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In an interview with Arab News in French, Olivier Billon, founder and CEO of Ykone, talks to us about influencer marketing, the trend of digitization and expansion in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Ykone is the # 1 international influencer marketing agency, known for pioneering this industry with its software tool Campaygn launched in 2013. This tool aims to measure the impact of the growing influencer ecosystem in presenting solutions based on data analysis to a diversified clientele.

“We remain a leader in our industry by anticipating market needs in terms of data-driven strategies. After ten years, Campaygn is still one of the most trusted influencer marketing software with innovative features like sentiment analysis, “says Olivier Billon.

How can a brand survive without influencer marketing?

Any innovation faces a certain level of skepticism. This has been the case with brands in the industry who have partnered with paid influencers to gain notoriety. Today, Brand Managers use influencer marketing to diversify their communication channels.

“Being visible and active digitally is a must if you want your brand to be successful today. As consumer habits have changed over the years, purchase triggers are mostly found on digital. Influencers have become the best advocates for the brand. ”

Ykone opened its first Creative Hub in Dubai in 2014, a space dedicated to social media influencers to connect with global brands. In 2021, the agency expanded by 500 m², split between these regional offices, to create its first integrated studio in the heart of Dubai’s Fashion District. The CEO of Ykone stresses the importance of adequately informing content creators so that their editorial strategy is in line with the identity of the brand, especially if there are different levels of approval by the latter.

In recent years, demand from influencers has increased for the agency’s experience in influencer marketing. This phenomenon led to the acquisition of “Bold Management”, a talent management division, which is now part of the Ykone Group.

“My goal is to make Ykone a global group with integrated solutions that cover all the needs of brands looking to use influence as a communication strategy.”

Expansion into the region

The Middle East offers many opportunities. It is a region characterized by its youth, especially under thirty, and by a population connected to new technologies, which has an ecosystem favorable to the creation of content.

Ykone began regional expansion, opening two new offices in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. “Riyadh is the next big place,” says Ykone’s CEO. “The latest developments from Saudi Arabia have been incredible for our industry as we have been able to see a whole new landscape of content creators emerge from the country. Saudi Arabia has truly become a key market and priority for Ykone. “.

Ykone works exclusively with global brands in the luxury, beauty, lifestyle and fashion industries.

“We have seen our client portfolio really diversify in recent years, always with the aim of serving selective markets. We make sure that we do not limit the wishes of our customers and provide a first-rate project management service. ”

Given the stiff competition that exists in these sectors in the Middle East, staying relevant in the local luxury market means expanding into the region and developing work with luxury brands and major tourism players, such as the Red Sea Project in Saudi Arabia.

The trend towards digitization

The transition from traditional communication to fully digital communication is a priority for any brand that wants to survive in a digital and competitive market.

“Our role as an agency is to educate our clients, even the most reluctant ones, about the importance of the different communication and purchasing options that social media can offer.”

In the Middle East, many types of consumption (retail, media, etc.) are carried out mainly online, which means that the more a company is digitized, the more profitable it is.

The local Gulf fashion, design and lifestyle industry is quite diverse when it comes to consumer approach to fashion or lifestyle brands, which presents even more opportunities.

While the population in Dubai is mostly made up of expats, the fashion scene is dominated by international brands. In other Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, consumption habits tend towards a greater inclusion of their culture and history.

A new artistic director: Ali Cha’ban

“In Saudi Arabia, we discovered that there is an incredible community of creatives, artists,” says the founder of Ykone.

The appointment of Ali Cha’ban, a renowned artist in the region, was the perfect way to strengthen Ykone’s position as a creative leader and a way to put culture at the service of creativity, “above all there is no art without culture, and so no history, ”he adds. The creative director has already brought his artistic vision to some Ykone projects, conducting discussions on the art landscape of Saudi Arabia, not to mention his experience, recognized in the region.

The evolution of the sector

Influencer marketing in the Middle East has evolved tremendously in recent years. It is a competitive market for agencies and content creators, with brands demanding more and more reliability and professionalism.

“We may see a shift in how content creators have freed themselves from diktats and performance pressure, and instead let their creativity do the talking to find the audience that needs unfiltered content.”

Today the sector has not yet reached maturity. However, there is great potential for several socially and digitally active players. These are, among others, marketing agencies, influencers, content creators and public figures who become brand ambassadors. Hence the importance for brands to turn to this type of communication that allows them to reach more consumers, and to have more proximity to a young and very connected population.

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