Do you have a sense of the state of digital marketing in the Gulf? What's your opinion?
Econsultancy recently published 'State of Digital Marketing in Mena, which we've done this year and last. Now we're starting to get trends and benchmark measurements to start to gauge where things are and where they're going. We've also done a piece of consumer research about what people are doing online and with their mobile phones.
Broadly speaking, the appetite, interest and growth within digital is very buoyant and the percentage of digital spend within a marketing budget has gone up from 22% last year to 27% this year. These are encouraging signs. That said, I think clearly the market feels like the UK was 5 or 6 years ago in terms of the maturity of businesses and agencies. Not many companies have big teams dedicated to digital and a lot of what they're doing is experimental. So it's just a little bit less mature, though in some areas, like social media, [the Middle East] is actually not far off where the UK is, I would say.
What do companies need to do to bridge that gap?
I think here in the Mena region most money is spent on advertising, which might be paid marketing or banner ads. A lot of the talk is about getting brand awareness online and generating traffic, which is fine, but in the UK or indeed the US, the focus is much more on analytics, data-driven decision making and conversion rate optimization. So there's much less focus on getting traffic for traffic's sake, it's about optimizing the business and the commercial results.
That's partly because ecommerce is less established here [in the Middle East] for various reasons, such as challenges with online payments, delivery problems with addresses and other infrastructural challenges. So as ecommerce grows, typically you'd expect to see things like emails and analytics grow. There's a requirement for bigger teams then, but because there's a direct return on investment through sales or cost savings, the budgets typically grow, which fuels the agencies.
At the moment I think the ways it needs to catch up are around moving away from the focus of driving traffic and looking at what actually is the key metric we want and often that's sales, leads, cost savings and things. It's quite an analytical, data driven bushiness in the UK, whereas here it's a bit; spend, get some traffic, and job done. Though this is not true of all.
Is there a big shift to make the jump from just investing in advertising to gaining more strategic insights?
It's actually not much of a technology problem anymore. There are all sorts of tools and solutions out there. So that shift is not a difficult one. However, the bigger shift or challenge is around the people or process element. The process is what are our key performance indicators? How does digital work with IT and customer service? What's the organization structure internally? What's the culture like?
And also just the skills and people - a talent challenge. This is true all around the world, but here at the moment there's probably a lack of people who have enough experience to know about this stuff. So the shift, the reason it will take longer than it could or should, isn't about technology. It's to do with the culture and most particularly the lack of people who've got the skills and the knowledge.
Where can you find those key personnel? Do people just spring up organically through social media or are there specific avenues for people to get trained up in those areas?
There are a number of ways to get the digital talent.