Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom?

Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom

  • The MENA region is home to the second-largest mobile phone population in the world, but the region’s mobile advertising spend is the lowest among all regions.
  • Weak mobile marketing infrastructure – lack of smartphone penetration and mobile- and tablet-compatible websites – in the region is one of the key reasons for this dichotomy.
  • Lack of high quality (engaging) and Arabic content is the second key inhibitor to the growth of mobile advertising in the region.
  • However, with mobile advertising in the region poised to grow from $50 million in 2013 to $340 million in 2017, MENA brands that are able to get their mobile strategy right, and create mobile marketing infrastructure and content tailored to consumer needs will emerge as winners.

The MENA region is home to the second-largest mobile phone population in the world. As per the Global Media Intelligence Report by eMarketer, at 525.8 million, the Middle East and Africa had the second largest mobile phone population in 2013. This was way ahead of developed economies like North America and Western Europe (both had <350 million mobile phone users), and was behind only the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, which stood at 2.5 billion+, thanks to significant contributions from populous countries like China and India. In addition to the growing mobile phone users, smartphone users in MEA went up from 67 million in 2012 to 112 million in 2013, increasing the penetration of smartphones among all mobile phone users from 5.1% to 8.3% in the region.

However, despite a large and fast growing mobile phone population, MENA’s mobile advertising spend is the lowest among all regions in the world. While the region stands second in overall mobile phone usage, its advertising spend on the same platform comes last among all the regions. As a result, in 2013, the region contributed just $50 million to a global mobile advertising spend of $15.8 billion. That represents 140% growth compared to 2012 spending levels, but is far behind regional totals elsewhere in the world. North America, which has the lowest mobile population among all regions stood first with a >50% share in the global mobile advertising market. Even other emerging markets like Latin America ($150 million) or Central and Eastern Europe ($162million) outsized the MEA region on this metric.

Table 1: Mobile Phone Users by Region (Millions, 2011-17)

Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom1

Source: Trendsmena, eMarketer

Table 2: Mobile Internet Ad Spending by Region (USD Million, 2011-17)

Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom2

Source: Trendsmena, eMarketer

As puzzling as the above situation may seem, the reasons are not hard to find.

First of all, mobile marketing infrastructure – smartphone penetration and mobile- and tablet-compatible websites – in the region is not up to global standards. Smartphones support internet-based applications and are the basic platform required for mobile advertising; on the other hand, age old feature phones that do not support such applications are not conducive for internet-based mobile marketing and can only be used for sms marketing purposes. Now, despite its fast growth, smartphone penetration in the region is still a meagre ~8%, much lower as compared to other regions (smartphone penetration in the US is >60%).  This explains why despite the advantages of internet-based mobile advertising, SMS campaigns still remain the most popular form of mobile marketing in the region.

In addition, while MENA brands have taken to digital marketing on social media platforms like Facebook, most of them still lack websites that are compatible with mobiles and tablets. This is a major drawback since click-through rates (CTR), a measure of how well a campaign has done, are higher for mobile (0.5%) as compared to those for other digital campaigns (0.2%) in the region, as per mobile advertising agency AdFalcon.  The lack of infrastructure is also highlighted in a recent study by Deloitte & BPG, which found that majority of MENA brands are still developing the required infrastructure (responsive design websites, apps, e-commerce platforms, etc.) to market themselves on mobile platforms; as a result, the value of online advertising is 40 times higher than mobile in the region.

Chart 1: Mobile Marketing Infrastructure in MENA 

Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom3

Source: Deloitte, BPG

Chart 2: Brand Lifecycle Stage in MENA

Is MENA Ready for the Mobile Marketing Boom4

Source: Deloitte, BPG

Secondly, marketing content is not engaging enough, and the lack of Arabic content further compounds the problem. The Deloitte & BPG report also found that 80% of the brands in the MENA region who are engaged in digital advertising are still in the infancy stage of the brand lifecycle.  As a result, irrelevant banners and pop-ups dominate mobile advertising in the region, as brands are focused on pushing their content (products, services, etc.) to potential customers, as opposed to engaging them and building a global brand. Further, despite an Arabic speaking population of 350 million, only 3% of the global online content is in Arabic language, thus lowering the impact of such advertisements.

Despite the current situation, mobile advertising presents a great opportunity for brands that are able to get their mobile strategy right, and create content that is tailored to consumer needs. A report by marketing agency RBBi and Addictive Mobility, a Canada-based mobile advertising company, found that smartphone and tablet users in the GCC are six times more likely to “click through” to advertisers’ websites on their devices than their counterparts in the U.S., and >80% of these click-throughs were made via links embedded in online videos, while 3% came through advertising links on social media networks.

Leading experts opine that for MENA brands to leverage the above opportunity, mobile advertisements will have to move from irrelevant banners and pop-ups to carefully crafted ads that are in-line with the utility app that the consumer is using on his smartphone. To understand consumer preferences, brands will have to use consumer analytics and geo-location services, and create a different set of ads tailored to each target set. Further, mobile advertisements need to be short (20-30 seconds) and engaging in the form of a short video or a game, and should offer incentive to the user to click through.

With the mobile marketing spend in the region expected to rise from $50 million in 2013 to $340 million in 2017, brands that focus on the above aspects stand to benefit from the growth of the overall digital and mobile marketing market in MENA, as depicted by the case study below.

Case Study: Effective use of Mobile Advertising to Introduce the New Ford Explorer in Jordan 

Campaign Objectives:

  • Create brand awareness about Ford and it’s car models in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Introduce the all new ford explorer along with its features in the local market.
  • Allow customers to contact the call center and visit the company’s showrooms in order to increase sales opportunities.

Duration: 3 week  | Mobile Marketing Agency: Ad Falcon

Methodology

  • AdFalcon Team designed a rich media ad in order to show case the Ford Explorer and its features using the latest approaches in mobile advertisements.
  • The banners were served on top of premium mobile apps and sites in Jordan targeting smartphone users only.
  • Once the users click on the Ford banner, they were directed to a rich media page that allowed them to view images of the Ford Explorer (interior and exterior), watch a video that demonstrated the new features of the vehicle, and a Click to call action button that allows users to choose the nearest showroom and contact its call center.

Impact

  • The campaign was able to generate 1,000,000+ impressions for the new Ford Explorer during the 3 week period
  • The highest click-through-rate achieved during the campaign was 0.39%

Source: Ad Falcon

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

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How to Run an Effective LinkedIn Campaign

How to Run an Effective LinkedIn Campaign

  • Social media marketing is the new norm, and LinkedIn has emerged as one of the best business-to-business (B2B) marketing platforms worldwide. With over 10 million LinkedIn subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), of which over 67% acknowledge that LinkedIn helps them build relationships and drive new business leads, it makes sense to use the platform for marketing campaigns in the region as well. Here are some tips and live examples for MENA marketers to consider to ensure that their campaign hits the bull’s eye.

Define the target customer segment for your product or service on LinkedIn. Keep in mind that your target segment on LinkedIn may not necessarily be end-consumers and may not necessarily match the identified segment as per your previous sales. For example, the largest customer segment for your computer peripherals business may be students, but on LinkedIn, the prospective segment may be small scale businesses looking for low-cost computer set up. Similarly, if you are a brand manager at a cosmetics company, most of your offline marketing campaigns would be directed towards individual female users but on LinkedIn, the target would probably be different, say professional make-up artists and beauty parlor chains, so the campaign has to be plotted around them and not the end users.

Build your target list and create a targeted campaign using LinkedIn PPC. Once you have identified the target segment or group, you can use LinkedIn PPC (pay per click) which offers filters according to job title, function, seniority etc. Use combinations that work for you and get the most relevant set of prospects. You can then profile these prospects to design an appropriate campaign. LinkedIn offers several unique PPC advertising opportunities – poll ads, social ads, ‘Join Group’ ads, and video ads.

LinkedIn banner ads can be customized for specific audience. So, if you are targeting employees of a particular company, they should see your ad designed specifically for their company when they log on to LinkedIn. Your ad can speak about solutions to their issues, resulting in higher click-through rate (CTR). LinkedIn recommends creating about three to fifteen ads per campaign with varying headlines, call-to-action phrases and images.

Monitor the performance of your campaign and improvise. Track your results by directing your PPC ads to a landing page instead of home page to gather data about the leads. It will help in improvising on your advertisement for better traction. Further, keep track of the success rate of each ad and withdraw the ones with lowest CTR.

Choose the right mode of payment to optimize cost. Cost per Click (CPC) campaigns are better for lead generation purposes, while Cost per Impression (CPM) campaigns are better for branding purpose. You can optimize campaign cost by choosing the right mode of payment, as a LinkedIn campaign has to be worth the cost involved to be effective. LinkedIn offers two payment methods viz. cost per click (CPC) and pay per 1,000 impressions (CPM). The CPM mode of payment may suit for a branding campaign to get as many people to see your campaign while the CPC mode may be apt for lead generation campaign.

LinkedIn suggests a bid range depending on budget and the competition for ads from similar campaigns. Ensure that you bid within the range. Analyze when your target audience will most likely be online and bid higher during that time or day to win over competing ads. It will require a bit of trial and error to achieve an optimum bid and budget.

Use the Lead Collection feature to gather list of interested customers. LinkedIn offers a feature called Lead Collection where it allows people to ask for more information or to be contacted by your company via a checkbox at the end of your advertisement. You will be notified by email of such leads and also be allowed to promptly respond via LinkedIn InMail. Note that you will not receive any contact details of the leads.

Businesses having a niche target audience can use Inmails to market their value proposition. If your target segment is small and specific, you can also connect with them via Linked Inmail. The feature allows for extremely targeted messages delivered to exactly the right person through personalization. In fact, LinkedIn offers a “guarantee” on these messages.

Revamp your LinkedIn profile page for an expected rise in visitors. Showcase your offerings on your LinkedIn profile page, and ask for recommendations from satisfied customers, like Hewlett-Packard whose “Products & Services” tab features over 3,000 recommendations for nineteen unique products and services. It makes for the most powerful form of endorsement, word-of-mouth marketing, as recommendations from your own connections are highlighted.

Use LinkedIn groups to create a community for your existing and prospective customers. LinkedIn’s “Custom Groups” premium option allows brands to control the entire group page, including sidebar ads, polls, videos, blog integration, and other custom media.  This space is usually reserved by LinkedIn to show ads that the group owner does not control. The option is quite expensive, so can be used for short spells along with an offline campaign to give an instant push.

The best example of successful application of this feature is Dell Business Solutions Exchange LinkedIn Group. With nearly 8,000 members, the group is full of Dell’s most valued prospects, with over half of them being in IT and computer industries and maximum are in decision making capacity. While the group added 50-100 members per week, there were durations when the group attracted unusual membership, which is, most likely because of a simultaneous marketing campaign- offline or on another social network.

Case Study: Vestas, a world leader in wind energy and infrastructure space, used its “Energy Transparency” campaign on LinkedIn to reach out to carbon conscious corporations about the benefits of investing directly in wind energy, and promote Vestas as their partner of choice.

As part of its growth and expansion strategy, Vestas wanted to run a campaign that raised awareness of the brand benefits for companies that use wind energy, and to reach out to key stakeholders in specific companies to drive consideration for wind energy and Vestas as a preferred partner. So, the company commissioned two studies, the Global Consumer Wind Study in partnership with TNS Gallup and the Corporate Renewable Energy Index in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which found that that corporations are eager to source more renewable energy and also identified consumers that wanted products made with wind energy.

When the company decided to build a marketing campaign to target these customers, it felt that the conventional method of using the email campaign along with banner ads may not generate the continual effect, the kind they were expecting from the campaign. Therefore, armed with target audience and consumer preference research data, Vestas designed a LinkedIn campaign including:

  • LinkedIn Inmail- Personalized (regards to the recipient’s name and company name) InMail messages were sent to smaller set of prospects as compared to the overall campaign.  Each InMail had a link to a customized version of EnergyTransparency.com including company and industry information.
  • Customized banner ads: 400,000 employees of these corporations were targeted through banner ads placed in LinkedIn. In spite of standard ad used for each impression, the company created custom ads specifically featuring targeting company.
  • Custom Landing pages and microsites: It created custom landing pages and microsites with targeted content for each prospect. This allowed Vestas to deliver precise messages, offering real and specific insights to each prospect. It also allowed Vestas to capture accurate data on the interest level for the firms targeted and for the overall success of the campaign.
  • Adaptive design across platforms: Vestas used adaptive design to ensure an optimal experience for users receiving the campaign cross-devices including desktop, tablet and mobile.

Result: Vestas’ LinkedIn campaign was highly successful, as depicted by the results below.

  • 11 million impressions with a click-through rate (CTR) of 0.11 – 0.21% among targeted companies
  • 10,680 corporate executives, employees and key opinion leaders visited the site, averaging 7.02 minutes
  • High efficiency with minimal waste: 80% of targeted opinion leaders & 30% of targeted executives visited  the microsite spending an average of +8 minutes
Source: Arab Business Review Research, LinkedIn

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands?

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands

  • Apple is all set to reinvent and significantly upend the digital watch market with its Apple Watch.
  • The Apple Watch, which will be closely tied-into the Apple ecosystem, and will also incorporate its latest healthcare and mobile payment offerings, seems ready to eat into the already limited market presence of existing smartwatch manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola and LG.
  • However, it also poses a threat to Swiss luxury watch manufacturers like Richemont & Swatch, which are adopting a wait-and-watch approach and hope not to witness another version of the something they woefully refer to as the “quartz crisis”. 

When Apple launches a new product, it does so with the intention to disrupt an entire industry, and Apple Watch will be no different (Tim Cook said earlier this year “Apple aims to be the best, not the first, with everything it makes”). Continuing its track record of innovation and disruption, Apple has launched its first wearable device – the “Apple Watch”, which is expected to be the new ‘game changing’ product in the wearable technology space. Just the way iPod crushed players in the MP3-player space, the iPhone became a game-changer for the smart phone industry, and the iPad created the tablet market, the Apple Watch is expected to disrupt the digital watch business.

The direct competition comes from existing smartwatch manufacturers, and the Apple Watch seems to have all the technological, design, and marketing components to beat the competition in the wearable technology market. With 70% of the smartphone market in developed nations being saturated, technology companies have been trying to diversify and create disruptive wearable technology (for example, Google Glass). Smartwatch is fast emerging as a hot product category, and most players have attempted to capture this market. Samsung, Motorola and LG have already launched smart watches, but they have received mixed reviews and moderate interest from consumers.

Latest reports from Forbes suggest that Microsoft is also planning launch a smartwatch within the next few weeks that will passively track a user’s heart rate and work across different mobile platforms. Google has unveiled its smart watch software named “Android Wear.” However, none of the existing smartwatches have been able to drive mass adoption so far, but Apple Watch is expected to change that trend.

The Three Versions of the Apple Watch 

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands1Source:  Apple

Here are the key reasons why we believe that the Apple Watch is likely to be more successful than others who have thus far attempted to capture the wearable technology market:

  • Enabling new features/services: The Apple Watch offers several big features such as health monitoring and frictionless payments with Apple Pay. As the health and mobile payments industries are yet to embrace mobile internet; the Apple Watch is expected to have a significant impact on them.
  • Innovative third-party apps: App developers are already waiting to build third-party Apple Watch apps, offering a robust ecosystem of messaging, social networking, and real-time information applications. For instance, the Apple Watch will have numerous third-party apps, including a Starwood Hotels (HOT) app that would let the user unlock a door with their wrist.
  • Massive existing user base to tap into: Apple already has a huge install base of iPhones, iPads, and iPods. During last Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple boasted a total of 800 million shipments of iOS devices, thus offering Apple an outstanding customer base to sell its new products to.
  • Extension of the iPhone: Yes, we have seen watches that check pulse, play MP3s, and check emails; however these watches are not functional extensions of the world’s most powerful smart phone. As the Apple Watch will use iPhone (which has higher speed, memory, and performance than the PCs of a few years ago) for connectivity, this creates a great advantage for Apple Watch.
  • Innovation fits in an existing product category: Unlike Google Glass, the Apple Watch is an innovative product that’s socially acceptable to the general consumers and fits into an existing product category which consumers understand.

However, smartwatch manufacturers are not the only ones that face competition from the Apple Watch.  With Apple’s track record of driving product adoption and displacing existing market leaders, the Swiss watch industry is keeping its fingers crossed and hopes not to witness another version of the something which they woefully refer to as the “quartz crisis”. The quartz crisis of 1960s involved the entry of inexpensive quartz movement-based watches from Asia to compete with the expensive mechanical watches that previously dominated the market. With Apple Watch about to hit the market, the biggest worry for watch brands (both luxury and non-luxury ones) is that consumers might forgo buying one of their products for an Apple Watch, as people become comfortable with features of a smartwatch and start wearing traditional watches less and less.

Apple Watch is expected to have the largest impact on the medium-low range of the two major Swiss watch companies’ brands, according to research conducted by Bernstein. The Swiss watch market is dominated by the two brands: Richemont — that has brands such as Piaget, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc and Jaeger-LeCoultre; and Swatch — which makes timepieces under the Breuget, Tissott and Rado labels. According to a Bernstein report, “They could be exposed to revenue and EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) losses of around 3% if 20% of the addressable market is taken by smartwatches, but Richemont’s high-end brands look immune from any negative impact.” Indeed, in terms of pricing, only 1% of Richemont watches brands overlap with the Apple Watch market as most of its brands are high-end ones. But, Swatch, which owns a number of high-end watch ranges as well as its lower-end namesake brands, could be exposed to revenue losses. Also, Richemont generates about 46% of its revenues from watch sales; while Swatch relies on 90% from watches with 23% being generated by lower-end designs – the segment currently being targeted by Apple.

Further, to drive adoption, technological expertise is being complemented with the right marketing and hiring strategy by Apple, and should be treated as another indicator of the competition that awaits the Swiss watch manufacturers. Since 2013, Apple has been hiring leaders from the fashion industry,  to position itself as a lifestyle brand, as opposed to being a technology brand only – the most significant one being Burberry’s CEO Angela Ahrendts’ entry as the SVP of Retail and Online Stores. Angela’s presence was felt in the design and launch of Apple Watch – with sizes for both men and women (42mm wide and 38mm wide) combined with a wide range of styles, Apple catered to the desires of watch lovers and the style-conscious consumers. Here is a list of all the positions at Apple that were filled by fashion industry top-shots since 2013:

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands2Source: Complex.com

While it may be too early to spell doom for the Swiss watch manufacturers, one thing is for sure – these brands will have to innovate at a much faster pace to retain and grow their customer base. Developing their own smartwatch won’t be a bad idea either, because if Apple is successful in driving Apple Watch’s adoption, it will likely expand the market for luxury watches (apart from smartwatches) among young consumers, thereby creating a large addressable user base for the Swiss brands.

In the end, it will be a toss-up between companies that only have better products, but also have the right marketing strategy to attract and retain their customer base.

May the best watch win!

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Your ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

Your Right To Be Forgotten

 

  • Some recent lawsuit rulings support the argument that individuals have the right to ‘redact results’ on searches of their names if the info is inadequate, irrelevant or out of date.
  • The right to   be forgotten is difficult to implement because the Internet is too open and the information is too fluid.
  • This whole issue of a user’s rights to controlling information about himself or herself will create all sorts of legal, technological and moral discussions for years to come.
  • Our existence in the digital world requires more protection but in a way that makes sense and which is based on a logic of what should and what should not be censored.

Five years ago, a Spanish lawyer took Google to court because he wanted to ‘suppress’ an old legal notice against him which kept appearing every time that anyone searched his name. It was information concerning foreclosure of his home in 1998- the same year that Google was launched- which he claimed was ‘no longer relevant’, and was an ‘unfavorable link’ that affected his reputation to this day. Mario Costeja González was seeking to assert the so-called “right to be forgotten“.

In May this year, a European court issued a ruling that supports his right and it has started a chain reaction that will affect everyone and everything on the Internet.

It means that individuals have the right to ‘redact results’ on searches of their names if the info is inadequate, irrelevant or out of date.

Since the beginning of June, Google has been drowning under requests from Europeans who wish to exercise their newly-won “right to be forgotten.” In fact, Google said it received 41,000 requests from people in the first four days, amounting to more than 10,000 requests per day. That’s 7 requests per minute and the numbers are expected to increase! Google are planning to hire new staff just to handle them.

Why did the European court rule against Google? Because it defined Google as a  “data controller” under a European law on data protection, which gives individuals strong rights over data that others hold on them.

However, there are many critics of this ruling and various experts who believe it’s just not applicable.

To begin with, the ‘right to be forgotten’ is hard to implement, as Google could censor its search results in Europe, but users elsewhere in the world could see that information and just send it to anyone in Europe. Additionally, with basic technical know-how or by downloading an ‘unblock’ product, anyone can change his/her country IP address and browse the web without local limitations – just like users in Arabian Gulf countries do all the time to access blocked sites.

Every country, or region, will ask Google to censor different information and the result will be a mess of censored/uncensored information by country that will not provide global removal of information.

Some countries may even take an opposite stance, demanding that the right to public freedom of information prevents Google from removing any information from the public record. Simply, any person should be able to know anything about anybody if it’s a public record.

Even if it were possible to force search companies, or social networks, to erase the past, it could do more harm than good. It would prevent users from discovering the inconvenient truths about those who would like their past covered up.

The Internet is now the depository of human history, but it’s not just about celebrities and public figures. It takes data-basing to a whole other level of personalized data, covering every member of society, due to social networks and search engines making every person searchable and identifiable. That’s why the Internet has a long memory, but you’re actually creating it yourself through your real-life actions and your online activity!

Sooner or later, you will feel that some information about you on the Internet appears to be unfair, one-sided or just plain wrong. What will you do? Can you actually do anything after agreeing to ‘terms and conditions?’.

You should take personal responsibility for every service you subscribe to and every piece of information- text, photos, videos- that you post. The culture of just ticking ‘I Accept All Terms’ without reading these terms must change.

When you join a ‘free’ service, realize that nothing is actually free. The service is exchanging the right to use- and sometimes own- your information with your right to use and benefit from the service.

This whole issue of a user’s rights to controlling information about himself or herself will create all sorts of legal, technological and moral discussions for years to come. As people’s requests pour into Google, you can also expect some ridiculous demands to emerge like someone asking for all personal history to be erased from the Internet. The notion of deleting oneself from the web is now growing as a demand!

This is the 21st century. There are our ‘actual selves’ and our ‘digital selves’. Surely, our existence in the digital world requires more protection but in a way that makes sense and which is based on a logic of what should and what should not be censored. This is just the beginning of a very long debate that could shape the information age.

The article is written by Zeid Nasser for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Thinking Small

 

 

Thinking Small

 

  • Marketing executives often look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation into the stratosphere, such as names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns.
  • But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small and invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.
  • Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.

I am always surprised at the amount of money companies invest in brand campaigns while completely ignoring fundamental brand enhancing strategies that cost virtually nothing to execute.  I’m equally awestruck at the minimal attention paid to a number of easily accessed postings on web and social sites that if left unchecked can completely destroy a company’s reputation.

All too often executives look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation (as well as their careers) into the stratosphere.  Names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns are just a few examples of the big ticket plays that more often than not leave brand managers scratching their heads or worse yet, unemployed.  It happens time and time again.  Why?  We want to believe in the brand illusion. Like a mirage in the desert, many big ticket brand plays look like a much needed oasis in the desert from a distance. Unfortunately, and usually too late, when we reach that oasis it’s nothing like we expected.

I’m not saying that all big ticket brand building activities should be ignored.  Sometimes that oasis is just that – an oasis!  With the right research and insights, a brand manager can realise excellent returns on these investments.  But that assumes time and effort is invested in researching the opportunity and understanding the target audience prior to making the investment, a step too often ignored or underplayed.  It also assumes your marketing team knows how to leverage the event to extract maximum exposure and goodwill from the investment.

But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small.  Rather than send your marketing team or agencies scouring for some major event to sponsor, first invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.  Start by simply going to Google and typing your company name. Look closely at what comes up.  Is it your company or some other brand? Also look at the paid search sections to see if any of your competitors are targeting you and how.  Now click on the news section at the top. What are reporters saying about your company?  Click on the articles and read the comments. Now click on the images.  What images are associated with your brand? Finally, go to the video section.  And once you’re done with Google, go to Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as many of the highly visited and viewed social sites as possible. Do your homework and document the results.

Next, take the time to visit your own web site or sites and sign up for all of your own marketing and social media programs.  Add your name to all of your company’s contact lists.  Then monitor the quality and quantity of the communications you receive.  Watch your company through the eyes of your customer. What you’ll likely find out about your company may surprise you.

We went through this exercise and discovered numerous misrepresentations and misleading information about our company.  In cases where we signed up for our own programs, we discovered that nothing was being communicated.  Apparently our Marketing and Customer Relations Management teams were not communicating with each other so the events we were sponsoring, the ones in which we created cool web applications inviting guests to sign up and learn more, were actually doing more harm than good by creating an expectation that was not being fulfilled.

As we looked closely at all our findings, we also uncovered a number of difficult but true facts about our customer service that had been in our corporate blind spot for years.  We had always thought our company’s brand was second to none and that our customers’ perceptions of our company were nothing less than spectacular.  By investing a little time and almost no money, we discovered the true was far from our reality.

Immediately we jumped into action cleaning up misinformation and contacting companies that had incorrectly posted false images, videos or statements about our company.  Sometimes the effort paid off and sometimes it didn’t. Not every company or person we contacted was willing to work with us, but most were and we found the improvements we achieved in the quality of information about our brand to be well worth the time invested.

We also began formulating new practices and policies to improve our customer service to stay on top of future issues. We also connected our Customer Relations Management and Marketing teams and we improved our coordination with our customer relations and PR teams to resolve issues before they became viral problems.

This process wasn’t nearly as exciting or newsworthy as sponsoring a football league, which incidentally we also did, but it was probably the most important and least costly investment to ensure our brand building activities were structured upon a solid foundation.  Yes, big ticket items can provide big returns. But it’s the little things that too often go unnoticed that can have a negative impact to a company’s image and completely negate all of the positive equity that has been built through years and years of good brand building activities.

So my recommendation is to always start by thinking small.  Look at your company through the eyes of your clients and prospective clients.  Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.  I’m confident you’ll eventually find the returns of your big investments to be much better and less risky if you do.

The article is written by Don Romano for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

E-commerce HR in the Middle East

E-commerce HR in the Middle East

 

  • The speed of UAE’s development have compelled its citizens and expat community alike, to be active catalysts
  • Joining a yet still in its infancy Industry within the ME region, The ‘.com’ genre has many challenges
  • Ensure that you in HR have your creative doors open at all times, take benefit from all the material that is already out there
  • A new age HR, be it service rewards, policies and the biggest player and differentiator ‘CULTURE’
  • We in this region have a lot of potential, an array of cultures and can utilize everyone’s talent in making this an incredible ‘Silicon Valley of the ME’

I have had the privilege of living in Dubai for over 30 years and in those years I have seen some massive and impressive developments – Developments that helped the UAE secure ‘EXPO 2020’! These business & operational changes and the speed of the country’s development have compelled its citizens and expat community alike, to be active catalysts in this infectious need to excel.

I chose to be a part of this exciting journey and took a plunge into a then globally renowned yet still in its infancy Industry within the ME region and joined the ‘.com’ genre. I became a member of the ‘COBONE’ family when it was only 6 months old and have embarked on a rather steep and intense learning curve. We have flourished spectacularly from, Cobone, a daily deal website, to Triperna, a comprehensive Travel Partner. Coming from over 5 years of thorough conservative Banking HR, my idea that I could comfortably apply the same principles were quickly shattered. I determined, rather quickly, that HR in this industry was a different beast. A new age HR was what was required and although not already known to me it was an exciting prospect, one that I was keen to discover and implement. Policies for common classifications within HR, such as hiring, communication, talent development, rewards, performance management, required considerable adaptation and a certain amount of creativity before appropriate application.

Due to the newness to the region, we lacked solid E-Commerce knowledge and skillset. Thus it was inadvertently necessary to reach out globally for knowledge, people and strategies. What I recognized was that it was essential that you are quick to adopt and implement what is required within HR, be it service rewards, policies and the biggest player and differentiator ‘CULTURE’. This is the one aspect that is so evidently thick within the group, the underlying VALUES that bring a group of people together in an online company and it is quintessential to be one of the first standards that you must formalize and announce.

My tips to you, although I too continue to learn, for HR within this exciting Online World are:

  1. Formalize the underlying energy, ‘Culture’, that brings you all together
  2. Be ready to be very creative, remain fluid without losing structure
  3. Get socially active online (FB, Twitter,  etc), to live within is to understand
  4. Thorough Change Management techniques and knowledge application.
  5.  Hiring will require different innovative methods, use attributes in place of experience, realize an individual’s ability to adapt
  6. Reward systems need to be clearly linked to Performance & Growth
  7. Keep processes simple and transparent
  8. Constant Communication

Initially it may seem like a lot of work and believe me it is! But if done systematically, it paves the way to stable growth. All you have to do is ensure that you have your creative doors open at all times, take benefit from all the material that is already out there, communicate appropriately and implement ensuring you have everyone’s ‘Buy In’. HR plays an instrumental role in shaping the company especially within this industry. Being in this part of the world I believe we have a lot of potential in doing it even better as we have an array of cultures, we can utilize everyone’s talent in making this an incredible ‘Silicon Valley of the ME’. I look forward to sharing my in-depth analysis of various aspects that I have listed above delving into actual activities and hopefully assist newcomers and possibly add to the knowledge base any way that I possibly can. Until then – Onwards and Upwards!

The article is written by Tahira Khan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

 

Hashtag Abuse

Hashtag Abuse

  • Hashtags are supposed to be helpful for topic search and are generally used for branding.
  • It remains a challenging task to make people abide by the rules of ‘hashtags’.
  • If hashtags were used properly, it would save considerable time when searching for specific things. 

What are hashtags? What are they used for? How useful are they really? Why are they being abused? Like me, these questions may have crossed your mind many, many times, so let’s first describe what hashtags are.

Hashtags are the words, pictures, or phrases found on social networks that are prefixed with the symbol #. Adding a hashtag helps to group those words, pictures, or phrases together so those interested in a particular topic or discussion can easily search them later. Another way to look at it is that you are “branding” or “tagging” certain words, phrases, or pictures , which then allows others to quickly search for the hashtag and find the collection of messages that includes it. This can be helpful when you are searching online for a particular topic that is of interest to you or when you are looking for other people that share similar interests to you. Many social networking services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram—just to name a few—use this form of tagging.

Sounds simple and useful, right? Well, it can be a double-edged sword. Giving those pictures and words a hashtag is supposed to group those pictures and words, giving them a “label” that is searchable. Unfortunately, it is all unmoderated and uncontrolled. In so many cases, hashtags are used poorly to the point where they get lost and lose all the meaning with it. When, for example, social network users in Kuwait, and the surrounding region want to look for a specific event in Kuwait, they can simply search the words #KuwaitEvents on twitter and instagram. But you will be shocked to see the search results for this hashtag because you will be directed to numerous pictures of different food items in restaurants, cafes, shopping finds, quotes, business offers, and many other unrelated topics! Try #Kuwait on Instagram and you will be directed to millions of unrelated pictures! Someone who wants to check the hashtag #Kuwait probably wants to know more about the country and see pictures of Kuwait, Kuwaiti lifestyle, museums, monuments, people, or information about the country … not pictures of coffee cups, designer shoes, or unrelated love quotes, with loads of selfies (self-portraits taken with a camera phone and uploaded to social network sites). It is even worse when you try searching hashtags of big company names or specific CSR campaigns—so many unrelated search results, which defeats the whole purpose!

In short, before diving into the hashtag trend, we need to be sure we know the real purpose of—and how to use—hashtags. We need to know that tagging pictures and words is basically done to help classify and group topics of interest together so that others that share a similar interest or curiosity in those topics can easily find them later when searching a particular hashtag. If done properly, when you search for a specific topic or discussion you should be directed to relevant search results and not have to endure the misery of sifting through millions of pieces of unrelated information.

The article is written by Ansam I. AlRadwan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Plugging in is nothing if you don’t turn the switch ON

Plugging in is nothing

  • Professional networking and connections are critical elements of your business success
  • Always look for the win-win in business referrals.  Even if you aren’t initially one of the “wins”, people remember those who helped them.
  • Honouring your network by switching ON-  following up diligently when introduced- will lead to more open communication and beneficial referral networks

Business referrals are your reputation

“I know someone there” may be music to your ears if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a new company; or checking out a prospective new employer.  In today’s work world, it really is often about who you know to get that first break in a sea of similarly qualified talent.  It’s a fact of life people make time for trusted referrals before a cold call, email, or CV.

“But what about my merits? My education, work history and professionalism?” you may ask.  These are all critical to be sure, and combined with a strong professional network, this is an encouraging word for you to be both be a connector and someone who readily turns on their follow up switch when they’re referred professionally.

For years now, I have been instructing graduate and undergraduate business and, during this time, I have been fortunate to have exceptional cohorts and find the experiences quite rewarding.  There are a few litmus tests I like to use when assessing my willingness to connect any student or professional contact to a someone I know.  They’re pretty simple and relatively few.  Actually there are only two:

1. Will this person represent me well?  After all, this is my reputation I am entrusting to a person.  Professional contacts are valuable and, before I just go on and give you the keys to open the door, I need to be relatively secure in the fact you will conduct yourself well and be a positive reflection of me to the person I introduce you to.  It’s about trust.

One recent example of this causing some stress was when I had a student look through my Linkedin contacts and send me a list of 50 people they wanted me to introduce them to.  First, let’s get some focus here.  If you’re asking for help, the “throw it against any wall and see what sticks” approach is far from recommended. Certainly, I wasn’t about to refer anyone to 50 contacts straight away.

What made this especially delicate is the fact this person was a B- student at best.  They were clearly not focused on the course, on participating, on their assignments, on helping others in class, and there was simply no way I was going to refer them to anyone, anytime soon.  I let them know “you’re asking me to trust you with my reputation and introduce you to these professionals?  At this time, I don’t have the confidence you would properly take care of my reputation, sorry”.    It was an honest and certainly eye opening conversation.

2. Will this person actively follow up appropriately with intelligent communication with the person to whom theyre referred.  See above of course as to why this is important; however, it’s a deeper issue. With all due respect to younger professionals and graduate school students who’ve worked a bit, if you are connected to a senior executive, someone with a far more senior role, and they make time to offer to meet you- drop everything within reason to accommodate their availability.

Admittedly, this is harder to read.  Will someone, when given the change to meet an executive, make every effort to make it happen? This would seem like a no- brainer right?

You are offered a chance to meet a senior executive in their office when they return from overseas or regional business travel.  You’d jump to make it happen right? Well this example went very differently and I must thank my brother, President of an advertising agency, for his patience.

Not too long ago, an excellent student of a respected colleague was recommended to me for assistance in their career planning.  The student came to speak with me while I was guest lecturing at my Alma Mater. They presented themselves well, seemed focused, and asked me for an introduction to 3 specific people I was connected to via Linkedin.  “Wow” I thought, “they have it together!” A quick check with my colleague validated their hard working nature and industriousness. As mentioned in point 1 above, my colleague trusted this person and their reputation to me.

As it were, one of the contacts with whom they wished to meet was my brother, who is also an alum.  Now I reserve the holy grail of referrals, my brother, for one or two people annually.  Not only does this referral carry the usual weight of professional contact, but I really don’t want to hear how I wasted his time over Holiday dinner when I am looking to enjoy our family time.

To his credit, my brother took time from his extremely busy schedule to make a few attempts to connect before asking me if he could “cut them loose”,  I concurred it was time to do so because his offer to meet this senior student 3 times was met with “that’s not a convenient time for me” FROM the student.  I almost thought he was joking.  Actually, after the second call from him, I did think he was gaming me.  I was shocked.

My colleague and I were both embarrassed.  This student carelessly jeopardized the reputation of their professor who in tern recommended the student to me and jeopardized my reputation.  In an attempt to curtain such behavior in the future, I made a call to the student to let them know they would not be meeting my brother and to try and not make a habit of this again.

The bottom lines, look for the win-wins and how you can help people. And when someone offers you help, follow up like your reputation depends on it. Because it does.

Connect; switch on; and succeed.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

The ‘Social’ Enterprise is here

The ‘Social’ Enterprise is here

  • ‘Social Business’ or ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is nothing but an additional layer of communication and sharing capabilities that is added to already existing online software which enables social-style interaction incorporated into enterprise software.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) has been a prevalent model in modern organizations for a few years now, and major enterprise software vendors are incorporating core business functions of the organization into an interface accessible from any device.
  • ‘Consumerization of business’ is the next milestone in the enterprise software world, where functions available on social media channels such as chatting and messaging, posting on forums or user groups and collaborating on shared content are now being integrated into the enterprise software suites.

We live in the age of ‘social’ software and ‘smart’ devices, which could make you cynical when you hear terms like ‘social-this’ or ‘social-that’. However, sometimes the use of ‘social’ as a prefix is indeed merited.

An excellent example is the maturing field of social-style interaction incorporated into enterprise software, to create what is being considered a ‘Social Business’, or ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

Basically, it is an additional layer of communication and sharing capabilities that is added to already existing online software which enables employees, customers and suppliers to collaborate and organize information, using web and mobile platforms.

Software as a Service (SaaS) has been a prevalent model in modern organizations for a few years now. Every major software vendor now enables company staff to work from anywhere by incorporating core business functions of the organization into an interface accessible from any device.

What was missing, though, was the adoption of some of the best ideas and functions available through social media from the consumer side. Chatting and messaging, posting on forums or user groups and collaborating on shared content are all clear examples of what can be taken into the organization for its benefit.

Analysts and consultants call this the ‘consumerization of business’; but to keep it simple, it’s just businesses being smart and capitalizing on the changing nature of the typical employee.

People want the same communication experience they enjoy in their personal lives, to be available in their professional life; to share data with co-workers, and seamlessly communicate through messaging instead of just using email. If this increases their productivity and happiness, companies should realize its impact on the bottom line.

With the entrance of millennials into the work place – those born between the early-eighties and the turn of the century- it has become imperative to adopt such communication and collaboration abilities to retain younger employees.

That’s why the biggest players in enterprise software are getting in on the act.

In 2012, Microsoft acquired Yammer, a private social network, which puts people, conversations, content, and business data on one platform. At the time, more than 200,000 companies worldwide were already using Yammer to collaborate with employees. It was an example of businesses seeking out a solution, even from a small vendor, if the bigger software companies weren’t providing it.

So, Microsoft jumped at this opportunity demonstrating that social media in the enterprise is much more than a fad. Yammer is now part of Microsoft’s Office division, and is major part of its Office 365 strategy, within the SharePoint Online service.

Oracle, another major player in enterprise software, has recently purchased Involver, to create what it calls ‘a cloud-based social platform across marketing, sales and service touch-points’. Oracle is now presenting an expanded social platform using Involver’s SML (Social Markup Language). The result will be a more comprehensive, and consumerized, experience.

The enterprise software specialist SAP has also launched “Jam” which is a secure, social collaboration solution that extends across SAP’s entire technology landscape to give social capabilities.

IBM already has a Social Business division, and its aims in this field are well articulated. IBM says it wants to “connect employees and customers to share their best ideas and new processes’.

It would appear that the customer is now, finally, in control! Enterprises will also reap the benefits of enhanced feedback for the purposes of product and service development.

This is an ‘open’ age of information. So, enterprises are going to have to open up too.

There are, of course, software security challenges involved. But that’s part of this evolution, whereby the benefits truly outweigh the potential concerns, which can be tackled.

Empowering employees and communicating better with consumers must be every company’s goal. Positive experiences create satisfied customers, and more revenues. That’s the optimal goal that corporate IT departments aim to achieve.

For decades, businesses have claimed to be ‘at the service of the customer’. Now, such claims are being truly tested as technology weeds-out those who cannot deliver on that promise. Beware the rise of the ‘social enterprise’, you have been warned.

The article is written by Zeid Nasser for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review