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This article first appeared in ArabAd written by, Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy at Imagination Middle East.

We saw a focus on the power of experiences at this year's Dubai Lynx, and for good reason. With a youthful and dynamic population, a region striving to diversify its economy, and a willingness among local and global brands to take bold and innovative approaches, the Middle East is an ideal market for brand experiences – as such, they have become a highly effective tool for brand consumer interaction in the region.

The success of, and attendance at, this year’s Lynx event demonstrated that the region is once-again hungry for in person connection. Since the pandemic, the world has found a renewed interest in in-real-life (IRL) experiences, demonstrated by significant visitor numbers attending flagship events such as WebSummit. After three years, it was Lynx’s turn.

There is something special about events like Lynx and their ability to bring together a community of professionals, some of whom may not have crossed paths before. Only in real life can those opportunities for serendipitous connections be made. This year’s Lynx was no different – and it was exciting to once again gather with other like-minded individuals to learn, network and celebrate the power of creativity.

Lynx demonstrated that now is the time for brands to knuckle down and prioritise brand experiences in the Middle East.

What are your main takeaways from Dubai Lynx?

With so many great minds gathered in one spot, there are so many takeaways from events like Lynx- whether you are a brand or an agency. It would be impossible to list them all. However, for brands, I saw a strong recurring theme highlighting the need for them to be more focused on agility and ideation, to keep up with the creator economy, driven by social media platforms and ever-shorter content forms.

From an agency perspective, there were a lot of interesting discussions around celebrating diverse mindsets and local talent in the region. It is exciting to see other like-minded agencies and businesses fuel homegrown, innovative creativity - especially in Saudi Arabia where this is most evident. Our strategy team at Imagination are bursting with ideas and new approaches ideated from our large pool of young talent, and it was fascinating to see how other businesses are harnessing and supporting their talent too.

How have experiences changed to shape the way customers interact with brands?

Brand experiences have been around as long as people have, bringing people together around passions, communities, businesses and families. But experiences have been transformed with technology – first the invention of radio and TV and the ability to broadcast to millions of people, and then with the internet and the social media revolution. Now, experiences can connect with consumers on a mass level, in ways that were unimaginable even 10 years ago. Technology has opened up the opportunity for brands to create deeper, more emotional connections with previously untapped audiences.

Smartphones and social media mean people are now able to connect both online and offline at any brand experience.

In 2020, we saw a huge shift in behaviour with the pandemic forcing a coming of age for hybrid experiences. Now, we have parallel layers of experiences that can be experienced both in person and virtually via technology, broadening the scope and the reach for brands.

Brand experiences have evolved from one off, in person events, to become 360-engagement platforms supported by integrated new technology.

What’s next for experiences in the Middle East?

With significant international events like the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the World Expo in Dubai, 2022 was a step-change year for the Middle East. The region stood strong on a global stage – and we saw the creation and delivery of ground-breaking and highly innovative experiences. Looking beyond 2023, we can see, particularly in the Gulf, that brands have an incredible advantage in creating and delivering experiences with more freedom and less red tape, and they must continue to take full advantage.

With the launch of Riyadh Air, which is said to serve more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030, connectivity to the region is only set to increase. But to attract even more tourists to the area, brands must continue to tap into what their customers want and need. People are hungry for in-person journeys and putting on events and experiences in the region will provide that pull. These experiences must be shareable via content-driven social media and also connected using the wealth of creative technology possibilities, from immersive AR and VR to interactive projection mapping and virtual experiences. These are all now expected among citizens of – and visitors to – our digitally advanced region who are looking for next-generation brand experiences.

The brand possibilities are limitless, from milestone occasions to pop-up shops, from hosting in-store events to investing in AI technology and metaverse platforms.

Lynx demonstrated the sheer innovation and talent that is building our industry – and it proves exciting times are ahead. Watch this space.

Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy, Middle East

Christophe Castagnera

Head of Strategy, Imagination Middle East

Christophe has 24 years of experience in experience design, brand and marketing engagement for clients and agencies. He works across our offer of Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to develop & communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

He has a vast array of sector experience, from automotive and tourism to FMCG, luxury and technology.

He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce. Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, MDL Beast and Expo 2020, including integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and the measurement framework.

CORE SKILLS

  • Consulting in experience blueprints and business models

  • Destinations and placemaking strategy

  • Customer experience design & journeys

  • Data analytics and reporting

  • Primary research including qualitative and quantitative

  • Integrated marketing & communications planning

  • Project management (communications and events)

  • Budgeting / financial planning

  • Digital content management and research

EXPERIENCE

  • Christophe works across our offers, including, Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

  • He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce Ghost through; Insights and research planning, client discovery and strategy workshop, development of a creative platform proposal and integrated communications plan.

  • Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, the Strategic development of MDL Beast programme of experiences and cultural activations across KSA.

  • He also worked directly for Expo 2020 client team on a long-term consultancy basis, developed Connected Experience Strategy for integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and measurement framework.

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Bachelor of Science Degree in International Business (BSC) from Aston University, UK

  • IPM Diploma and Member (Institute of Marketing)

  • Member of the IPA Master Certification & Effectiveness Council

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE

  • 24+ years experience