With the leading MENA digital technology conference Arabnet concluding its 10th anniversary last week, AMEinfo decided to get in touch with one of the many innovative digital marketing startups founded in Lebanon: VBOUT.
VBOUT has designed their own unique software for launching and managing digital marketing campaigns, be it on social media or email. AMEinfo had the opportunity to speak to VBOUT’s founder and CEO, Richard Fallah, who shared some insight into the digital marketing landscape in the MENA region and beyond, as well as the trends in the sector moving forward.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about VBOUT?
Fallah: VBOUT provides tools to small companies and startups to allow them to scale digitally through the marketing plane.
VBOUT has international clientele, with the majority of them being US-based.
Falah points out that most companies believe that marketing needs a large budget, which is not true. Although high-budget campaigns can be carried out, such as purchasing pricy campaigns on social media, or using traditional means such as billboards, companies can market their products with small budgets too. VBOUT allows for digital marketing campaigns of different budgets.
Q. Can you tell us more about your clients?
Fallah: The typical persona that finds success on VBOUT is the person who understands the marketing culture. They know they have to invest time in it. The clients we typically work with are digital agencies and teams with at least one marketing practitioner who runs the weekly campaigns for their company . They live on the product – they love it.
Typically, the way [clients] work with the product is they come in with the mindset of wanting to synchronize leads from their website to VBOUT. VBOUT would take it from there by executing automated campaigns and tracking the lead every step of the way.
What we teach [our clients] is how to craft winning marketing campaigns that are going to provide value to the end customer. Things like how to create a paid ad funnel, e-commerce marketing messages based on the behavior of the buyer, etc…
At the end of the day, every company wants to increase the lead generation pipeline, decrease customer acquisition cost and increase LTV (lifetime value). VBOUT is at the epicenter of this mindset.
Q. Are you using AI to further optimize your software?
Fallah: We are experimenting with some things internally, mainly on predictive modeling, because we have so much data collected on the platform for every touch point of every lead. This data is native – we are not relying on third party APIs (Application Programming Interface). This means we can track email clicks and open rates, site performance (visits, engagements) and much more. With all this data, we can start creating models of ‘macro profiles.’ These macro profiles can represent for example the ‘Alexander’s of the MENA region who are between the age of 25 and 35 who work in the content and media industry.
When we build these macro profiles, we can start predicting, with a high level of accuracy, the likeliness of a new lead becoming a customer. We can also advise on which channel is the best to serve an ad on, and at what time based on previous analyses. These are some of the models we are trying to build internally.
We want to be innovative in ways that allows us to take even more shortcuts – i.e. to cut out middle process steps and reach results faster.
He gives an example where VBOUT would upload a lead, and through machine learning and analysis, the system can identify potential customers that are worth a business’ attention, eliminating the need for a marketing professional to have to search through the data manually to make a deduction about their ideal consumer.
Q. What are the 3 essential pieces of advice you would share with a startup on a very tight budget looking to advertise online?
Fallah: You have to think digital. You have test all the different channels. The traditional media works for very specific industries, where you need boots on the ground. You have to think digital and test all the online channels available at your disposal so that you are not relying primarily on traditional media that is costly and hard to optimize. By simply activating your email marketing, social media, SMS, WhatsApp and more, you open up your business for a much broader audience reach.
There are also other channels you can tap into.
Partner channels: where you can exchange value with other companies and share client base and potential exposure.
You can do paid ad testing. If you don’t have big budgets, you can test different angles and messaging.
You can do video campaigns, where you can reach out to people in the particular startup’s industry, interview them for 10 minutes, get some value out of these people, and use that as your video strategy. And at the end of each video, you can add a call to action for people to follow you and eventually you start nurturing them. This costs a little bit of your time in outreach, but eventually you can build your video content. Video as a lead gen is very good to test out.
You can also generate leads from the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which costs around $100 per month and is totally worth it, primarily if you are a B2B company. LinkedIn lets you search for people by title, filter by country, industry, type of business, and build your lead lists accordingly.
So, it doesn’t really cost big money to think digitally, trying to generate leads. Try all these channels, of which there are definitely more, and scale accordingly.
Q. What challenges did you face in bringing your software platform into reality, and into the market?
Fallah: Our field is very competitive – we have to keep innovating. Our differentiator is our software’s ease of use, the ability to start small and scale accordingly and our price point.
Sometimes, this is not sufficient, so you have to talk to your customers as much as you can. Obviously, that takes a lot of time and effort to do – to be customer-centric.
Internally, you often want to ship fast, and you’ll often come across a developer that has ‘analysis paralysis’ where they’re overthinking code or a feature and shipping out takes 3 or 4 days instead.
So these are some of the common things we see internally that happen from time to time and are common among startups.
Q. What are the trends that are emerging in the online digital marketing field?
Fallah: Trends right now are revolving around predictive [models] and AI. It’s still very much in its infancy. A lot of people are throwing these terms around to raise money, but very few are really doing anything relevant in that space.
I think ‘templated marketing’ is really the way to go because people don’t want to try and figure stuff out from scratch, which is the case today. Eventually, it’s going to be templated marketing. The future is going to be fast marketing, fast templating, fast testing, and fast iteration.
With Facebook’s recently announced change to its newsfeed algorithm in regards to video rankings on the platform, online advertisers stand to be impacted. Facebook’s new algorithm will favor original content over that which is recycled. In Fallah’s opinion, this is actually a boon to advertisers that are producing original content.
While online marketing is ever more focused on the digital tools at companies’ disposal and the processes of automation and templating, you are still selling products and services to human beings, Fallah reminds. This means that no extent of AI or machine learning software on its own will spare you from having to hire a great marketer that understands the consumer, the zeitgeist, and what strategies work with whom.