Saudi women: The eternal mystery revealed | Saudi women: The eternal mystery revealed -
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Saudi women: The eternal mystery revealed

Saudi Arabia: Thursday, April 14 - 2005 @ 14:42

The gains that can be made from truly getting to know Saudi women, what they want and what they need, cannot be underestimated. And if you play to the stereotype that KSA women are oppressed and timid, then, to be honest, you might as well take your marketing tactics elsewhere.

It is not an understatement to say that there has been a sea change in the attitudes of Saudi ladies of late. And, that is exactly what they are: real ladies. Ladies who lunch, ladies who like to be fashionable, ladies who like to look attractive for their husbands.

The world over women have generalised hopes, fears and aspirations (does my bum look big in this?) but there’s also more specific cultural factors that come into play —and it’s the marketer who can get a handle on these nuances that will trump the sector.

TNS is, so far, the only research company in Saudi Arabia to plough investment into a specialised Female Research Centre, headed up by Hana Balaa, a Lebanese lady who has lived in Saudi Arabia for sixteen years. Saudi Arabian homes, as you might expect, are not the easiest to gain access to.

Some of the difficulties that Balaa laments are the impossibility of door-to-door research, a lack of secondary data, such as official censuses, clean databases, and a positive ‘courtesy’ bias in surveys (ladies tend to tick the top boxes).

But despite these difficulties, Balaa and her team have built up a solid stack of marketing research that suggests that KSA women are becoming more independent, more marketing savvy, financially smart and health-conscious. Oh, and they love shopping.

Balaa has identified some broad trends that shed light on how and why the KSA market has changed dramatically over the past decade. First off, TNS research has found that consumerism and branding are becoming increasingly more prevalent, accepted and even enjoyed in KSA. What’s more, marketers are expressing increased interest in the Kingdom as they look to expand their geographical presence into new markets.

Another factor that is set to change the future of the Saudi market is the emergence of an educated youth population — 50% of the population are currently under 25, split more or less evenly between males and females. Furthermore, the economy is currently on a roll, with oil prices at an all-time high.

Change is in the wind with women increasingly seeking ways to express themselves and their individuality — a major driver of this new adventurousness is the availability of non-edited TV channels from all over the world and increased internet penetration which infuses the whole population with access to international trends and ideas.

Yet looking at Balaa’s research, one word seems to sum everything up: paradox. Saudi ladies are proud of their heritage, traditions and families, but, at the same time, they are open to Western influences. Many want careers and financial independence. “Saudi women are running their own businesses nowadays,” remarked Balaa.

“The younger generation are expressing their opinions more, and they are getting more, and better, education. Before, the best job a girl could get was a teacher, but now other opportunities are opening up: women can work in banks, ad agencies, for example. For the first time there are private colleges for women. This has all happened in the last four years.”

A big change in the way women shop has been brought about by the emergence of the nuclear family — previously, family shopping was controlled by the woman’s mother-in-law, but now it is reckoned that 30% to 40% families don’t live with their extended families. So, now, the new wife is free to choose shopping according to her taste.

And what does a Saudi mum want? Balaa said there is a need for products that portray Saudi mums as the expert and which project a caring image for her children. Physical appearance is also becoming a priority — the Saudi lady is much more conscious of her figure than she used to be. “They are still eating a lot of junk food — but they have also realised that they are eating a lot and sitting down for most of the day, which isn’t good for their health,” said Balaa.

Clearly, the Saudi woman is not to be underestimated and, no doubt, there’s a lot more changes in the offing. Changes international marketers would do well to try to understand.

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Thursday, April 14- 2005 @ 14:42 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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