The New Lost Generation, The Disruptive Generation,  The Loneliest Generation, The Burnout Generation….

The above monikers have been tagged to Millenials at various points in the last few years. The veracity of the above terms are subjective but one thing we can collectively agree on is that they are the ‘Most Researched Generation’.

But why are the millennials in the Middle East and around the world so intensely scrutinized?

On the surface, it’s easy to attach straightforward and templatized personas to this segment – they are born between 1981 and 1996, they don’t leave their homes without their smartphones, they’re obsessed with social platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, and they’re more vocal when it comes to issues like social inequality, climate change and oppression of freedom.

So why are brands and research agencies spending millions of dollars to study their psychographics and behaviors?

There are many, but these two are the biggest reasons :

First is their sheer spending potential – In 2018, the global millennial spending power was calculated at a whopping $2.5 trillion!

And secondly –  their familiarity with technology is at once disrupting and shaping the future of everything from media, manufacturing, education, retail and transportation. 

How are millennials in the Middle East different from their global peers?

Numbering around 108 million, millennials account for about 60% of the population in the Middle East. And while they share a lot of common behavioural and ideological traits with their counterparts in the rest of the world, there are certain areas where they deviate considerably from their peers.

Here are a few of them :

Higher Spending Power: According to Visa, when concerning travel-related spend, millennials in the Middle East are the highest spenders globally, typically spending twice as much as their European counterparts.  As the Middle East’s largest consumer base, brands need to be asking themselves: ‘How do we attract and engage this market?’

Wider Generation Gap:  Due to widespread online connectivity which has opened visibility to a diverse world, the gap between millennials and the previous Arab generation is considerably wider than is the generation gap in most other cultures. 

Juan Cole in his book  “The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East” shares that millennials in the Arab world are universally less religious and observant than generations that have preceded them. Cole adds that many millennials in the Arab world also tend to be more liberal than older generations.

Greater Brand Loyalty: According to a Google study, millennials in the Middle East have more brand loyalty than their peers in the US, UK and Japan. A significant number of millennials in Saudi Arabia and UAE considered only one brand when they buy.

More Entrepreneurial: A report by HSBC states that UAE and Saudi Arabia are home to the highest number of millennial entrepreneurs globally, outpacing China and Hong Kong. The average age of Middle Eastern entrepreneurs is around 26 years and they also seem to work the hardest – clocking 12.5 hours average workday which is 2.5 hours more than the global average.

Middle Eastern Millennials: Brand Preferences, Life Priorities & Personality Traits

 

  • Not Afraid to Challenge the Status Quo

Most of the Millenials in the Middle East were brought up with a strong sense of the region’s tradition and culture. This has fostered a strong sense of identity and pride amongst this segment which they intend to pass down to the next generation. However, they are not the ones to follow traditions blindly and being an increasingly global generation, they are open to change and question certain ideologies that are a hindrance to the progress of the country. In a nutshell, millennials in the region are an empowered generation who are vocal about their feelings and not afraid to express themselves even if it goes against societal norms.

  • Always Connected & Extremely Digital-savvy

According to the 11th annual Arab Youth Survey, 9 of every 10 millennials in the Middle East use at least one social media channel every day, and more often than before. The specific platforms usage differ greatly by country.  

Facebook continues to find a large, growing audience. With 38 million users each day, Egypt is the MENA region’s largest Facebook market. Visual social networks like YouTube and Instagram have seen rapid growth in the region. Instagram has 63 million users in the Middle East and Turkey is the sixth largest Instagram market in the world, while Kuwait, Bahrain and Israel also have a large percentage of Instagram users.

Saudi Arabia leads the pack when it comes to YouTube – the country contributes 90 million views every day, 50% of which comes from smartphones. The rise of video consumption and content creation via YouTube has made online video the weapon of choice for marketers targeting millennials in the region. Other popular social networks are WhatsApp (75% penetration), Snapchat (large user base in Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and Viber.

  • Aversion to Politics

Millennials in the Middle East are generally less interested in traditional forms of democracy and showed little to no interest in political parties. Only 36% of young people in the Middle East believe that the situation in Arab countries has improved after the Arab Spring. 

According to the Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, 53% of Arab millennials believe it’s more important to have stability than democracy and 67% think that Arab leaders must work harder to improve citizens’ human and privacy rights in the region, as well as women’s rights. Millennials in the Middle East are also generally less religious than previous generations with 52% stating that they believe religion plays too central a role in the Middle East.

  • Conscious Consumers

Millennials in the region care about the world they live in and want to make it a better place. The digital explosion has armed them with instant access to information and they keep a close tab on CSR initiatives undertaken by brands and the overall behaviour of a business.  48% of the millennials in the region said they only buy from socially responsible brands and 45% of them recognize and support local emerging brands as long as they resonate with their ideals. 

  • Anxious Yet Determined

This generation has a lot on their minds – increasing cost of living, unemployment, loans/financial burdens and a wide range of social and political issues within their country. A survey by IPSOS revealed that only 6 in 10 millennials are optimistic about their future, especially under the current economic conditions and they are spending even more cautiously than they have in the past. However, many of the millennials enter the workforce with high aspirations of climbing the career ladder or setting up their own business. 

Engagement Strategies for Connecting with Millennials in the Middle East

The key to being successful is to create an engagement strategy that incorporates the above insights while being mindful of the socio-economic backdrop of the region. 

Here are a few tips to help you get started :

  • Personalized, Cross-channel Engagement across Social Media

As evident from the above stats, Arab millennials rely heavily on social media for their daily dose of news, entertainment, product discovery, and of course, catching up with friends and family. So it’s no surprise that getting social right can make or break your engagement strategy in the region. 

Brands will need to step away from creating siloed, disconnected and generic social media content and create a connected, holistic and personalized engagement across multiple channels like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, WhatsApp and Snapchat. 

The key to achieving this is through investments in two emerging technologies: Customer Data Platforms to create a Single View of customers and intelligent customer engagement platforms with cross-channel capabilities, like X-Engage. 

  • Authentic, Story-driven Approach

In the Middle East, millennials have significantly more brand loyalty as compared to their global peers. A large majority of them believe that the brands and products they use reveal a lot about their lifestyle and personality. Therefore it becomes doubly important to clarify what your brand stands for and its core values.

Be authentic in your tone and try not to think of social media as another “sale-sy” advertising outlet. While this rings true for any audience, it is especially relevant when it comes to millennials. Make your content story-driven, especially when showcasing your products or how it positively impacts the lives of customers. According to an analysis conducted by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), emotional storytelling outperformed their rational counterparts with almost double effectiveness.

  • Video & Visual Content Focussed

It’s no surprise that brands with great visual and video content garner massive engagement in the region. Millennials in the Middle East spend over three hours per day on online video – that’s more than both messaging apps and games combined. They are also twice as likely as their global peers to post content online and show others how to do things online. We recommend a mix of educational, entertaining, engagement-provoking and promotional visual content across Facebook Live, Instagram stories, YouTube and TikTok to maximize your engagement in the region.

  • Mobile-first

Brands and marketers will need to think of mobile as more than just a medium or channel. It’s going to be a critical entity in almost all future digital experiences like AI, VR, AR, IoT etc.  Millennials in the Middle East have a higher propensity for smartphone usage compared to their global counterparts. More than a third of millennials in Saudi Arabia use ONLY mobile phones as their internet access device and 34% of youngsters in the UAE watch videos on their smartphones several times a day. This makes them less-forgiving while encountering accessibility issues and other rendering glitches on the mobile.

Wrapping Up

Millennials are fidgety, distracted and want to get a lot done in less time. They want digital experiences that revolve around their lifestyle. Brands will need to adopt agile marketing strategies and technology solutions to keep up with their constantly evolving interests, needs and behaviour. While it might seem like a whole lot of effort to capture the attention of this audience, their massive spending power and strong brand loyalty more than makes up for it in the long run.

Dominic Machado