‘Millennials’, an overheard and buzz-worthy term in the world of today’s brands. They make up one of the most crucial consumer profiles that brands are reconfiguring their marketing strategies to target. Millennials are not consuming based on advertising campaigns, they need brands to give them a platform to speak up and reveal who they truly are. In other words, being a bid-budget advertiser doesn’t necessarily mean being a favorite. The Berries interviewed Alex Saber, Chairman of Publicis Media Middle East, to give his insight on how brands can reach the hearts and minds of millennials.

BB: Millennials form one of the most influential group of consumers. In a nutshell, what makes a brand “millennial-friendly” ? What captures the hearts and minds of today’s millennials in a brand?

AS: In a nutshell, for a brand to reach out and engage with millennials, they have to build a personal connection with their audience who are ultimately looking for experiences with partners. A millennial friendly brand is one that truly understands the needs, wants and goals of its audience and builds a brand that mirrors these personality and behavior traits (social responsibility, transparency, sustainability and innovation being key). This is especially challenging as today’s millennials are expert at identifying the inauthentic. Brands must really “walk the walk” if they are to overcome the skeptical nature of the audience and build a relationship.

A brand with a clear purpose and role in today’s world and one that is able to weave this narrative into delightful stories is the brand that will command attention today.

BB: Can you share with us some insights about the consumer behavior of millennials? What do they spend on, what matters to them and what influences them when making their purchase decisions ?

AS: To understand the Millennial consumer behavior, we first have to understand the environment they have grown up in. Most of today’s millennials entered the workforce during the global recession of 2008, salaries have generally stagnated and costs have increased.

This is also the case in the Middle East where economic pressures from low oil prices and instability have impacted cost of living. As a result of this, Millennial audiences are extremely price sensitive in the MENA region. Rewards such as discounts and offers are the second biggest motivator to try a brand (GWI), more so than friend or family recommendations.

They are also the first generation to grow up with easy access to both the internet and social media and as a result are extremely comfortable with creating and sharing content with their peer groups.

Consequently, experiences are high on their list of priorities due to the fear of missing out compared to their peer group.

Travel is becoming a huge market for today’s Millennials, with 1 in 4 GCC Millennials traveling at least once every 3 months, globally this group is even catching up to the traditionally dominant “senior travelers”.

This focus on experience does not stop there. Across all verticals, Millennials are looking past the product to focus on the related experience, be it events or initiatives.

Traditional advertising is losing its impact with most Millennials. Instead content, experiential initiatives and CSR strategies are becoming the best way to engage with this audience who is looking for personalized, authentic experiences.

BB: How can putting millennials at the heart of a brand strategy builds early loyalty, sets the ground for a lifelong relevancy and creates a sustainable revenue stream ?

AS: Although Millennials are highly price conscious, they also consider themselves as highly loyal once they find a brand to connect with. In fact, two recent reports showed that over 50% of Millennials considered themselves as either loyal or very loyal to their followed brands. This in itself shows that there is value in building a brand for Millennial audiences.

The true value however comes from audience scale, as Millennials make up one the largest segments in the MENA region. Globally, this audience has a combined spending power of over $2.5 trillion and by 2025 will account for 75% of the workforce.

Millennials have come to have increasingly high expectations out of brands’ authenticity, accountability, honesty, openness and emotionally rich experiences. They will only put their money on the value they derive from products and services. They expect to co-create brands that add value to their life, personal progress and professional development, particularly in light of a globally tech-disrupted, challenging economic environment. Brands can no longer bet on their legacy to connect with them, but rather, on making this legacy relevant to them.

And whenever they are purchasing products and services, they expect a seamless journey between their offline and online surroundings. Needless to say, this journey is chiefly shaped by online, and particularly social media experiences, as much as it is by technology. They expect brands to invest in tech that makes it easy and convenient. Their judgment and reviews on these experiences are highly influenced by what their peers and people they trust have to say about them, not by what brands have to say about themselves.

BB: One of the important pillars of developing a brand of appeal to millennials is mastering the use of digital media. How can digital media help in getting millennials engaged with a brand?

AS: Digital media is a very broad space, and needs to be navigated very purposely and carefully by brands. When it comes to millennials specifically, brands should have a laser focus on building trust and relevant two-way communication, but more importantly, building on the network effect in digital communities.

Millennial audiences were the first to truly grow up with accessibility to the internet and more importantly Social Media. In this region, reliance and consumption of digital is even more apparent compared to global norms, especially through smartphones. Today’s GCC Millennials spend between 4 and 6 hours every day online, the majority which is spent on social media platforms and consuming video content (KSA Millennials consumer twice as much video as their US counterparts). As a result, digital media and channels are key in reaching and engaging with this audience. In addition, digital platforms provide an excellent opportunity when it comes to collecting and utilizing data.   With Millennials looking for authentic personalized experiences rather than generic advertising, digital provides an excellent opportunity to understand and segment audiences based on both first and third party signal data. With these segments in place, media can be used deliver a tailored and relevant message to the right person, at the right time for maximum relevance.

BB: Some brands are constantly differentiating themselves to be in the millennials bracket which drives brands to gear up their efforts on this age bracket and ignore the other consumer age groups combined. What does it cost a brand to be differentiated as “only” a 20-30 years old category ?

AS: While millennials are an important audience segment, for both long and short term business growth, this cannot be the only focus. The Middle East is a youth orientated region, however Baby Boomers and Generation X still control a disproportionate amount of the region’s wealth (in US and Europe Baby Boomers control over 70% of their respective country’s wealth) making them a highly important audience. To a lesser extent, as Millennials march towards middle age, a focus on Gen Z will be needed to drive long term sustainable growth for a brand. This will open new challenges for marketers as although they share many of the characteristics of Millennials, they are often described as “Millennials on Steroids” being hyper connected, extremely “on demand” and even more skeptical.

BB: Can you name the top three brands that you believe have been successful in engaging millennials in the Middle East ? In your opinion, what did they do right?

AS: Successful brands here have a common theme. They’re very clear and direct about their message and they consistently find new ways to share the same.


Cadillac – It’s all about the entrepreneurial and what drives them. Success in art, design, business. They inspire millennials to find themselves.

Nike – Breaking barriers and challenge stigma. A rallying cry to move beyond your personal limitations.

Netflix – Yes they have a great product, brilliant marketing and social first. But have you seen the amount of traction their memes get? They’re relatively new to the market but they’ve really understood it.

BB: Authenticity and individuality have become as the main buzzwords whenever there is a talk about millennials and brands. How can these values be reflected in a brand identity to attract millennials?

AS: A brand’s drive for authenticity must be engrained within the organization. Communication is important, with the advent of social media, Millennial audiences expect to reach and engage with brands at all times and whilst brands cannot maybe answer everyone, they need to show responsiveness and cannot disregard comments and hide away from their audience.

This leads onto a second important point, authentic brands need to be transparent. Millennials will support brands that make mistakes (Uber and AirB&B are still hugely popular despite recent negative press), however they won’t tolerate brands that are seen to “hide away”. Today’s brands need to open the lid of their organization and show an honest behind the scenes portrayal of their business and practices to gain their audiences trust. And if improvement is needed, take action.

Relevance is also important as they look for brand partners to have a shared experience with. Again this does not mean cramming pop culture references into all communications, something Pepsi learned the hard way with their Kendall Jenner collaboration. Rather brands must communicate a position that lines up with the needs, wants and goals of their millennial audience.

Finally to be truly authentic you must show that you care. Care about your audience, your brand and the environment you operate in. Authenticity is showing that you are concerned about making your audiences lives better (not just customers). Whether it’s though fair trade practices, sustainable manufacture or CSR, brands must show they think about more than the bottom line.

BB: The rise of millennials has reshaped the way media has been regularly consumed throughout the years. Can you share some insights on millennials’ media consumption habits in the Middle East ?

AS: It’s all happening on mobile and on social. You can’t take your TV ad and throw it on a tiny screen and expect it to work. You really have to tailor it for the feed now.

Adblocking is on the rise. 35% of the MENA region has it installed.

What does this mean? They want to see brands make more of an effort to connect with them. Build content that resonates with a focused group of individuals than going for mass reach and impressions as media KPIs. We’re seeing this trend come together where millennials are paying with their dollars for ad-free experiences through the rise of streaming services.

Instagram is driving Millennial perception and inspiration – music to listen, places to travel, people to connect, etc. It’s an economy of creators for creators.

Influencers still influence purchase but now they help build brands.