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Strategy and the MENA region

Ziad Skaff
Managing Director, MENA
Hall & Partners

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What being a WARC judge taught me about MENA and strategy

Strategy, by definition, is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term aim. In the MENA region, long-term is rarely thought of – in fact it’s largely ignored – with the exception of a small number of entities and nations (mainly in the GCC). In his essay on effectiveness, author Stephen Covey talks about the ‘90/10 Principle’ where we’d (naturally) be in control of the 90% while the rest is left to destiny. Some might argue local weighing would be advisable.

The value of being effective is crucial in this part of the world, where time is rarely an ally and exploration is limited. This is translated in organisations adopting global or tried-and-tested techniques in order to save on costs and manage risks.

In fact, we find most brands follow a mix of tactical approaches that have to be adjusted to daily surprises and events. More complex practices like these require agility and a strong flair for local affairs. Bold traits that deserve to be rewarded.

WARC, The World Advertising Research Center, recognised the need to reward just that. By introducing the first WARC Prize for MENA Strategy, the association is aiming to encourage regional marketers to aim higher and look further. Describing the event in their own words, “Across the MENA region, new markets and new consumers are demanding new insights. We want this prize to act as a spur to strategic thinkers across the region by generating a collection of work that will inspire them to create breakthrough thinking for their current and future clients.”

I had the pleasure of being one of the judges this year, and while reviewing several submissions was greatly encouraged by the strategic insights shaping the majority of the papers. The global media and technology disruptions combined with regional social, economic and political challenges create a highly competitive environment in MENA.


The global media and technology disruptions combined with regional social, economic and political challenges create a highly competitive environment in MENA.


Whether they had to launch a new product, refresh an existing brand or engage with consumers using limited channels and budgets, regional marketers didn’t shy away from using the arsenal at their disposal. The lessons were inspirational and, in some cases, worthy of global deployment.

That was especially noticeable where cultural observations led to unique ideas, even though some were critical of current behaviors and societies. These ideas were carefully translated into marketing approaches that spoke the market’s language, and sometimes confronted their audiences. Channels of communication were also adapted to meet wished emotional engagement, a strong metric that clearly boosts marcom KPIs and can help optimize budgets.

This region has a lot to offer, so awards like these will hopefully allow us to highlight our best work, encourage more local innovation, and embrace business effectiveness.

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