As online and social media marketing continues to grow in prominence and importance in the advertising landscape, so does the significance of language as a tool for conveying branding and business-to-consumer messages.
Yet, Arabic, the region’s primary language, has taken a backseat to English.
Now, new data shows that despite this, it is still imperative that marketers give Arabic the importance it’s due, as it is still essential in reaching Arab customers.
Arabic a no-show online
In the Middle East, where Arabic is the primary spoken and written language, we notice a divide. Following a report by Red Blue Blur Ideas (RBBi), the first user-centric, data-driven and digital marketing consultancy in the Middle East, “digital marketing in a different language other than English poses a significant challenge because most, if not all information on this vital topic is created in English (with less than 1% of online content being available in Arabic)”.
Furthermore, and according to W3Tech analysts, the web is dominated by English, accounting for 52.9% of the top 10 million websites.
RBBi elaborated on the importance of Arabic content by explaining that “with Google dominating 97% of the market share in Arab countries, findings show that being visible in customers’ native language is absolutely vital.”
As for the different audiences in the region, they found that Egypt alone represents 20% of the online Arabic audience, while the KSA holds 12% and the GCC countries together make up 22%.
According to 2017 data by Ethnologue, Arabic first-language speakers are the 4th most common in the world, behind English, Spanish, and Chinese in an ascending order. They total 295 million globally, according to their numbers.
RBBi stated that Arabic has a 41.7% Internet penetration. Unlike other online markets, “the number of Arab speakers online is still young and developing, with its most significant advantage being the low competition and the vast amounts of high-quality data available.”
Arabic-speaking staff important as ever
However, RBBi did give a warning. They cautioned by saying that Arabic online copy should never be left to an automated tool like Google Translate. Arabic is quite a complex language, with many words having similar meanings, or different meanings in certain contexts. One letter or diacritic mark could make all the difference between you advertising a cool, refreshing summer drink and a controversial risqué innuendo.
The report found that words with Hamza (ء) need to be carefully considered in paid campaigns. Arabic speakers do not include Hamza when searching online, and this must be taken into account as well.
Therefore, they believe that it is vital for any marketing body to hire fluent Arabic speakers that can get your message across with nothing lost in translation.
As for the informal Anglicized Arabic used online, commonly referred to as Arabish or Arabizi, it could find a place in marketing content geared towards a younger audience, or when used for a lighter product like a trendy café or a youth-inspired product.
“Language and cultural content strategy should be a fundamental part of any digital marketing strategy. High-quality content and SEO optimization provide a significant option for businesses to do this efficiently and accurately to ensure that they target customers with relevant messages,” the report explained.