MindField’s Saudi Journey - an interview with Business Director Layal Khodary
Posted on 2023 Dec,18  | By Ghada Azzi

MindField, a Lebanese-born digital agency, was among the first agencies to set foot early on and launch operations in Saudi Arabia. Business Director Layal Khodary speaks about some of the unique challenges they encountered along the way.



Being among the first agencies to join the Saudi market, and seeing the expansion of the country unfold must have given you good footing in the market. What prompted you to start MindField in Saudi Arabia?

Our arrival to KSA in 2012 was based on a strategic decision following the blue ocean strategy. Back then all the focus of agencies was in UAE. Aware of the potential of Saudi Arabia with its large population and strong economy, and digital marketing was relatively a new field. Meeting with potential partners in the kingdom alerted us to the hunger for digital services that were mostly contracted with agencies based out of Dubai, and one major thing was to have physical presence to be able to deliver those services while upholding great customer centric approaches. That is why we decided to invest in and go to KSA.

What can you tell us about MindField KSA?

MindField KSA as a fully integrated digital agency provides a bridge between end customers, creative agencies, media agencies, and tech partners. With our integrated digital capabilities ranging from technical development, to content services, to media, we were able to provide holistic digital services to clients, while also bridging the gaps in services that other agencies could not furnish, which led us to build very strong partnerships with those agencies to add value to their clients.

What would you say was the most difficult part in setting your agency in this market and how smooth would you say your operations in the country have been? Did you feel you fit in as Lebanese-born agency?

We came in as a Lebanese born agency, but we transformed to be a local agency because we would have failed otherwise. I think that was the most difficult thing in Saudi, it was to admit that we will not be able to deliver full content services without local talent and while relying on resources outside Saudi.
We realized this early on in 2015, and back then finding the right local talent that has the right advertising experience was a challenge. Back then, local talents were not exposed to the advertising sector, and digital marketing was a fairly new specialty. Turnover was high due to the demand of local talent and the competition between private sector, public sector, and agencies to attract that talent. We now consider ourselves a full local agency, with local resources, we create local content, and we live and breathe Saudi. I think being able to understand that early on and being present before anyone else, gave us that edge to cement our position and have a huge advantage over others who came in recently.


What in your opinion distinguishes the Saudi digital market from other markets in the region?

First of all, the size of the audience and its diversity is like nothing in the region. Saudi boasts larger audiences, who also have their differences in culture and dialect, due to the large area of the country. Moreover, with most of the focus of agencies in the region being on the Saudi market now, this creates a lot of competition, and customers have raised their expectations. It is a tough market that only the smart, lean, and persistent will survive. The approach to KSA has been to deploy the resources locally, as the understanding of culture is essential to delivering quality results, you need to live in Saudi, be able to understand the habits and behaviors of the locals, which are nothing like other countries where there are large expat communities. Saudi and after it Oman are unique in this aspect, where the percentage of locals exceed that of expats, which makes the majority of content having to be local, and you cannot do that without being fully local.

Saudi clients are believed to be a creative’s dream because of big budgets. Would you agree with that?

Yes of course, this explains why agencies from all over the region are now flocking to Saudi. But while with big budgets comes big possibilities, there are also big expectations. Knowing what is feasible within the budget, and trying to maximize the ROI for clients while being able to answer their objectives and communicate well with their audiences is what will set you apart.


“We came in as a Lebanese born agency, but we transformed to be a local agency because we would have failed otherwise.”


How do you maintain a competitive edge in such a dynamic competitive market?

Several factors combined together. Firstly, we must remember that as agencies we are in the business of people, having excellent customer service standards and being customer centric is one of the most major things we focus on. Clients can find a certain service anywhere, but they work with who they are comfortable with on a day-to-day basis.
The other thing is that we as an agency offer integrated digital services, and understand them, we can handle websites, apps, social, search, influencers, and paid media, and this allows us to think of all channels and see how we can add value with our work on every channel.
Moreover, we have a firm belief that content should rely on data and should not be subjective, and this is where most struggle. We collect a lot of data from social channels, from search, from research tools, to understand the audience and the scene, and that helped us bring the customer voice to clients who were able to improve their business as they listen to their customers.
Finally, with strong competition, you need to be agile, and provide a lot of value for your clients. We operate in a fast-moving digital world, and if we are not agile and innovative to keep up, we will be left behind.


In a constantly evolving digital landscape, how do you leverage technology and data-driven insights to optimize advertising campaigns and deliver measurable results for your clients in Saudi?

As an agency we rely on a lot of different tools to collect market insights and insights on brands and audiences, and we utilize these tools to create personas that reflect the audiences in Saudi. Once you understand those customer personas, you are able to target them efficiently. Every tool has its strengths and weaknesses, which is why it is important to have availability of several tools to make the most of what they offer.
We also record all previous campaign data and their performance with respect to the personas and thus we learn on what works and what does not. Utilizing first party data of clients is important also to be on point and effective.
Because we are a data driven agency, we have a dedicated team of data analysts that work hand in hand with our other teams to collect data points and utilize them in campaign recommendations in order to improve performance.
We also support our clients by being able to provide live automated dashboards that provide a holistic view of their performance on digital.


What digital services are brands seeking the most lately according to your agency data?

When it comes to Social Media content, the demand is now on vertically produced content that is shot on ground as opposed to visuals with taglines; and the market needs to provide cost effective solutions to tackle this, as production houses still require big budgets to mobilize, and those budgets will not be released for regular day to day social content. Seeing this, we started developing MindField Studio services that provide this service at an effective cost.


In what direction do you see the local/regional market going?

More on content and media services, clients are now gearing towards targeting personas with specific messages, utilizing dynamic creative, and building messaging as the audience is moving through its purchase journey. Yes, spending is increasing on digital, but this is coming with a demand on improved ROI. Discussions are now all about cost per acquisition to measure the effectiveness of campaigns.
Data analytics is more on the rise with clients requesting detailed reporting on competition, audience behavior, and understanding the customer voice is of essence in order to improve the brand offering.


“Aligned with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, we aspire to contribute to the expansion and metamorphosis of the Saudi digital economy.”


What is your biggest challenge for 2024?

With the fast-paced developments in AI happening, the biggest challenge is spending enough time to keep up with trends and innovative technologies. Building internal departments in agencies that focus on research and development is crucial to come up with solutions that utilize the new arising technologies, which are now available but underutilized.
In order to harness the power of AI, we partnered with a professor of Machine Learning in Switzerland to provide us with AI solutions for our clients in the region and integrate AI in our reports and content creation services.
We want to strengthen our company as the frontrunner in digital marketing and advertising in Saudi Arabia. This includes further diversifying our service offerings to meet the evolving needs of our customers.


Where do you see MindField within the Saudi market in the next decade?

Aligned with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, we aspire to contribute to the expansion and metamorphosis of the Saudi digital economy. We perceive ourselves as instigators of creativity, fostering a culture of ingenuity and entrepreneurship within the region. Through establishing strategic alliances with local businesses and government entities, we aim to play a pivotal role in propelling economic growth through digital endeavors.

Moreover, MindField's dedication to data privacy, cybersecurity, and adherence to local regulations will persist as a fundamental forte, further augmenting our reputation for reliability and trustworthiness.

We aim to gain recognition as a hub of expertise, not only for digital marketing but also for pioneering ideas in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem. We envision constructing a robust community of digital professionals and entrepreneurs, exchanging knowledge, and collaborating on groundbreaking ventures that will shape the future of the Saudi market.