Things are looking up for the online marketing community. Recent surveys and media reports widely credit the region’s online advertising spend to be growing fast and becoming increasingly important to more and more people. Although last year was a difficult one for many, some believe that this gave big advertisers pause for thought and time to re-look at where online marketing fits in with their overall spend. Meanwhile, the social media revolution that has forced many businesses in other parts of the world to rethink how they interact with customers seems to finally be making its presence felt in the region with Facebook’s user numbers in the Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia rivaling traditional media audiences. The likes of Facebook, Google and Yahoo! have also all commented during the past year about the Arab world’s Internet coming of age and opening up opportunities for developers, advertisers, governments and others stakeholders across the region.
That’s the glass-is-half-full story.
The other half
The empty half of the glass is that the numbers of advertisers, developers, web ventures, educationalists and government departments using the Internet effectively in the Middle East is still remarkably small. Online marketers are all too often siloed in their own disciplines such as online advertising, website development, e-commerce and lately social media. Businesses very often see their online as a bolt-on to their traditional media campaigns and their website as an elaborate company brochure: and their view of the online world can be equally siloed. Sales might see the value in direct response from websites and email campaigns. Marketing may favour banner ads. Public relations may want to do social media, but marketing and IT are probably in disagreement over that. And customer service is often the elephant in the room, being largely ignored because online budget is owned by marketing.
Businesses across the region have been challenged over the past 20 years to reinvent themselves from being importers and sales agents to being marketing brands that are associated with providing customer value. Today the Internet is challenging Arab businesses to reinvent themselves again and become more open and more customer centric. The divide and rule school of business development no longer works, particularly on the Internet. With the arrival of Web 2.0 customers, non-customers and other key audiences can all be affected by the actions of marketing, sales, PR, customer service and technical support. Marketing can’t send an email to new contacts without existing clients knowing about it any more than customer service can expect customers who have had a bad brand experience not to talk to anyone. This calls for a much higher degree of planning and coordination of communications than Middle East businesses have been used to. And businesses are scared.
The good news: you don’t need to be a wizard
However, as with many new trends, much of the fear, uncertainty and doubt felt by business about Web 2.0 and Internet marketing is due to a lack of knowledge. Sadly, the online industry doesn’t help itself much here. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be a member of the magicians union to know what PPC, PPV, CTR or CPC are, you don’t need a special qualification to use Google Analytics and there’s no secret handshake required to become a social media marketer! In fact, your organisation probably already has much of the expertise required to plan, execute and manage a successful online communications campaign, because the central and most important consideration in this campaign should be your customers and other important key audiences.
Coming late to the party also has its benefits. Organisations across the region can now learn from a wealth of knowledge, example campaigns and online case studies from around the world whilst developing their own online campaigns. Furthermore, many brands, across many business sectors still have the opportunity to be first movers in developing online campaigns for their particular markets.
Spot On PR is supporting a first-time conference next month called Digimedia.ME. The conference was born out of an idea to showcase and help explain the range of online communications disciplines to the business community. We’re excited about Digitmedia.ME, because a real effort has been made to rope in many different voices from the region’s online business community and the cost of attending has been kept very affordable, making it easy for business people to attend. So, if you want SEO, PPC, social media, email marketing, brand protection, online PR or brand monitoring demystified, we hope that you’ll join us there.
Spot On Public Relations is a supporting partner of Digimedia.ME 2010. Digimedia takes place in Dubai on 5th and 6th May 2010. See the Digimedia.ME website for more information:http://www.digimedia.me