Neither a continent nor a country, the Middle-East is a vast region that encompasses many different cultures, traditions, and languages. It’s also one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.
It’s especially attractive for luxury brands as 70% of consumers in the region claim to have increased their spending over luxury goods compared to 53% in more mature markets such as Europe, Japan, and the United States.
The Middle-East offers great opportunities for those who make the effort to understand this complex marketing landscape. However, the ones who make the mistake of generalizing this region that consists of 411 million people from 17 different countries don’t stand a chance at being successful in the Middle-East luxury market.
Therefore in this article, we’ll take you to the Middle-East and cover everything you need to know when localizing for this vast luxury market.
The Middle-East Region
Let’s start with some basic geography because although the term “Middle-East” is used widely, many aren’t sure where it is or what countries it involves. This uncertainty around the definition of the Middle-East is caused by its political meaning.
The term was created by British military strategists in the 19th century to refer to the region that separates Europe (“the West”) from the Far East. Therefore it doesn’t have natural borders like other geographical regions and it keeps shifting over time.
In the beginning, it only included Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. Later, Turkey, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, Oman, UAE, and Cyprus were added to the definition. So although people tend to extend the same stereotype across the entire region, it actually consists of many different cultures.
For example regarding the ethnicities, the region is extremely mixed. Even though the largest groups are Arabs, Persians, and Turks, there are many minorities such as Kurds, Jews, Armenians, and many others with their own languages and traditions.
One important fact to note about this region is its large young population. Almost 50% of the region’s population is under the age of 25 with 35% being under the age of 18. According to a report by Deloitte, millennials in the Middle East are richer than the average and their willingness to buy is stronger. This rapidly growing wealthy young population makes this region especially attractive for luxury brands to expand in.
Understanding the Middle-East luxury market
Luxury products are extremely popular among Middle Eastern consumers. In fact, they are the tenth highest spenders on luxury goods in the world. And this habit has its roots in ancient society. Historically, the groups that have lived in this region were trade-based societies where wealth and ownership of material goods were widely perceived as symbols of success and status.
“Luxury is a way for new members of this class to express their social rise. At the heart of luxury lies conspicuous consumption, the need to express one’s social status and power through manufactured objects.”
The same mindset is still prevalent today in the Middle-East. For example, in Saudi Arabia, 52% of people agree that money [and products] are the best measure of success compared with just 15% in Britain. Therefore, Middle-Eastern consumers’ ongoing interest in luxury products can be explained with this deeply rooted notion.
Based on the product type, accessories, and designer apparel dominate the Middle-Eastern luxury market and it seems like this trend will continue in the future. Cosmetic and beauty products are also quite popular, especially in the GCC countries. In fact, the region has the highest spending per capita in the world on cosmetics, beauty, and fashion products.
Considerations for the Middle-East market
While it’s a very broad and diverse region, there are some common considerations to keep in mind that can help when localizing for the Middle-East luxury market. For example, family and the values that derive from having a strong extended family such as respect, honor, and loyalty are considered to be the most important values in Middle Eastern societies. Many brands are using these family values as the primary theme in their advertisements to attract local customers.
Another important value is hospitality as Middle-Eastern cultures are known for being extremely welcoming and generous towards guests. This is also a traditional value because it historically goes back to the times where offering housing and food to rogue desert travelers was a common habit in the region.
All these cultural aspects make Middle-Eastern society very close and loyal to each other. Therefore word of mouth is an incredibly important factor that shapes the purchasing decisions of Middle-Eastern customers. It’s so persuasive for them that print/outdoor advertising in this region is considered an ineffective advertising method.
However, for the last century, the Middle-East has been in a state of flux, searching for a new identity while still being strongly tied to its roots. This dilemma is mostly caused by Western cultural influences.
Increasing usage of digital technologies and the internet has allowed the region to connect to the rest of the world. In fact, the Middle-Eastern consumer is now among the most connected and digitally savvy in the world. This habit has created a new culture in the region where Western trends are mixed with traditional Middle-Eastern cultural practices.
This also caused a change in the buying behavior of Middle Eastern consumers. For instance, consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with ecommerce due to its speed and convenience. According to a McKinsey survey, consumers in the UAE increased their online spending by 31% over the past year and ecommerce has been growing ahead of the global average in the Middle-East.
Finally, an important influence in shaping this new culture has been social media. Traditionally, most Middle-Eastern people have been scrutinized for freely expressing their opinions on certain topics. However, social media allowed people to share their thoughts more freely and accelerated the desire for self-expression. Now the region has one of the highest usage rates of social media in the world.
Almost every country in the Middle East has a Muslim majority (with the notable exception of Israel where Jewish is the majority). However, other religions that originated in the region, such as Judaism and Christianity are also well represented.
Mostly in Muslim regions, religion plays a huge part in daily life. More than just a religion, Islam is considered a cultural identity and heritage. Therefore it has a big impact on the Middle-Eastern society. But it’s important to know that the same religion may be experienced differently in different countries and regions.
So underestimating the importance of religion for the Middle-Eastern society can be detrimental for localization. For example not paying attention to religious sensibilities can cause irreparable damage. Especially in conservative environments such as Saudi Arabia, avoiding expressly provocative content is the safest option.
However, a good understanding of society’s relationship with religion can create opportunities to perfectly blend into the market. One very important time of the year for this purpose is Ramadan. It’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community.
Many brands are sending strategic messages during this time of the year to connect with Muslim audiences. According to brandchannel, McDonald’s is one of the best brands when it comes to Ramadan marketing because:
“McDonald’s doesn’t just run a tight Ramadan campaign every year. It runs tight Ramadan campaigns in a slew of nations worldwide, each tailored to that particular nation’s culture and way of celebrating.”
It’s also important to be aware of the changes in the region. For example, Valentine’s Day advertisements were banned in Saudi Arabia until 2018 because it was seen as having a Christian association. Then a senior Islamic figure said the day wasn’t religious after all and gave his approval for the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Therefore brands are now allowed to benefit from this holiday to increase their sales in Saudi Arabia.
However, it’s still highly important to be careful and aware of the whole context. For example, five weeks after Saudi Arabia announced plans to lift its ban on women driving, Coca Cola released an ad that features a Saudi dad teaching his daughter how to drive. However, Coca Cola faced criticism and was accused of making light of the repression of women in the conservative Muslim country.
The five top languages in the region, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew. However, similar to religion, the same language can be spoken quite differently in different regions. For example, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are geographical neighbors but the spoken dialect of Arabic differs immensely from each other.
Another important fact is that other than the official language, there are usually many other languages widely spoken in Middle-Eastern countries. For example, the language of choice in Morocco and Tunisia is primarily French even though the official language is Arabic. So it’s important to be aware of these preferences when translating your website for the region.
You should also be aware of the fact that Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew are written right-to-left and have different characters than Latin languages. Moreover, Arabic takes more horizontal space than English in written form, and this is something to consider especially when localizing your website.
Therefore, it’s good practice to use a translation solution that supports right-to-left languages like Weglot. It also has an in-context editor that allows you to edit your translations on a preview of your website. This way you can prevent any design errors that can be caused by the differences between languages.
Here is an example of a Middle-Eastern brand, Milano Kuwait, using Weglot to have a multilingual website. Although Arabic is the official language in Kuwait, English is widely spoken as well. Therefore offering both languages gives this brand a highly effective competitive advantage.
An important consideration when localizing for the Middle-East luxury market is the law, especially for the countries that follow Sharia Law. Sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. However, it’s not followed by every Middle-Eastern country.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt are some of the countries that follow Sharia law. Therefore, brands need to be extremely cautious when localizing for these markets. For example, in the UAE, there is the death penalty for serious crimes such as murder, rape, and treason, but homosexuality, cross-dressing, and adultery are also subject to severe punishment, including imprisonment and deportation.
However, as long as the brands toe the line carefully, they can be successful even in the most strict countries. For example, in 2017, Italian chocolate brand Raffaello launched an ad called “The Love Story” in Saudi Arabia that asks women to follow their hearts. Even though the subject is highly risky for the target market, the brand managed to pull it off by sticking to Saudi Arabian traditions and cultural norms.
As you know by now, the Middle-East is a vast market that holds big opportunities for luxury brands. However, the cultural nuances of the region require brands to pay extra attention when localizing for this market.
Therefore, take the time to understand this diverse and ever-changing region. And most importantly, speak to consumers in the language they understand. Although it’s a challenging task, with efficient website localization solutions like Weglot, can make some of the processes easier.
Weglot supports more than 100 languages including the ones that are spoken in the Middle-East. Moreover, with the localization features it offers, you can make sure that your content truly makes sense to your audience. You can start your Middle-East journey today by signing up for Weglot’s 10 day free trial!
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