With an ever-changing landscape, marketing comms experts need to stay in the forefront with developing nimble and innovative new strategies for their clients. Below, Curated ME interviews Jai Tolani, Communications & PR Director in Dubai for his two cents on shifts in consumer awareness, and how regional brands can leverage such changes for the better.
1. Describe yourself in one sentence as a Director of Comms at a leading global agency in the UAE.
A trusted partner... a problem-solver. Ultimately a mere extension of the enterprising brands we get an opportunity to represent.
2. You have a depth of experience in leading agencies such as Ogilvy and BBDO in UAE, and at the same time, you have worked in-house at a Mubadala JV; tell us about the main difference in your scope of work working in Agency versus in-house when it comes to strategy & planning.
In general, I think the need to please far outweighs the work in-house!
Having said that, I was blessed to work with some of the sharpest minds during my time client-side. There is surely more focus and a shared vision.
If I must pick one though, I’d choose Agency! The joy of helping brands and, in general, just making stuff happen is immense.
3. When working on client accounts, please walk us through your typical way of brainstorming a new campaign. What tools do you use to truly understand the focus product at hand and the client’s target audience?
No special tools for me. Ultimately it comes down to few things -
A strong leader and a competent team go a long way too!
4. Due to COVID-19, residents of Dubai have chosen to stay in the country this summer instead of typically leaving. How can local brands leverage this to strengthen their relationship with their consumers?
I believe brands now well recognize that the power has shifted in the hands of the consumers. In my opinion, the age of advertising and communications to influence consumers through some form of sublime messaging is thankfully behind us. There is a genuine gradual shift in consumer awareness, in no small degree in mature markets. Ultimately brands that stay tuned follow guidelines and focus on experience - at every point (physical and digital).
A case in point in Dubai is Instashop– with a brilliant interface, experience and product offering, they were bought over for $360m by Delivery Hero! Great success story.
5. When it comes to marketing, what do you think the most important aspects of a brand are in today’s challenging world?
6. If starting a new brand in UAE, would you recommend off the bat to operate solely online, or are you a fan of having a B&M backup as well? Is physical retail shopping the future, or will the majority inevitably move online?
In 2019, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Event online sales topped $38 billion. They claimed to net $1 billion in sales in just 68 seconds! Now at the same time and as per estimates from World Bank, some 1.7 billion adults worldwide are still unbanked, i.e., yet don’t have access to a bank account. While this represents a massive opportunity, it also shows us the gap, especially in some markets.
So I believe it all comes down to category and geography. A right mix of both will continue to be seen.
For example, during #COVID-19, consumption of staples in places like the #UAE has mostly been documented heavily as being transacted online. The behavioral change has been at speed. At the same time, the role of physical customer experiences when it comes to specific categories, for instance, luxury purchases, is hard to imagine without touch and feel, i.e., I don’t see a classic timepiece or jewelry worth a couple of thousand dollars being purchased at mass online!
7. In your opinion, how has AI and AR affected consumer experience? What opportunities do you see in MENA in this space?
I wish to offer have a stronger point of view on this; however, I am yet to build in-depth
expertise in these areas.
From my limited understanding, what I am excited about is the power AI that will be leveraged in healthcare industries. I am fortunate to represent a few global and MENA brands in this space and it is fascinating to see, for instance, how AI could support newer treatments to solve some of humanity’s most challenging diseases.
8. The regional market is saturated with global and local fashion brands, FMCG companies, hotel chains, and F&B outlets; what can companies do to stand out, especially during a Pandemic?
© Curated by Jai for Curated ME.
Born and raised in Dubai with over 15 years of strategic communications and business management experience in the Middle East in both agency and client-side roles, Tolani brings a fortitude of knowledge regarding brand development in the region.
Jai's title is currently MENA Communications & PR Director at a leading marketing agency in Dubai. In the past, Tolani has worked at or alongside retail & tech giants such as HP, Huawei, Mubadala and many more, allowing him to explore the industry from progressive and dynamic angles.
One of the most heavy-weighted topics currently centers around maintaining a motivated and committed sales force team. Hence, the question circulating from leaders in most retail-businesses worldwide: “How do I keep my team motivated with the looming risk of redundancies and store closures?” Tina Sharp, former General Manager of Harvey Nichols Dubai and Bloomingdale’s Kuwait at Al Tayer Group, provides team leaders her valuable advice below.
Numerous articles describe that businesses with foresight and ambition are the ones that will come out of this pandemic stronger than before and the leaders in their fields. Great teams define a great business. Part of this formula to success is the trust and strength of its leaders. Overall, the brand, product or service can be of the highest quality, however, without the right team driving this, a business can never be more than mediocre at best.
If you translate this into the current situation, it would be fair to describe this as more challenging since leaders are needing to navigate so many unknowns. However, the rudimentary skills required to help keep the team focused still remain.
More often than not, many leaders tend to avoid being honest, choosing to bucket the challenging and sensitive communications as corporate directives that they can’t control. Furthermore, they tend to be selective with what is shared, in order to paint a more positive but unrealistic picture for the salesperson. One common example is the topic of reduction of salaries, which most companies have implemented recently in some way or another, either through unpaid leave or short-term reduced pay. However, the method used to share this has been mixed. Some leaders are very transparent, others are more selective and unfortunately, some choose not to communicate these updates at all, leaving the workforce insecure and fearful that they could be made redundant at any time.
Many leaders who have been challenged with managing such types of situations are most successful when asking themselves: “what if it was me?” and "what’s the worst thing that could happen if you are honest?" When answering worried staff-members about the state of their jobs for example, informative and direct forms of communication tend to relieve them best. For example, a leader could answer: “I cannot confirm that there won't be any redundancies, but I can assure that there are none being discussed right now. Further, should we need to look at this in the future, support will be provided.”
Overall, before the pandemic, Dubai was already experiencing challenging trading times. Leaders were hiding behind laptops and written announcements rather than conducting face to face meetings that allowed the necessary opportunities for questions to be asked. The need for transparency and availability from leaders is even more paramount now.
Whilst social restrictions do no allow for the physical contact freedom that we have enjoyed historically, leaders with foresight are utilizing new tools such as Zoom calls to enable face to face dialogue, especially when it comes to reassuring their teams. There are unfortunately still instances found where leaders are not being transparent with their team enough, which results in team members feeling demotivated to sell or look after their customers. When worried, they’re instead motivated to self-preserve and self-validate via venting with colleagues. Ultimately hurting the business productivity.
Considering the high health risks to the frontline teams, leaders need to be out in stores and on the floor supporting firsthand, in order to act in solidarity with their business heads. At the end of the day, these challenging times have quickly highlighted poor management and a subsequent demotivated workforce. On a positive note, it has also showcased a next generation of leaders who tend to cultivate dedicated, loyal teams. Reactive companies will survive.
© Curated by Tina for Curated ME.
With more than 20 years’ international experience in optimising the performance of high-profile department store operations, Tina’s expertise includes creative direction, quality merchandising, sales & marketing and team leadership.
Tina’s journey in global retail has been an exciting one, initially with House of Fraser in London, then with Harvey Nichols in Dubai. In 2016, Tina was promoted to General Manager open the new Bloomingdale’s store in Kuwait, where she oversaw the build, store set-up and supported the in-store development. Tina set up all store routines, recruited and trained staff, and worked closely with teams on delivering marketing campaigns and establishing local and international partnerships.
Emirati fashion designer and the co-founder & creative director of RTW label in Dubai YNM, Yasmin Al Mulla, expresses below in an exclusive Op-Ed piece how we can use social media to better embrace diversity and instead inspire each other with genuine content moving forward.
Whether we like it or not, there has been an evident love-hate relationship between social media and the fashion industry. We can’t help but notice the enormous impact that social media has on the current fashion scene worldwide.
Social media can be highly beneficial if used correctly; it can increase phenomenal awareness, drive outstanding engagements, improve brand involvements and position the brand accurately amidst its global competition. On the other hand, social media has been encouraging a twisted perspective of reality and a new page of transparency—a potent tool that has normalized beauty to include perfect and plastic models for example.
It's time to instead use social media to highlight the powerful sentiment towards Female Empowerment despite color, shape, culture, age, state and other general external factors. We - as in designers, brands, and people in general - need to embrace individuals of all forms, avoid categorizing, labeling and classifying; which has been quite noticeable in recent magazine covers, editorial campaigns and advertisement pieces. With this being said, I do however admire the more inspirational movements toward the recent attempts at promoting diversity in the industry; featuring real, authentic, and powerful women who all come from different shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
Moving forward, social media can act as a vessel to arm us with insightful, informative content, or instead as a vessel to portray an unrealistic second of ‘perfection.’ At the end of the day, the responsibilities go to influential entities such as influencers, brands and celebrities to endorse natural, imperfect beauty and deliver genuine and sentimental messages on social media re: celebrating our unique imperfections; a concept so valuable to teach the next generations.
Finally, it is up to us as individuals to use social media to help promote diversity. Let us support those unique brands that showcase our standards by wearing their select colors, silhouettes and even materials that overall play a role in expressing who we are, what we stand for and how we feel. Expressing ourselves through our final demeanor is the truest form of self-confidence. Self-comparison and digesting false content on social media, is not.
© Curated by Yasmin for Curated ME.
Say something interesting about your business here.
Her early life and upbringing in the fast-evolving, cosmopolitan city of Dubai led her to pursue a degree in International Relations in 2012. As a fashion designer, she is certified by the London College of Fashion in Fashion and Shoe Design, and is nationally recognized by the Dubai Design & Fashion Council (DDFC) as an official member.
She has to her credit collaborations with brands including Tiffany & Co, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Matches Fashion, Level Shoes, By FAR, Ex Nihilo, Baccarat and other global powerhouse brands. She’s also a fitness enthusiast and is committed to a holistic lifestyle.
As a long-term advocate of health and fitness, she believe that optimal eating is a sustainable, beautiful lifestyle. Yasmin has maintained a gluten, dairy, and refined-sugar-free diet for many years now, and that’s in addition to her workouts and strength training, yoga, and meditation. She is focusing on nourishing, nutritious and wholesome food and believe that consuming everything in moderation is key — This has led to her curating exclusive menus for top-tier brands and their events.
Design for Dubai winner, La'Leenah, offers customers luxury, RTW pieces fore the modest-wearing woman. Sudanese designer and owner of the brand, Leenah Almansoury tells us in an exclusive video below how modest-wear brands can persevere in a saturated market. Watch now!
© Video Curated by Leenah for Curated ME.
Modest fashion is in Vogue, and especially relevant in the Middle East. But when modest-wear brands become a dime a dozen, designers need to amp up their branding, marketing and overall business approaches in order to stay afloat among all of the competition. Hafsa Lodi, author of MODESTY: A FASHION PARADOX, explains below the key considerations for how modest fashion brands can perform to their best potential.
A decade ago, the words "modest" and "fashion" were hardly paired together. "Modesty" was not seen as a particularly positive descriptor in the realm of fashion, and instead conjured up images of frumpy, unstylish women who perhaps dressed in conservative, cult-like apparel. Now, in 2020, we've moved well beyond these reductive stereotypes. Modesty is in, and brands that specialize in this niche are flourishing. However, increased focus on this market, its trend appeal, and overall "hype" have led to an influx of new brands in a now-saturated market – particularly in the Gulf. Competition is fierce, and it's tough to stay afloat as an up-and-coming modest wear label in a region where modesty is the norm, and there is an abundance of choices in fashion – from the souks and shopping malls to the offerings of fellow regional labels.
Modest wear itself is no longer enough of a niche to survive in. Within this wider retail realm, brands need to identify a particular demand and hone in on it. Modest activewear, swimwear, bridal wear, or evening wear, for instance, are possible sub-categories within modest wear, along with culturally-inspired kaftans, glamorous turban headwear, or hijab-friendly accessories – even as simple as headscarf pins.
For modest wear designers motivated by deeper ideals like faith, it's also key to work towards embracing other faith-rooted, ethical considerations such as sustainability and inclusivity. Fashion consumers across the globe are demanding more environmentally-friendly clothing, from the textiles used to the methods used in manufacturing, with of course, fair, humanitarian work environments. Inclusivity is also of the utmost importance in today's retail landscape: the models a designer recruit should represent a wide range of demographics – not just Caucasian, or white-passing, light-skinned Arab women who are size zero and seemingly flawless. Female consumers relate better to brands that showcase their designs on "real women" and the modest fashion market is no exception.
Accessibility is another area where designers must excel in to truly thrive – being an "Instagram" brand wherein the only mode of communication is through direct messaging, is not sufficient in catering to digital-savvy millennial shoppers who seek instant gratification. Establishing e-commerce websites, with quality content, mainstream methods of payment, and speedy delivery services are of the utmost importance when crafting a business plan for any fashion label.
And last, but not least – Instagram. It's impossible to discuss fashion brand marketing without including this both loved and hated social media app, which, when used effectively, can drive traffic and sales. Particularly with modest fashion, target market usage of Instagram is extraordinarily high – partly because this app helped propel the concept of stylish modest wear into the mainstream, thanks to the help of modest fashion bloggers around the world who inspire their followers with their fashion-forward, skin-covering outfits.
Beautiful imagery worthy of reposts, thoughtful captioning, and brand messaging and consistent engagement with followers are the ingredients to a successful Instagram marketing approach. And finally, while it's certainly crucial to develop a targeted niche, it's equally important to show the versatility of your designs, especially when it comes to modest fashion, which has so many diverse levels and interpretations. Creative and out-of-the-box styling – such as showcasing a silk hijab that can be tied as a glamorous, classic headscarf, as an edgy durag, or layered over a white blouse and tied like a corset will help your modest wear brand go viral.
© Curated by Hafsa for Curated ME.
About Hafsa Lodi
Hafsa Lodi is the author of recently launched nonfiction book, Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, which uncovers the causes, controversies and key players of the global modest fashion movement. She lives in Dubai and works as a freelance fashion and lifestyle journalist, writing for titles such as The National, Mojeh, Cosmopolitan Middle East, Grazia Middle East and more.
About Leenah Almansoury
A Sudanese Esmod Dubai graduate, fashion designer Leenah Almansoury is a design talent to watch out for. Harbouring a love for art and design since her childhood, Leenah poured her passion into
the creation of her almost eponymous label, La'Leenah. Derived from a French term meaning 'the
Leenah', the brand resonates Leenah's inner style, passion and dedication to the world of design.
Available at BySymphony in Dubai
Palestinian-Syrian, Dubai-based model & creative story teller, Lana Albeik - also known as @lana_.jpg - believes that COVID-19 has instigated a sustainable movement around the globe; however the new wave is becoming all too 'trendy' and further dividing humanity into different consumption classes for brands' own benefits. Read her exclusive op-ed piece below.
With the global fashion Industry currently producing 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, consuming water at a rapid speed, and with 85% of plastic material getting dumped into the earth—the industry needed a sustainable fashion movement. Multiple societal issues have been tackled over the past few years, such as the hiring of more models of different body shapes and sizes or the representing people of diverse skin tones and features that don’t fall under typical 'colonial, western' standards.
However the toxic issue with brands' mentality of "make it trendy until it’s normal,” is that these noble actions lose their depth and sincerity; the initial goal for brands becomes merely about receiving an approving nod and gaining a new “cult following.” Sustainable fashion became appealing for brands to follow because it sounds innovative and justifies a heavier price tag. However the end result may be that members of the 'upper-class' pride themselves by wearing a piece that doesn’t hurt Mother Earth, yet shame people for not doing the same. The notion that 'Earth is suffering,' became a norm.
Even though sustainable fashion won’t necessarily eliminate the threat, it may slow down the impending destiny awaiting us. This attitude creates room for questions that make us wonder, whose fault is it? Who is the one contributing to the giant machine of pollution that stirs and whirrs everyday, killing our planet? With this in mind, it makes you think that we can blame those who still opt for fast fashion. They seek the items that are presented at a lower cost and are found most conveniently. Obviously, for a brands to thrive, they do so through their customers, so can you blame them for choosing to produce more efficiently and at lower costs?
Today, nearly half of the world population live below the poverty line. This doesn’t include the ones who pay rent, tuition, debt, put food on the table and take care of their families back home. 44% of the world’s wealth belongs to only 1% of the world population. Let that sink in. There are people who struggle to pick between paying this month’s rent and getting groceries, so to accuse them of being at fault for not choosing to shop 'sustainable' seems bizarre.
But that’s not even the point.
The reason the earth is dying is because mainstream, successful, multimillionaire brands and organizations aren’t responsible. It is because sustainable fashion, earth-friendly farming and harvesting hasn’t been made accessible to everyone. It’s only accessible to a select few. Being environmentally conscious is a luxury in the dystopia of today. It’s a trend and therefore a privilege. Sustainability will not be achieved before classism is eliminated from its requirements. Until then, our focus should be on the main perpetrators. Until then, we should be kinder to one another and be considerate of each other's situations. We should all come together rather than let the industry define our differences for its convenience.
© Curated by Lana for Curated ME.
Lana is a Palestinian-Syrian model, student & creative. Born and raised in Dubai. She graduated with a film degree & a minor in Middle Eastern history & politics.
Lana's first modeling job was with a small jewelry brand of her sister & her friend's, then soon later was with a locally based traditional Palestinian dress brand.
In 2017 she modeled for renowned makeup artist Hindash on some videos & it all started from there. In 2018 she shot her first fashion editorial with YSL for Savoir Flair, & from there on her portfolio started growing. Lana's modeling career has been something she juggles alongside studying and working; however is a path she would like to explore and focus on in the near future while producing her creative work.
“The current uncertain climate of the fashion retail industry, coupled with ever-evolving customer behavior and three overlapping seasons at a time, have brought data analytics, planning agility and brand relations to the forefront of inventory merchandising," says Atallah, Ex VP of Planning and Merchandising at Al Tayer Group. Read her exclusive opinion on the future of merchandising tactics below.
In today’s market, whether you are a brick & mortar, e-commerce or omni-channel fashion retail merchandiser, this is most likely your current stock situation:
- You have an overstock of Spring/Summer ‘20 inventory
- Your Fall/Winter ‘20 deliveries are starting to arrive
- You are budgeting/buying for your Spring/Summer ‘21 collections
As a merchandiser you always rely on data; on history. In the current, uncertain climate of the fashion retail industry, ever-evolving customer behavior and having three overlapping seasons at a time (in this case, SS20, FW20 and SS21), it's evident that recent and historical data that may no longer apply in our new world. Therefore, leading brands are discussing the probabilities of of season-less fashion and the importance of sustainability, two subjects that are becoming crucial to every brand and retailer alike.
The questions on every merchandiser’s mind are:
- What will my customer’s shopping behavior post Covid-19 look like?
- Will customer behavior revert back to normal or will we see a ‘new normal’?
- What is the ‘new normal’?
- Will customers shop online, in store or will they opt for a ‘phygital’ (physical-digital) experience in the future?
- Will customers shop low-price high-street fashion or will they go for more durable and trusted luxury brands?
- How much of my SS20 inventory should I move to carryover?
- How much of my FW20 orders will I cancel? From which categories? And from which brands?
- Will brands be able to fulfill my orders?
- How will deliveries/drops change, and how will my strategy adapt?
- How much open-to-buy should I budget for my SS21 orders?
In order to begin answering these questions, we first need to understand our audience’s purchasing preferences and shopping behaviors: during the first few months of the Coronavirus pandemic, and especially during the lockdown period, we saw a behavioral shift in regional consumers’ purchasing patterns; with some categories doing much better year-on-year than others, such as loungewear, skincare and home accessories.
As the crisis stabilizes and restrictions around the region begin to ease and the malls reopen, we can observe the needle move back towards the original shopping behavior, as well as an increase in previously-declining categories such as swimwear and eveningwear. What this means for us as merchandisers is that we find ourselves in a delicate situation, where we need to navigate our current stock-on-hand and future orders very carefully. To achieve the aforementioned objective and implement the correct strategy, we can rely on the following tools:
1) Data mining and analytics: data is and will always be the base of all strategic decision-making. Now more than ever, you will need to deep-dive into your data often and consistently.
2) Planning agility: re-forecast, react, learn to change course swiftly and frequently.
3) Brand relations: negotiate payments, drops, reorders, returns, and cancellations. Many brands are increasing the continuity/carryover proportion of their collections and changing the frequency of orders and drops to reduce risk.
After an enlightening start to the year 2020, many companies are now talking about digital transformation. In order to effectively transition the business model, the transformation should not only be focused on the digital aspect of it, but also take into account the different parts of the business that play a crucial role in any prosperous transformation: notably the way we think, act and work. The customer is in the pilot seat now, and in order to navigate successfully through these hard times, we need to transform. Digital? Yes. Data-driven? Yes. But the most important key to success? Culture and People.
© Curated by Nahed for Curated ME.
With 30 years work experience in Dubai, Nahed boasts premier skillsets planning and merchandising within Luxury and Lifestyle Fashion, Home and Jewelry brands. Specifically in the subjects of: budget and inventory planning, margin and OTB management, forecasting and analysis, P and L management, online pure players launches, B&M store openings, people training and mentoring, team leadership and more.
Nahed served as the VP of Merchandising and Planning at Al Tayer Group between 2016-2020 and now is a Freelance Consultant for premier clients and brands.
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Beauty Expert Nayritta, the force behind the region's first multi-cultural aesthetic beauty hub, Nayritta's Talk, elaborates on her top beauty tips and trending consumption behaviors during the pandemic.
1) How have consumers’ priorities shifted around beauty? How do you suggest we tackle these beauty goals based on age?
People ages 16 to 60, or even 65, want to look and feel good - all the time! With younger millennials, it's not recommended for them to opt for aesthetic treatments but instead there are so many things that they can do for their skin from home, especially for those have acne or old scar issues.
Aesthetic treatments are now becoming noticeable because the majority of the women and men are trying to slow down the aging process. There has been almost over 82 percent interest in all formats of aesthetic beauty when it comes to exploring plastic surgery, investing in dermatology or utilizing derma cosmetic brands.
2) What kinds of procedures are consumers asking for at clinics during this time where health and wellness are of top priorities?
Some trends I've noticed are: recent obesity or weight gain issues that have driven people to ask about plastic surgery or body contouring. Further, some have expressed recent stressed-induced acne issues. Lastly, several people have started Botox, Fillers and anti-aging dermatology treatments during this slow period at home. From the health and wellness perspective, I see people investing in healthy eating and exercising more often leading into summer.
3) Which beauty routines can people do at home to feel their best right now, if avoiding clinics due to social distancing?
An ideal beauty routine would be to involve Derma cosmetic products such as skin care + anti-aging products and hyaluronic acid. Using these products at home can make your skin clearer and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Most importantly, apply sunscreen when outside to prevent skin damage.
Also, for healthy skin it's imperative to follow a regimented day and night routine. For example, hydrate your skin at night by thoroughly washing and applying specific combinations of creams in order to wake up feeling refreshed. Continue in the morning with using the anti-aging face masks and and firming creams. Fortunately, even with social distancing, you can still enjoy safe, in-person consultations with reputable doctors who will prescribe you a personalized treatment.
4) Are clinics sending at-home service or beauty kits to peoples’ homes?
Clinics are not sending any home services due to regulations set by the Dubai Healthcare Authority. Any clinical procedures have to happen in the clinic or to the hospital. With regards to the beauty kits, these should be bought from the clinic or from the pharmacy with a prescription and be advised by a doctor. However with regards to using dermal cosmetic products from L’Oréal or Zein Obagi for example, they can be found online via platforms such as Basharashop and be delivered straight to your door during COVD-19.
Happy, convenient and safe shopping!
© Curated by Nayritta for Curated ME.
Nayri Estepanian, an Entrepreneur known as Nayritta, is a woman driven by ambitions with a lead to the future. She’s an explorer, a strong guide, an intermediate and a connection between the Aesthetic industry and the experts with you.
Her aim is to provide education, motivate and assist in building some individuals’ confidence through introducing different Aesthetic ways and procedures making the content worthwhile for everyone to reach their goal and understand the knowledge behind it before implementing any procedures.
With the instant support and interest from the community, Nayri moves forward today to be more responsible with her journey by exploring, educating and providing the right solutions.
Building a credible successful future in this industry is her main goal.
Want more advice from Nayritta? Get in touch: