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Q & A: Surkus allows almost anyone to become an influencer and earn from engagement

Multi-sided experiential marketing platform Surkus offers businesses a new way to elicit customer engagement, where anyone can serve as an influencer and spread the word about companies' brands.

AMEinfo spoke with Surkus' CEO, who discussed their business model, tech and the challenges of the region With operations in the US and Hong Kong, Surkus branched out to the UAE 4 months ago It currently has over 750,000 engaged users around the world

Surkus is an exciting new marketing platform that launched in the UAE over 4 months ago, setting up headquarters in Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 startup ecosystem. An exciting and relatively young company, its business model highlights the power of word of mouth, especially amongst acquaintances, friends and family. 

“While an influencer with 3.2 million followers might have great, inspirational content, would you trust their recommendation of a new restaurant over a friend or family member?” Surkus CEO and Founder Stephen George asks rhetorically during an interview with AMEinfo. “Listening to people you know offers a level of trust and authenticity that is hard to replicate.”

And that is Surkus’ business model in a nutshell: it turns friends, family members and acquaintances into bona fide influencers on the micro-scale with macro-level ROI. 

Stephen George, CEO & Founder, Surkus

Can you share with us some detail on what Surkus is exactly and how its business model works?

Surkus is a first-to-market, multi-sided experiential marketing platform. Consumer-facing, we offer our members exclusive access to events and offers from partner brands in exchange for their engagement.  

Client-facing, we work with big brands, businesses and SMEs. Clients can choose the way members engage with their brand, whether it’s social media amplification, physical footfall, or authentic feedback. The result is a completely transparent and efficient ROI. Surkus connects businesses to their ideal end audience using value exchange as the transaction. This value exchange can be as simple as trying a muffin for free in a local cafe in exchange for sharing the experience with your followers on Instagram. 

Do you offer your services to influencers only, or is the app available to regular consumers as well?

Anyone can use our app and enjoy the experiences featured. It’s free to download and sign up for everyone who wants to discover new brands through unique events and offers.

Surkus values the power of peer-to-peer marketing, where friends recommend other friends to participate together. This has greater impact and authenticity than many other forms of marketing or advertising. One of the reasons P2P has grown so strong in the past few years is that people trust people like them. It’s that simple. While an influencer with 3.2M followers might have great, inspirational content, would you trust their recommendation of a new restaurant over a friend or family member? Listening to people you know offers a level of trust and authenticity that is hard to replicate.

Read: Surkus, new disruptive marketing platform, launches in the UAE

How would you pitch Surkus to an SME? What benefits does your platform offer them (you can share statistics here)? 

Businesses, especially SMEs, struggle with how to best allocate their limited time and resources. They are trying to build customer loyalty and maximize revenue. 

Traditional marketing solutions are fragmented and managing these separate avenues of promotion can be costly with little to no transparency on ROI. This can be devastating for a small business with a minimal budget. Surkus provides a one-stop, 360 approach to successfully grow businesses, maximize marketing spend and build customer loyalty.  

We provide clients with reporting and analytics, detailing engagement and impact on every dirham spent. It’s a truly transparent and measurable ROI, reducing wasted ad spend which can be harmful for businesses. 

We also understand that not every SME is the same, so we work closely with these local businesses, no matter their size, in order to understand their business needs, with the end goal of facilitating a connection between a business and their ideal end customer. 

Can you share with us some examples of your work in the UAE, and the feedback to it?

As well as incredible word-of-word growth we’ve seen from our clients, many local businesses have reached out to us after seeing our members posting about their experiences on Instagram. The frequent user generated content that our members produce on a daily basis is an incredible source of content which has only helped grow our business alongside our client’s businesses. 

Looshi’s in JLT is a good example of a growing business that started working with us back in November of last year, offering our members free brownie bites in exchange for social media amplification and feedback about their experience. The owner recently told us that she’s so happy with the results she will be keeping Surkus as her marketing solution going forward. We have also run a number of offers with a small cafe called Daily Dose in Jumeirah. They have seen a significant increase in footfall and revenue thanks to Surkus. 

Members feedback pours in due to the nature of our platform. The community Surkus builds is one of the most rewarding parts of our business. 

Read: The 500 Club: Companies shift to advertise with influencers with less followers

How does machine learning and AI fit within the framework of your work? What does this technology contribute to your app?

Our technology utilizes machine learning and a deep understanding of customer engagement as it relates to building brand and customer loyalty. We developed powerful algorithms that ensure members are able to engage with the events and offers relevant to the data we know about them. This, in turn, helps to deliver that all-important 100% ROI on every dirham our clients spend on our platform. Our technology is designed to offer businesses a level of transparency that is missing in the industry today and reasonable in the current digital age.

What challenges are you facing here in the Middle East and abroad, and how will you address them? 

As an international startup, we have been able to enter the UAE with fewer challenges than we may have typically faced thanks to our partnership with Hub71. Creating a hub in Abu Dhabi was extremely important for us as a global business, it’s the ideal geographic and strategic launch-pad for future expansion within the MENA region and beyond.

Educating the market in the UAE has been a challenge, simply due to it being a relatively young economy and Surkus being a relatively young marketing platform. As the only experiential marketing app in the region – and the world, we feel that solving these challenges here will give us a better understanding of how to approach many markets around the world. Our member database is growing every day, and new clients are signing up to the platform daily. 

In today’s day and age, we are increasingly seeing brand loyalty waning and consumer apathy setting in – meaning it’s becoming increasingly important to engage consumers meaningfully through a 360-approach incorporating the online and offline journey. This is happening all over the world. And this is where the real value of Surkus lies – we take businesses from online advertising to offline acquisition back to online engagement and promotion, all in one campaign.

Do you have plans to expand further in the Middle East, and if so, where are you heading next?

Surkus is a young, global company with big ambitions. We’re constantly looking out for new opportunities and markets that align with our mission – to provide a transparent, efficient and measurable marketing solutions. 

Right now, we’re focused on growing our business in the UAE, building on the solid foundations created since we launched 4 months ago. We have exciting enhancements to our product this year that will really revolutionize the SME landscape in the region. 

Outside of the UAE we will continue to grow our presence in the US as well as focusing on expanding to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UK and Canada. 

Read: Study reveals what Instagram Influencers earn and how they find brand deals