Can mobile marketing deliver on all its promises in the Middle East?

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In a world where there are officially more mobile devices than people, mobile technologies are reshaping consumer behaviour with blazing speed.

With the growing number of consumers, across the Middle East, are hooking to mobile phones for infinite reasons – doing online shopping, browsing, finding the nearest restaurant or just a random search – it becomes imperative for brands to learn how they can capitalize on this blazing phenomenon.


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In the Middle East, digital marketing is changing, and so is mobile marketing. But much is still left to be done. A recent survey by the Mobile Marketing Association serves as an interesting food for thought for this trend. According to Melis Ertem, Regıonal Director of Turkey & MENA at the Mobile Marketing Association, in 2017 the total media spending in the MENA region is estimated to have been $2.976 million. Out of this total media spend, digital media’s share is 33 per cent, while that of mobile media spending accounted for 24 per cent.

“Again, last year, mobile media spend is estimated to have consisted of 25 per cent Search, 26 per cent Social and 49 per cent display and video, with the latter having the highest growth year-on-year, i.e. 24 per cent,” said Ertem.

Room to grow

However, there are many areas in mobile marketing that need improvement in the region, say experts.


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Brayden Ainzuain, Head of Innovation & Digital at Publicis Media Middle East, comments, “There is still a good amount of catching up to do when it comes to mobile marketing and media investments. Surprisingly, having a mobile-optimized experience isn’t a big priority for brands, which is a big miss considering that mobile is one of the most important, if not the most important screen experiences. Per the report, it seems that there is also a need to better educate some advertisers in regards to mobile measurement and tracking capabilities: there are technology solutions which help measure and optimize mostly everything on mobile.”

Adds Guido Mercati, Regional Director of Digital and Social Media at Leo Burnett Middle East & Africa and the Chairman of the MENA Chapter of the Branded Content Marketing Association, told Gulf Marketing Review that the significance of mobile has not been fully appreciated yet by most people.

“Let’s put it mildly: the entire MENA region does not understand mobile-first marketing yet. By 2019 we will have almost 780 million mobile phone users and we will operate in the fastest-growing mobile market in the world. With mobile penetration rates as high as 75% in the GCC, marketing spending on mobile is still awfully low, comprising less than 1% of the global total,” says Mercati.


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“Mobile is not just another medium: it is rather a cultural revolution of how branded content is distributed and consumed,” he adds.

Unchartered territories

Mobile growth is occurring in the region even if some of marketing budgets continue to be heavily invested in other areas, Ainzuain says.

“Traditional media such as TV and outdoor remain strong in our region and some advertisers will continue to invest in them often disproportionately, disregarding attention to the medium itself, and how much more time people spend on mobile versus on these traditional channels,” says Ainzuain.

Nevertheless, experts are optimistic of the exponential growth of mobile usage in the region going forward.

“Since early 2015, mobile overtook desktop in UAE market share and the gap has been growing ever since: 60 per cent mobile as opposed to 40 per cent desktop, to date. This mobile usage will just increase exponentially and transform as we progress into the next three years hitting 2020. We should plan mobile at the core, on both advertising and media fronts,” Joubran Abdul Khalek, Head of the Center of Excellence at Publicis Media Middle East, says.

How to optimize ad spend

When it comes to embracing the transition to mobile, agility is the name of the game. Ainzuain suggests brands must keep in mind three factors in order to succeed in the mobile space, namely:


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– The consumer behavior of their target audience in regards to mobile usage versus other mediums and screens;

– The decision journey touchpoints, in order to assess the influence and the role of mobile in getting a consumer to procure a product or service;

– The type of talent they have been managing and supporting their campaigns, in order to put mobile at the center of all activity and communication as product and advertising.

Mercati’s advice includes taking advantage of location-based marketing opportunities.

“First of all, we need to buy into the fact that we live in a digital-first market. Secondly, that 40 per cent of your total impressions are happening on mobile. Hence, forget big ideas and a cookie-cutter approach: context and personalization are keys not only to success but also to your future existence and relevance as a commercial brand or product,” he adds.

“Display was growing at over 37 per cent in 2016, so the very pain points for us marketers and digital content creators are Search and Messaging, which are absolutely neglected in terms of journey understanding and contextual potential. Location-based strategy can allow a brand to fit the “moments” consumers are experiencing, proposing more suitable messages to more suitable audiences,” he argues.

Additionally, as Abdul Khalek points out, making a tweak that focuses more on data-driven marketing can help brands immensely.

“With clients suffering budget cuts due to regional and global variables, the industry should be more vigilant with their budgets. What is happening now is that let us get ‘reach’ at the most ‘efficient’ price possible without utilizing any specific data layers simply to keep CPM low. This behavior is augmented by the procurement department on the client side,” says Abdul Khalek.

The end result is a better user experience, which should be the primary concern of brands but is sometimes overlooked when advertising strategies are executed.


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2018 and beyond

What is important for marketers to understand is that mobile marketing should be considered part of an integrated approach, and not a separate strategy. Planning a marketing campaign without including mobile into its DNA early and often can be seen as a plan that is bound to fail in the context what is going on today.

“Mobile provides you with omnipresence, reduces targeting mistakes, improves data-management, generates higher response rates, drives footfall more efficiently and it comes at a better ROI,” emphasizes Mercati.

Abdul Khalek adds that marketing professionals should do due diligence as they prepare to spend the upcoming year’s budget. Paying attention to the details can make a drastic difference for brands.

Also, a never-ending commitment to testing, measuring and optimizing should be adopted by marketing professionals who want to succeed in the mobile era.

Below are some of the important mobile marketing takeaways related to the Middle East from the survey conducted by MMA and WARC:

– Mobile budgets increased from 2016 to 2017: 23 per cent of those surveyed now spend over a quarter of their total budget on mobile

– 2017 mobile marketing budgets in MENA are expected to be matched or increased this year, with varying levels of growth predicted: among those expecting a budget increase, 59 per cent expect an uptick that won’t exceed 25 per cent and 4 per cent expect their budgets to grow over 100 per cent

– Mobile-based branded content is mobile advertising’s most popular format, yet mobile-based loyalty schemes have not been fully tapped into so far


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– Social advertising and mobile video were the focus for 2017, with location data and video playing important roles in mobile growth

– 47 per cent of those surveyed said mobile-based branded content will be their focus from 2018 all the way through 2022: an ideal timing as mobile-optimized webpages continue to become more prominent

– Mobile video advertising in MENA has been the area of focus for 63 per cent of those surveyed, with mobile social advertising coming second at 58 percent

By Elias Jabbe