Fahad Osman, Regional Director, Global Business Marketing, METAP at TikTok, will be judging the 2021 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy. Here, he talks to WARC’s Chiara Manco about how marketers can respond to consumers’ needs, the importance of letting go of control to remain agile, and the value of empathetic insight.

The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is now open for entries with deadline on 28th April.

First launched in 2017 to reward the smartest strategic thinking from the region’s marketing industry, the Prize is free to enter.

Peter DeBenedictis, CMO Middle East and Africa at Microsoft will be chairing this year’s judging panel of senior marketers and strategy experts.

To find out more about the Prize and submit your work, click here.

Describe your role and what it involves.

At the moment, my role is all about listening and responding. We are building a global brand that has a rapidly evolving and diversifying user base, which means that we need to be constantly ready to pivot. We strategise at the month level and implement in the same timeframe. Our marketing is based on actual market needs and conditions, our managed service is based on what clients are telling us the market needs or doesn’t have. Then the job is to build and execute.

How has your role been impacted by COVID and lockdowns this past year?

It’s not just my role that was impacted, it’s the entire face of and reliance on entertainment apps and platforms. I think that, without exception, every player in this space has had to fit in at least two years’ worth of growth, work and output into the last 12 months. It is a humbling experience to be faced with just how little control we as marketers have over the world when something truly profound happens.

Platforms like TikTok can be a lifeline for people in lockdown, enabling moments of relief and connection. What lessons can you share on serving consumers on social platforms at this time?

Like I said: listen and respond. Use the data about what people want or are enjoying and put your efforts there – bring more creators in those spaces and enable them to create and collaborate.

The real lesson from behind the scenes, though, is about honesty: if you make a mistake, go out there and own it. Go onto social media, as a brand or brand representative, put your hand up and say: “We don’t know what we’re doing, this is new to us, we messed up and we are sorry”. If you’ve done your work properly as a marketer and built up some equity, you will be pleasantly surprised about how forgiving people can be.

Have you seen an increase in TikTok users during the pandemic? Has there been uptake among older age groups that had not previously engaged with the app as much?

Yes, the growth has been strong, particularly in the age groups who were not core a year ago. This, in my experience, is generally the case with new platforms and utilities. The early adopters tend to be younger, then the rest of the world joins in. The only difference, in my mind, between TikTok and other platforms is that everyone’s experience is different. You are served the content you enjoy – so there is no real question of whether the app or the content is better suited for a particular demographic.

Over the past year, we have seen brands adapt their products to keep up with the boost in digitalisation. Have you launched any new features, perhaps around e-commerce?

We launched a global partnership with Shopify to allow brands to enable e-commerce on TikTok. It has been incredibly successful and we can expect more to come.

Alongside Grand Prix, Gold, Silver and Bronze winners, the jury will also nominate five Special Awards winners.

For the fifth year of the Prize, WARC has introduced two new Special Awards that speak to some of marketers’ current challenges: The Long-Term Strategy Award and The Pivot to Digital Award.

Read more about all the Special Awards here.

What is your one takeaway from this unprecedented year?

Be prepared to pivot. I look back on my career and think about how every time someone changed a plan or even a meeting time, I would roll my eyes. Now, it’s a fact of life. Embrace the fact that you can only control what you can predict and you will be happier for it.

What are you hoping to see from this year’s papers?

New, more empathetic insights. I think the industry had gotten into the habit of recycling insight, especially around key moments. I believe that recent events will lead us to test brand understanding as to what constitutes analysis and, more importantly, empathy.

What is the one thing you cannot stand when reading an awards entry?

“Brand x had the challenge of not having as much awareness/budget as brand y”. All brands, apart from the category leader, have the same challenge.

What advice would you give to entrants of the WARC Prize for MENA Strategy?

Instead of telling us your strategy worked to achieve a specific objective, try and show us how it will live beyond this campaign. Show us that the strategy is part of your brand’s SOP, not just a short-term means to an end.

The 2021 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is open for entries. Deadline is on 28th April. For more information on how to enter, email chiara.manco@warc.com.