FROM THE MCN INSIGHTS LIBRARY: The long “Arab Spring”, the rapid growth of several social mediums across the region, and brands quickly recognizing and respecting these changes – are all together contributing to a change in the communications paradigm in the region. The one-way “shouting” model is rapidly giving way to brand-consumer communicating, dialog, experience, exchange and authentication. This is good for the Middle East, particularly when the masses are learning to believe in alternatives to status quo, believe in change and in challenge. As a ad agency network with clients across the region, we are watching as some of the trends are re-shaping the way brands are behaving and communicating.

1. Brands are no longer the singular source of brand message. This is something brands are quick to learn here in the Middle East, because, thanks to the Arab Spring, we all learnt that the newsroom, or the palace or the government, is no longer the source of news. Similarly, brands are now recognizing that consumers – the people on the street, and in front of their PCs or with mobile in hand – are the new source of the brand message. As a brand, it’s no longer just yours, it’s theirs. The people are shaping the original message, re-editing it, re-writing the script, adding “likes” or just plain rejecting what they don’t like.

2. The speed at which a message spreads has changed drastically. A brand’s message can make or break in minutes. With the power of viral, and the awesomeness of social media, and the intense desire of the consumer to take immediate action and control – the speed at which a brand’s reputation or a particular message about it can be affected is in seconds, not days or a campaign burst of months. A social campaign is measured in minutes, not months.

3. Every consumer has access. Every customer has control. Social media, the rapid influx of broadband, internet on mobile – all these are changing the concept of influencers and brand message drivers. Even a year ago we used to talk about “sneezers” and key influencers” online. Today anybody with a keyboard, a mouse, an iPad or a phone is an influencer. Anybody can initiate perception change. And everybody can empower it. We’ve seen this in our region in the political climate over and over – in Cairo, in Tunis, and we’re now seeing it increasingly in Syria.

4. The way our target audiences react to brand messages or any message is changing. Which means there’s a pattern shift in message absorption, in message interpretation and acceptance. A brand campaign about sugared cola or a hyper-energy drink is suddenly being turned on its head because consumers are questioning the damage it does. Suddenly, now in the Middle East, what is accepted as a brand message is now defined by the consumer and not the client-agency partnership alone. It’s the audience, the consumer that is validating the message, viralizing it, amplifying it or burying it. Power to the audience.

5. Finally, the impact of social media can be felt both at a brand’s marketing set up and at brand-agency levels. This is a new genre, powered by a new breed, a new generation, who are having to make the rules as they go along. The audience is defining what’s hot, and what’s not, and the mediums, the agencies, the brands are all just adjusting and adapting. Ongoing changes at facebook, google, youtube, twitter, pinterest and foursquare are all indicators of change driven by the consumer. It’s changing the way marketing departments are staffed and powered, the way agencies hire (and fire), the way client-agency remuneration is agreed on, the way brands are planning their marketing calendars, and how slow, steady and stagnant is making way for the now and the instant.

~ Tom Roychoudhury, chief innovations officer, MCN