5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur Middle East

It can be daunting as a mid-sized company when entering a new international market. Especially so when entering a region as diverse and fragmented as the Middle East. Although no matter where you go around the world, you can’t just copy and paste a strategy that has worked well elsewhere and expect it to succeed in a different market. With digital channels becoming more and more essential in today’s business landscape, here are some key aspects to consider for your digital strategy when entering a new region.

 

  1. A LOCAL WEBSITE – Understanding the competitive digital landscape

You’d be surprised how many companies come to the Middle East and don’t create a region-specific website. Nothing will frustrate your customers more than if they can’t find simple information about you when they search online like basic product details, your location and contact information, opening hours etc. According to a recent Gartner report, only 15% of businesses in the region have an online presence. This is some very low hanging fruit, so make creating a local mobile-responsive website your first port of call when entering a new market. Don’t forget to include an Arabic language option for the content on your site too.

 

  1. LOCAL KEYWORD OPTIMIZATION – Understanding local online search behaviour

Speaking of customers searching for you online, it’s important to realize how people’s search behaviour differs around the world, and that it is essential to treat each market separately when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Conducting simple localized keyword searches around topics related to your product is a must, as well as doing so for the Arabic language also as the most highly-searched keywords can differ across languages. Don’t forget to include the local country in the meta tags of each of the web pages in the process, and make sure to create business listing pages on Google for your head office and retail locations. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find out about you online.

 

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA – Understanding the social media ecosystem

With almost 50% of the people living in the Middle East region being under the age of 30, it’s no surprise that social media is incredibly popular here as a form of expression and communication. In such a diverse region, visual channels such as Instagram and Snapchat have become especially popular in recent years as a way of propagating a common visual language. Similarly with video content. YouTube is the most used social platform for video consumption in the region and Saudi Arabia, with a staggering 90+ million active daily video views, has even surpassed the USA to become the #1 consumer of content on this platform.

The Middle East as a region is built on respect for people and culture. Whilst most markets in the region have been adopting a more relaxed approach to social content, countries like Saudi Arabia have far stricter rules regarding the type of messages and imagery that can be leveraged. Despite, or maybe because of that fact, User-Generated Content (UGC) is an extremely popular form of content that brands here try to encourage. The Middle East also has its own community of super-influencers who use Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to collaborate with brands and communicate a more relatable, yet personal story. This could be a relevant approach to consider when entering a market in the region.

 

  1. eCOMMERCE – Understanding how your consumers shop online

While some regions around the world embraced online shopping more than 20 years ago, the Middle East has been somewhat slower to join in. Up until recently, most purchases made online would be paid for in cash on delivery as many customers remained skeptical of shopping online. This has changed over the last 5 years or so, with more and more businesses accepting online payments and customers finally feeling comfortable with handing over their credit card information to companies online.

Amazon’s acquisition of Dubai-based Souq.com in 2017 was a boon for the region and signals a validation of the concept of eCommerce here in general. According to the Midddle East-based online payment platform PayFort, the e-commerce market here is set to double to more than $69bn by 2020 with the UAE accounting for $27 billion of that and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia $22 billion, making them by far the two largest eCommerce markets in the Middle East. Food for thought when considering whether or not to facilitate online payments on your local website.

 

  1. TECH ADOPTION – Understanding your market’s technological fluency

In case all of the above didn’t convince you of the importance of a localized digital strategy in the Middle East, maybe these statistics will. Even though many people around the world might consider the Middle East to be somewhat of a traditional region, the population here is surprisingly tech-savvy.

For a starters, Middle Easterners are a very well-connected bunch with more mobile connections here than there are people (128%), higher than in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Africa. Smartphone penetration is exceptionally high here also, with the UAE having the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world at 80.6% according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Mobile Market Report. Saudi Arabia is not far behind at 65.2%.

When it comes to internet penetration, UAE (99%), Qatar (99%) and Kuwait (98%) are the three highest ranked countries in the world according to the 2018 Hootsuite & We Are Social Global Digital Report. Mobile internet usage in particular is very high here too, with Saudi Arabia (64%) and UAE (61%) in the top 12 countries globally when it comes to using a smartphone as opposed to a computer to access the internet (StatCounter).

 

Take the next step

While it might seem like a lot to take in, you should consider digital channels as an opportunity rather than a challenge to overcome when entering a new market like the Middle East. Understanding the region and how the people here use digital technology in their day-to-day lives can help you build up a loyal customer base and create a solid foundation for future success. Utilizing a local expert who knows the region can give you a head start so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to take the next step!

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Dubai, Social Media, Tech, Web Design

How Voice Search Might Impact eCommerce

Originally featured in the February 25th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East

Long before the smartphone, the television, the radio, and even the printing press, we relied on our voices to communicate. These days we spend more and more time with our faces buried in a screen, although if you were to believe the tech press hype, all that might soon be about to change. There is a voice-powered revolution happening, or so we’re told.

Sales of voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home spiked last year and are expected to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future. With smartphone ownership long past saturation point, the big tech players see voice as the next great frontier for how they might embed themselves into our lives.

And rightly so. Google says that 20% of searches on Android devices in the US are currently done by voice, and ComScore expects voice searches to rise to 50% of all searches by as soon as 2020. You can almost hear brands scrambling around to try and come up with a ‘voice strategy’. But are we getting a little too ahead of ourselves?

How all this will affect advertisers exactly is still very much up in the air. While these stats seem staggeringly high, it’s important to unpack the different types of voice search taken into account here. These stats include using voice as an input to serve up results on a smartphone screen via Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant for example. While we might search differently when using our voice compared to typing a search into our phone, this method ultimately still produces a list of text-based results that can be scrolled through and pondered over.

The real disruption will happen when we also get the results coming back to us through voice. Unlike text-based search, the number of results that a voice platform can serve up will be far fewer. Gone are the pages and pages of listings that can be facilitated through a screen. This is bound to refine the types of searches we make, but also the types of responses we are given in return, fundamentally changing how search works.

For example, instead of searching for “pizza places in Dubai” and being presented with a list of the nearest pizza restaurants, unless you know specifically where you want to order from, you are likely to be presented with only two or three of the most popular options. How Google or Amazon etc. decide on these options will have drastic knock-on implications for businesses. Depending on how well these platforms know you, they can tailor options to your tastes and purchase history etc., but this could make it increasingly difficult for brands to influence the process.

All of this might sound worrying for marketers, but if we look back to the current usage of voice-assistants it’s clear that we might be a bit further off this reality than some would have you believe. The vast majority of interactions with these devices at the moment are to carry out mundane tasks like playing music, getting the weather forecast, setting a timer or asking generic questions. When it comes to actually using these devices to make a purchase, this is still very rare. A recent Business Insider Intelligence survey of 1,000 heavy voice-assistant users found that only 9% had ever used voice commands to actually buy a product.

Some first-mover brands in the US that have gotten a march on their competitors are the likes of Starbucks and Domino’s pizza who have launched Alexa ‘skills’ over the last couple of years. These skills are still quite primitive though and usually only facilitate re-ordering a designated item and having to use a specific trigger phrase to do so.

While voice may not ultimately replace all e-commerce, it could especially revolutionize ‘replenishment purchases’ such as toothpaste or toilet paper, products that can be re-ordered without too much consideration. If your brand can become the default for your customer when she says, for example, “Alexa, buy more washing powder”, this can put you in a very strong position when it comes to customer retention.

Ironically, many of the brands that will reap the benefits in this new landscape will be those that have built up their brand outside of these platforms, maybe even on – shock, horror – traditional channels. So much so, that they are top-of-mind and that consumers actually request them specifically on voice platforms, or have them set as a default order.

While we’re yet to see how ads might be facilitated on voice platforms, Amazon have been in talks with consumer companies like Procter & Gamble and Clorox about paying for higher placement if a user searches for a particular type of product, as well as targeting users based on past shopping behavior to cross-sell complimentary products to them. How will all this play out over the coming years? We’ll just have to wait and see. Or perhaps more accurately, listen.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Amazon, Apple, Campaign Magazine, e-Commerce, Google

The Augmented Reality Book Shop

I can’t get enough of seeing interesting real-world implementations of consumer AR and this ARKit example that I came across today is no exception. Scanning over a book shelf in a book store and seeing product information, reviews and pricing details is a pretty functional use case. Imagine something like this working in a supermarket price-comparison setting!

Posted by Rob in Apple, Augmented Reality

You can now create your own AR lens on Snapchat

This week Snap launched a new feature called Lens Studio that will let third-parties develop their own custom AR lenses for the Snapchat app, opening the floodgates like they did with Geofilters a couple of years ago. Expect a load more stupid little AR cartoons like the dancing hotdog seeing the light of day over the next few months.

Lens Studio is a free desktop app for Mac and Windows with easy to use guides and tools that students, creatives, and developers alike can use to bring their creations to life. Whether you’re just starting to dabble in 2D animation or are a professional artist interested in creating your own experiences, Lens Studio makes sharing your creation with the world fast and fun!

On a side note, I love the short, simple explainer videos that Snap uses to announce each new product update. They’re generally no more than 30 seconds long and show a brief use-case of the product to get the point across. Nice.

Posted by Rob in Augmented Reality, Snapchat

Serviceplan Middle East Diary

Last month I was featured in the SPME Diary. Read more here.

HI, I’M ROB!

I’m originally from Ireland but have been living in Dubai for almost 7 years. I started at Serviceplan Middle East one year ago this week although it feels like much longer than that. I joined just as we were making our move to the new office in Dubai Design District, which was a pretty exciting time for the agency.

I AM PART OF THE DIGITAL TEAM

…And work on everything from websites and digital display campaigns, to content creation, apps and other digital concepts for clients like Danone Nutricia, BMW, DIFC and MAN Truck. We’re currently working on a set of Facebook Messenger chatbots for one of our clients too which is really interesting!

I’M CRAZY ABOUT TECH

…And a sucker for gadgets. I’m passionate about how technology is changing our world, as well as how it can facilitate creative marketing and I’m always looking for the next big thing and for how we can make our clients first-movers. I send out an internal digital newsletter every week to make sure everyone is up-to-date on all the exciting new tech possibilities to get people’s creative juices flowing.

I LOVE READING AND TRY TO GET THROUGH A BOOK EVERY WEEK OR TWO.

It’s actually such a good way of disconnecting from the always-on life that most of us live these days hooked up to our smartphones and laptops. I love writing too and try to keep my own blog updated as well as writing the occasional piece for the Serviceplan blog and a couple of magazines in the industry. I also love playing video games and am crazy about football, including a pretty heavy obsession with Manchester United.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Tech