Listening for What Moves MENA Audiences

2020 was a year of learning and disruption for all of us. Retail businesses had to learn a new way to reach consumers. The Food & Beverage industry had to find a way to do without dine-in. The Tourism industry figured out virtual tours. Pretty much everyone jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon. And while most businesses figured out how to operate almost exclusively on online channels, marketers focused on learning about our consumers and what they wanted – listening for what moves the MENA audience.

Even as early as March 2020, consulting firms like Deloitte published research on the how the pandemic would affect consumer behavior and trends going forward. As the year progressed, they doubled down on some of these trends and today – mid-way through 2021 – it does look like some of these changes are here to stay.

At the root of these trends is the insight that Millennials and Gen-Z view the pandemic as an opportunity to reset and take action. The pandemic has, in essence, propelled their sense of social responsibility and it’s become the leading principle that guides almost every decision – from buying organic foods to becoming more environment-friendly in thought and deed. What’s more, they’ve made clear that if brands expect loyalty, they need to step up and do more than pay just lip-service to social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.

With product sales at stake, brands today are scrambling to find ways and means of being more relevant to the social needs of the regions they operate in. This has meant that community-impact initiatives are no longer relegated to the domain of an obscure CSR division; they’re now centric to brand-building.

So, brand custodians are now looking beyond higher order benefits to build affinity with an audience that demands social activism. And to clarify, they’re expecting more than just online activism – which they consider fake. For a brand, this activism can happen on two fronts: Sustainability and Social Impact.

The first, sustainability, is more easily resolved with the assistance of experts analyzing and recommending changes to the production and supply chain processes. There are measurables for wastes and guidelines to ensure sustainable production methods.

The second, social impact, is more challenging. This is mainly because it’s not purely an operational solve, but a strategic one. It requires brands to discover and explore the causes their audiences are passionate about and find a suitable one to align with. But getting this intelligence is a problem because:

  1. It’s very region-specific and correspondingly varies across the world
  2. Traditional forms of research (with personal interviews and focus groups) don’t work as well because of the high probability of bias and because behaviors and trends are changing so fast

Social listening and analysis, however, allows us an unbiased look at the topics that are generating the most conversation today. For brands, it’s a great starting point.


Figure 1. Summary Metrics | NetBase Quid  Analysis, Jan’20-Jun’21, MENA

Over the last 18 months, there have been over 92,000 conversations around social issues in the region – not including brand-led communication.

In MENA, men and women are almost equally invested in social impact conversations with most of the conversation coming from the younger audiences – primarily Millennials and Gen Z.


Figure 2. Audience Demographics | NetBase Quid Analysis, Jan’20-Jun’21, MENA


Predictably, activism is a big part of the conversation with everything from the effectiveness of various forms of activism to key topics that have polarized the region. Here’s a closer look at the top issues they discussed.


Figure 3. Sentiment Drivers – Things | Netbase Analysis, Jan’20-Jun’21, MENA

1.From debating whether or not there should be separate lines for men and women to its impact on universal access to education, Gender Equality topped the conversation charts in the region. With progressive attitudes seeping into the culture, Feminism is gaining traction in MENA with women from other parts of the world showing solidarity on key regional issues. And it’s paying off too – with recent changes to laws that empower women with equal opportunities in the workplace and increased autonomy.


“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that this progressive country has adopted this fantastic notion and point of view on gender equality. I feel inspired every time I think about this development and I strongly believe that other countries should too.” – Oulfat Lkorchy, owner of Highway 311 cafe

2. People encouraged support for local businesses in a variety of ways. They dined in local, single-outlet restaurants and bought groceries from smaller neighborhood stores. But it’s not just restricted to the food and beverages category. Our audience is making a conscious effort to seek out local brands to replace multi-nationals in every sphere of their lives. Perhaps the most significant indicator of the impact their behavior is going to have on brands is that they’re even buying jewelry from local brands. In a region that’s known for its affinity for international luxury and lifestyle brands, choosing local means they’re willing to overlook traditional and established brand equity. This is both a warning and a sign of things to come.

“I think Azza Fahmy was definitely able to stand the test of time with her timeless creations; I’ve always admired that about the brand and I love to support local brands!” – Jude Benhalim, Founder and designer of Jude Benhalim Jewelry

3. Climate Change is a big concern for our audience. While MENA itself hasn’t been subject to its adverse effects, the large expat population (adults and children) in the region has been vocal about their fears for friends and family back home where natural disasters have been on the rise.





climate-change-post-2 climate-change-post-3

To add to this, related economic activities in the region like clean energy projects in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led to the proliferation of the topic in the news – giving it high visibility in the region and drawing appreciation from the audience.

4. Political reforms have led to varying degrees of social equality in the region and the pandemic pushed it out of the realm of news and into public conversation. Interestingly, trending conversations in the region were not directly related to MENA at all – like ‘white privilege’ and the Black Lives Matter movement. This is an example and indicator of the idealism embraced by the audience. They support local, but identify as global. Principles matter to them – and they seek out fairness, not just for themselves, but for everyone.

social-equality-tweet-1      social-equality-post-2

The above themes are a top-level view of what matters to Millennials and Gen Z in MENA. Brands looking to build true long-term affinity should look more deeply into these themes to find aspects to champion. Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you precisely how to do just that!

Photo - Anish DasguptaAnish Dasgupta, Consumer Insights Specialist




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