Saleh Al Sulami, CEO of General Automotive Company; Elias Sawaya, Marketing Communication Manager Mobiles at Samsung; Hashem Zahran, Chief Evangelist at startup fundraising platform FundrsVC; Ruchdi Hamed Naji, former Marketing Director at Xcite by Alghanim Electronics; and Ali Jasim, Country Marketing Manager - GM Brands at Aljomaih Automotive Company, explain the mechanisms behind the Saudi youth’s shopping habits.
How would you describe the Saudi youth’s behaviors in terms of shopping?
Saleh Al Sulami. Today’s Saudi youth spend on food, clothes, entertainment, electronics, and education – especially online, which has become popular with them. But they’re also investing in stocks and in property, which means that they are becoming more conservative about their spending. They’re looking for more discounts, bargains, and deals. And, increasingly, they appreciate local brands. Saudi Vision 2030 invited our youth to support these brands, which gives them a sense of ownership because they have the same culture, identity, beliefs, language, and values as they do.
Elias Sawaya. Young Saudis can’t spend that much anymore because living in Saudi Arabia is becoming much more expensive than it used to be. They do have the purchasing power and they do look into premium brands, but what will drive them to spend money is the value that they’ll get every day. They too have to save for a rainy day.
Hashem Zahran. Most Saudi youths try to follow the trends. They are always looking for entertainment and they’re always spending in order to look cool and trendy, across all ages and all segments. Following the pandemic, this has started to shift but not as much as it has elsewhere.
Ruchdi Hamed Naji. Status is extremely important. Saudi youth spend their money on mobiles, cars, bags, and fashion for women because they want to belong; they want to fit in; they want to have that status. Depending on the brand, you need to really address that and understand that this is very different from other markets.
Ali Jassim. The pandemic was a game-changer. Companies had to adapt and today, most have e-commerce platforms, which allowed the youth to shop differently. Also, Saudi youth like to spend and, according to a 2019 study by the General Authority of Statistics in Saudi Arabia, saving is not a priority for them. But we are seeing a change. A great example is the Chinese automotive brands that have entered the market aggressively, offering products with features that are usually available in luxury and premium cars. Many youths buy these cheaper Chinese vehicles because they have seen the value. They increasingly pay attention and understand that saving will eventually allow them to become rich and afford whatever they want.
What are the key drivers behind Saudi youngsters choosing a brand over another?
H.Z. Word-of-mouth or recommendations from their peers are the very first thing that they will care about. Saudi youth choose a brand because it has the cool factor – it’s a matter of bragging rights – even for every day, non-luxury products, like food or hypermarkets.
A.J. The younger generations are well-educated, and they have easy access to anything they want to find out about. Also, they don’t care if you’re a heritage, legacy brand anymore. So, it is important for a brand to be authentic and transparent, demonstrating that you apply the values that they believe in in the real world.
R.H.N. Have a purpose as a brand to connect with them and bond with them. When I say purpose, it doesn’t necessarily mean supporting a charity or the environment; it can just be supporting entertainment, being the main sponsor for a game for example; or helping them be themselves if you’re a fashion brand. Diversity, in terms of women’s empowerment, is also important for them, as is employing young Saudis. Sustainability is growing, and you cannot go wrong with it.
S.A.S. It’s all about ensuring that you deliver the customer experience that was promised by the brand. You cannot overpromise, especially since Saudi youth are fully aware of what’s available around the world. You have to meet their expectations and be consistent. From a content perspective, the message must be creative, and out of the box – not traditional or business as usual.
E.S. The brand’s reputation, authenticity, and relevance; its social media presence, innovations, and differentiation is how we appeal to them, bring them over, win their heart, and resonate with their minds. Never forget that Gen Z, because they live with the Internet and social media like to showcase and express themselves. We need to get into that insight and say, “You know what? You have a Sam-sung mobile in your hand, and you have the technology to express yourself whenever you want, however, you want.”
How should brands engage with this segment?
S.A.S. In Saudi Arabia, around 70% of the population is below 30 years of age, and 99% use a smartphone. So, to engage with them, you need first to focus on mobile. Create mobile-friendly content; optimize your website for mobile; be present on all social media platforms. Second, leverage influencers; they can help brands create emotional bonds with the youth who see them as their role models. Third, talk about the issues that matter to them; the Saudi youth engage with so many topics around the country. They are passionate, they are well educated, and they are focusing on the value of the content, evaluating it based on their identity, and looking for things that reflect their culture. And it can’t be one-way, from the brand to the audience; they want two-way, conversational content. And last but not least, host special events for the youth. Today, many new types of events are booming in the Saudi market – sports, gaming, entertainment, culture, fashion shows, concerts, etc., whose main audience is the youth. Hosting [such] special events will create a strong relationship with them, put the brand on top of their minds, and position it as friendly in their social lives.
R.H.N. If you want to target Saudi youth, you have to understand them first. Many brands work with assumptions, but you need to work with solid data that allows you to understand where the youth stands today. The channels that you can target them with change constantly as well – ten years ago, it was Facebook; two years ago, it was Snapchat; today, it’s TikTok, and so on. Depending on the nature of the brand, you really need to be up to date with the psychographics and demographics of the youth and with the channels that they use to consume content.
Remember that Saudi Arabia is going through a massive change, and one of the two segments that are impacted the most is the youth. Today, they can express themselves, be themselves, and do a lot of things that used to be taboo. As a brand, you need to understand that and evolve with it. For example, the entertainment industry was almost non-existent [before] but today, it’s the fastest-growing industry in all of Saudi Arabia. You need to be part of this big wave of change.
E.S. Brands have to go out and not be dinosaurs anymore. They need to be part of their community, their tribe, and their culture; they need to be authentic in their approach and draw their attention. We have to remember that the main objective of marketing is always to look great in their eyes and have a purpose, as a brand, that connects with them and their beliefs. Don’t talk down to them or communicate in a way that will not resonate with how they speak, how they act, or how they move in their daily life. Cultural sensitivity is very important.
H.Z. Basically, it’s the messaging. Are you following the trends? Do you know what they need? Are you up to date? Try to move as fast as they do and, also, never disappear. You need to continuously talk to them and be top of mind because they have many choices. You have to always speak their language as well. So, my advice for brands is, don’t stick to your old methodology and hire a Saudi youth in your marketing team.
A.J. They believe in their culture and their identity, it’s one of their priorities. So, engage with them and be close to them on their cultural occasions – National Day, Founding Day, Ramadan, etc.; and where they live – in entertainment, like gaming, for example. They’ll appreciate the connection between the brand and the things that they care about. If you’re not there, you’re not considered, you’re not top of mind. Most importantly, speak their language in the same way they speak, and listen to them. They expect brands to engage in conversations. Go on TikTok only if you use it the way they use it, if you humanize your brand and show that it’s real. Do not use the traditional ways; always be flexible and adapt your messages and values so they will be accepted. Otherwise, you will always be ignored by this segment and it will be very difficult to catch up.
This article was first published in Communicate's Q1 2023 print issue.