Wasim Basir, Coca-Cola MENA’s Director of Integrated Marketing Communication and the chair of judges for this years WARC Prize for MENA strategy, speaks to Lucy Aitken about the challenge of reaching the region’s youth and what makes a winning strategy.

Describe what you do at Coca-Cola

I look after integrated marketing communications over the Middle East and North Africa. I lead a great team of people on the ground in Casablanca, Tunisia, Egypt and Dubai who help me to do my job on a day-to-day basis.

MENA is a region that’s got a high number of millennials. How does Coca-Cola attract and maintain their interest? How does it differ from country to country?

The first part of any learning exercise is having a willingness to learn. We keep our ears to the ground, learning from other brands and companies and from millennials themselves. One of the key disciplines we have inside the company is a well-established knowledge and insights team that keeps us grounded and in tune with the times. On top of that, we use modern tools, social listening and conversations. 

Coke has always been eager to be connected to millennials: when Facebook was primarily a platform for millennials, Coca-Cola fans started a page on behalf of Coca- Cola, instead of shutting it down, we partnered with them. We don’t get everything right but we know we do some things right. Millennials are the toughest target group to claim to know or understand. It’s a challenge for everyone, especially in this region, so constant learning is one of the key things we do, whether it’s product or communications innovation, a lot of our conversations are around influencers, brand, product and services, and how we get them to help us engage with millennials too – to have a conversation about the brands, what topics – sometimes we just want to talk about music and other times we want to talk about music with Coke Studio.

Sometimes, it’s all about the World Cup. Other times it’s about influencers or content. 

Look at the span of MENA, from Afghanistan to Morocco. All markets are not made the same and there’s not one formula for everything. The latest entrant into our marketing mix is Sudan and basic 101 work has to be done there, not high-end social media work. We look at the market, we look at the key determining factors and then we go about creating our conversations and our marketing communications according to that, we don’t just want to tweet or snap about our products or just do TV, because it’s not a one size fits all strategy. There are 24 countries across the MENA region so we use different tactics.

So if today’s millennials are into gaming, we’re there with them. If tomorrow they’re into something else, we’ll be there with them. I call Coke the youngest 132-year old! We have to be relevant to young people and that keeps us honest and makes us hungry for more information. The Fanta Masters programme gave gamers in the region an exciting opportunity to compete for a larger prize, while Coke partners with popular online games like League of Legends.

Gaming is important to millennials, our target, but again, there’s not one strategy for every brand. Smart Water drinkers don’t tend to be gamers, they’re more into fashion, so we do that for them.

What will you be looking for in the papers entered for the 2018 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy?

The best strategy is the best articulation of the problem. Once you’ve done that, solutions flow. A solution alone is not a strategy. I’ll be looking for that in the case studies that are being submitted

But the mentality is still very much on short term tactics. I have sat in a lot of meetings where it feels as if people are thinking too tactically about how to meet short term targets.  I’ve been in that situation myself.  But the best marketers are the ones who can challenge themselves to really understand the problem and resist the pressure to focus on the here and now and or take a short-term, tactical approach.

What advice would you give to entrants?

Spend more time articulating your problem rather than making the case study video.

The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is now open for entries. Deadline: 5 April 2018