An eye on the future

Governments routinely issue new laws, draft policies and launch initiatives to improve their people’s living standards but, sometimes, they go further and embark on a transformative project, a decisive stepping on the gas pedal. Saudi Arabia has embarked on one such project when the Kingdom’s government revealed its ambitious Vision 2030 plan.

This National Transformation Plan definitely isn’t business as usual in that it redefines the role, focus and ambition of the country’s government. Yes, it comes with laws, policies and initiatives, but instead of tinkering with the engine, it literally puts a new one in. It certainly is a bigger one too as the plan’s deadlines mean things must change fast. Time is certainly of the essence as many of the goals are about decoupling the country’s economy from hydrocarbons, at a time when oil prices linger below the break-even point.

While it promises a bright future with a vibrant society, thriving economy and ambitious nation in the long run, the plan’s impact in the short term, coupled with the current economic pressure, is already being felt by Saudi businesses and consumers.

This is therefore the perfect time for OMD Arabia to explore what the future holds for people in Saudi Arabia. At the end of 2016, we commissioned Hall & Partners MENA to conduct a study exploring the future of behaviors of Saudi consumers. The ambition is to help brands to better understand and anticipate the evolution of their audience in the nation that will be shaped by Vision 2030.

“The Future of Saudi Arabia” is the latest chapter in OMD’s global research initiative that started in the UK in 2013. In Saudi Arabia, we conducted 10 interviews with experts from different fields, ran four focus groups with millennials and Gen X in both Riyadh and Jeddah and interviewed 800 Saudi residents, 70% locals, face to face. Through this, we identified issues, priorities, views and behaviors, and explored living in Saudi Arabia, happiness and stress factors, relationships, optimism about the future, ambitions and future plans.

We will share its findings over the coming weeks but one of the most salient points is the overwhelming acceptance of Vision 2030, with 78% of respondents believing that the national transformation plan will improve their lives and deliver the future to which they aspire.

Looking at the results and putting them in the context of the results from other “Future of…” markets, it becomes apparent that, in many ways, Saudis mirror their international counterparts’ aspirations while remaining true to their roots and traditions. It is also interesting to note that the key criteria for happiness in a lot of other countries, like free education or healthcare, feature less prominently in Saudi Arabia where nationals already benefit from these.

On the other hand, connectivity appears very important to them and free access to high-speed internet is regarded as the most important factor of happiness (59%), followed by traditions (53%) and regional and local safety/stability. For many, the Internet is a prime source of entertainment. It has to be said that happiness levels are already very high at 80%, particularly among the younger generations. In the UAE, for example, that number was closer to 60%. With entertainment high on the National Transformation Plan’s agenda and a noticeable increase in the number of events, it will be interesting to see how things develop.

The lessons of relative austerity appear to have been learned. Despite the solid sense of optimism about their future finances, expressed by half of the respondents, the majority also declare an intention to spend less in the coming years. There is one purchase featuring high on the list of priorities for the future though. More than 60% of Saudis hope to buy their own home in the near future.

While financial prudence is to be welcomed, much less responsibility is applied to health. Even though most respondents agree that a regular fitness routine is important, fewer than 20% exercise more than once a week. This is far lower than in other “Future of…” markets and indicates that the approach to health is more corrective than preventive.

Such a grasp on what the future looks like for consumers allows brands to become or stay relevant to them. With these consumer insights, we are even better placed to craft effective communications, media and content strategies. These are exciting times in that there is a genuine sense of ambition in the country. What is your future made of? Join the conversation and share your thoughts.

Watch out for more details and insights from our “Future of Saudi Arabia” survey. Should you wish more details, you can contact us at info.saudi@omd.com

Image: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times

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Faisal Shams

As managing director of OMD Arabia, Faisal leverages his unique talent in turning communications into effective business solutions. Always aiming higher, he is now transforming the approach of both OMD and its clients, fast-tracking their digital transformation.

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