail it brands have to consider Consumer Journeys. By seeing the world from the eyes of the youth, brands will be forced to think differently about how they engage with them. A non-stop continuous feeling of progress and growth, knowing that there is no stability in a world where every young consumer is simply a click away from the competitor’s experience and where information is consumed at light speed.


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