Understanding The Influencer Marketing Bubble in The Middle East

The trend of influencer marketing has been so huge in the Middle East till everyone did believe it is true. Global brands spent a lot of advertising money on Arabic influencers especially in the beauty, fashion and tech industries while local startups and boutique businesses have been desperately chasing micro-influencers everywhere. Undoubtedly, the influencer marketing has been going crazy in the region and everyone was competing to join the race on social media.

Quick facts about influencer marketing in the Middle East:

  • According to survey by BPG Cohn & Wolfe in 2017 of 100 in-house marketing and brand managers across a range of industries in the UAE, 49% currently work with social media influencers. 55% said their biggest challenge was finding relevant influencer while 41% said negotiating terms and conditions was a major concern.
  • The Arabic consumer are highly consuming videos and stories. Around 30,000 Middle East-based YouTubers have more than 10,000 followers. While almost 12 million daily Snapchat users in the GCC, including 9 million in Saudi Arabia and 1 million in the UAE.
  • According to Gulf News, 94% of influencers in the UAE get paid between $1000 to $5000 per post, while the remaining 6% the price per post could reach more than $10,000. In some cases, 76% influencers agree to products or experiences.
  • The top beauty influencer Huda Kattan reportedly earns $18,000 per post, according to com.
  • The GCC market leads the Middle East as the highest demand from brands and the top paid influencers. Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco influencers are paid less.
  • Among social media platforms, Instagram stands as the top place for the influencer marketing game while Facebook is rapidly declining. YouTube is becoming the golden gate for micro-influencers who are targeting Gen Z.

The Influencer bubble is about to burst

Some would argue that the influencer marketing is going to be even bigger in the region, but I would have to remind them that in this world everything changes faster than you think. There are some facts we need to review about the phenomena of influencer marketing.

1. The Market Size is Hard to Figure

Due to fraudulent influencer marketing, the estimates of the market size are mostly inaccurate. While the size of the market seems big, it is eventually much smaller and not stable. Mike Schmidt wrote a great analysis regarding this in the Forbes magazine. He predicts that in the coming two years, influencer marketplaces and brokerages will have a tough time. The Middle East has no figures or researches about the market size to be able to identify gross and decline. However, we need to exclude the top global brands out of the equation since their budget spend on influencer marketing is considered as a budget reallocation from traditional celebrity advertising to social media celebrities. This leaves us with the total mess of untraceable activities and influencers who are despair to increase their value even it doesn’t worth it.

2. Brands are chasing the vanity metrics

It is time to release the secrets and state the fact that brands are exhausted trying to set the tracking in place. The complex behind tracking influencers exceeds setting up an affiliate management tools and requires sophisticated social media analysis, brand metrics, conversion rate and more. Investment wise, while the influencers are raising their cost, the ROI of each influencer is problematic to trace.

3. Fraudulent Influencer Marketing is Costing Brands

According to a research by American Marketing Association (AMA), engagement on sponsored content from fake followers is costing brands $1.3 billion a year which is almost 15% of the total spend. In an audit of 10,000 influencers, SocialChain found that 25% of their followers were engaged in fraudulent activity. According to research, 50% of paid influencer post engagement is fake. The rise of fake followers and engagement have been another huge pain for major brands. Major brands are now fully aware of this issue and some started to review their influencer marketing strategy: Unilever is refusing to work with influencers who utilize bots and fake followers. In addition, based on Marketing Week, A third of brands admit to deliberately not disclosing influencer marketing as sponsored content as they believe doing so will impact consumers’ trust, instead choosing to come up with “creative alternatives”.

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4. Influencer Can Damage the Brand’s Reputation

The brand image and values are always at the risk of unprofessional behavior brought by influencers. Eventually, influencer marketing programs are hiring influencers based on their popularity, relevantly and engagement stats. It is extremely difficult to be able to move these social media celebrities to become a real “brand ambassador”. They are independent and driven by their own values and local competition among each other. Hiring an influencer are mainly like hiring an independent on a contract basis not a partner. Some brands could be able to achieve a partnership level with influencers and have major control on the influencer, but this is a complex mission which requires highly professional branding team and big budget. However, the region has witnessed crucial issues when some of the influencers went out of control.

Example: in 2018 a Kuwaiti beauty influencer made a negative comment regarding domestic workers which triggered a massive anger. As a result, several beauty brands decided to cut relations with the influencer to maintain their brand image.

5. Social Media is Becoming Highly Saturated

In the Middle East, social media feeds are becoming saturated with posts from all the wannabes and lookalike influencers more than ever. The ongoing floods of pretenders and followers’ buyers have widely impacted the consumer behavior. Engagement rates for Instagram influencers dropped in 2019, according to a Trust Insights analysis. Instagram started to prepare to the shift in consumer behavior by removing the likes counter. This step from Instagram proves that the change is coming. Consumer are now more aware of the commercialized approach of their influencers and filtering out paid content. They might gladly engage and like the influencers content, but they will not trust it all.

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6. Influencers with Nothing to Influence

My mom says “Put a donkey in front of the camera for long and he will be famous”

We have first to stop calling everyone that generated a substantial number of followers as an influencer and define who is qualified to be an influencer.

The name can explain itself clearly. The influencer is someone who can influence the public audience with an idea, opinion, and most importantly a style of life. Yes, the style of life is the key concept behind the whole idea. The critical factor of being an influencer relies on the ability to influence your context of choice not just your choice.

What is the difference then between influencers and content creators? It is a massive difference. Content creators demonstrate their skills and knowledge which engage the audience but don’t follow a systematic and planned agenda. Let’s imagine the content creators as a TV entertainment channel with an objective to attract as many views as it can so it can sell Ads.

On the other hand, influencers are more like the News channel with an agenda to influence the public opinions in a certain direction. The main difference here is not particularly the content but it is more about influencing the audience according to a predetermined strategy.

The relevancy is a matter of consistency. In an industry like fashion and beauty, major amount of the Arabic influencers are themeless. They are crazy about chasing trends and showing off to stay connected with the audience. You cannot blame them for following such strategy, however the issue relies that it is becoming hard to differentiate who is who.

Huge number of Arabic influencers are copying style of life, stories, content, tips and rotating around the timeline. Therefore, the social media is more saturated with endless posts of people who is trying to influence the consumer with whatever.

7. Change in Arabic User Behavior

According to a recent Social Media Influencers’ Survey  of 1000 Emirati and Saudi residents aged 18 to 35, 79% said they have unfollowed an influencers for flooding their timelines with promotional content.

People will be smarter with social media before you know it.

Eventually, that’s not the biggest fear yet. Another major factor is rising in the horizon. Let’s welcome the Gen Z who will dominate everything soon (In Egypt I call them Yassta Z due to their overuse of Yassta word). The consumer who are born after 1996 are evolving to become the biggest segment in the region. How the Gen Z are using the internet and social media is going to be totally different than us as Millennials. They are native digital consumer, faster, smarter detectors and sensitive to authenticity. Forget the old times of picture-perfect, super-edited type of content. They know the filters; they sniff the promotions and they need something authentic.

Therefore, what influences this generation is going to be a different game. Gen Z is not influenced by the trend, they are the trend itself. Eventually, Gen Z will continue to follow influencers, but they have more control on direction than the influencers himself.

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Millennials will have to follow the Gen Z era

So, in the coming years, the shrinking part of the pie will be Millennials while Gen Z will grow rapidly. Millennials will need to adopt to the native digital consumer who will dominate the social media. The first impact of Gen Z first we started seeing in the last couple of years was emerging from the influencer into Micro-influencers. Moreover, the Nano-influencers is arriving. Gen Z are decentralized and extremely diversified segment across the Middle East and regular segmentation won’t work out. The reason for this is pretty simple: They are not receiver like older generations, but they are influencers themselves. They are not the customer unless they are part of the game.

8. Arabic Influencers Are Hard to Deal With

As a marketing consultant, I have worked with tons of influencers in the region for several brands and always faced three common issues. 1) The majority are buying followers and engagement, 2) They are not authentic, and they rely on heavily edited photo sessions instead of creating content, 3) Unprofessional attitude and lack of commitment, 4) Overestimation of their value and expected results.

In conclusion, the brand had to spend a lot on building campaigns, hiring teams and paying for a list of influencers and the results showed that only small percentage had a positive impact on the brand and ROI. It was extremely problematic to handle the Arabic influencers.

9. Brand Strategy Inconsistency

Another regional issue appears with the culture. While brands are looking for straightforward strategy and focused groups of influencers who can control, each country has its own preferences when it comes to the influencers. The market is saturated when it comes to values and consumer. The Arabic dialect, shopping preferences and social trends are all part of the influence game. The segments across the region are completely diversified and it requires deeper research on the culture and consumer, not just the influencer popularity. An example: While I was working for a beauty brand in the UAE, we chased several Arabic makeup artists but the surprise we discovered later that the majority of consumer in the market are expats who rather influenced by an Indian expat beauty blogger. We have been following a completely wrong assumption.

Bottom Line: Influencer marketing is evolving rapidly in the region and brands started to consider it as overestimated market and expensive. In-house marketers started to predict the danger of the big bubble and step back while media agencies are trying to push hard on gaining more. While some brands will withdrawal, there will be others who will focus on Micro and Nano influencers. In the last round of consultation, I advised the brand to turn influencer marketing into affiliate and push towards partnership based on commission instead of paid posts. However, it obvious that consumers and brands are losing faith in people who claim to be influencers.

Top Tips for Professional Arabic Keyword Research

Arabic keyword research is always considered as the cornerstone of any SEO campaign, paid search and content strategy. To build a successful Arabic keyword list, you will need an effective research to understand the local search habits and the difference between spoken Arabic and written Arabic.

Why Arabic Keywords Research is different

With 22 countries and different local trends, it is challenging to conduct a keyword research in the MENA region. The research in such language and marketplace has different nature.

  • Spoken Dialects: There are different spoken dialects which would require a further research into local trends. There are five major dialects in the region including Gulf, Egyptian, Maghrebi, Levantine, and Mesopotamian Arabic.
  • Culture: Arabic users have many search terms related to one keyword. A variation of keywords would need a further research into keywords relevancy.
  • Consumer Habits: Some keywords could have a high volume in a certain country in the market while it has very low volume in other countries. You will need to conduct a further research on consumer search habits.
  • Keywords Localization: Translating Arabic keywords from the English language will not provide an accurate result. Localization is also tricky from one country to another within the Arabic speaking countries.
  • Negative keywords: Collecting the most accurate negative keywords in Arabic is very tricky. The Arabic language sometimes has very similar or typical terms to describe a wide variety of services or products.

Top tips for Arabic keyword research process

1. Identify the seed keywords: Collect the initial keywords that are relevant to your business including brand names, products, services and locations you are targeting. The list is mainly created by the business owner to define their basic keywords and usually is provided in English or Arabic.

2. Use different keyword tools for exploring: Expanding the initial list by using keywords tools to collect relevant keyword suggestions, local search volume, competition level, relative frequency, suggested bidding, etc.
Use more than one tool to get a different variation of keywords. You don’t have to follow a certain path to get the most relevant keywords. Sometimes Google search page can provide you with useful suggestions for long tail keywords and sentences.

3. Understand the trend of the keyword: Google Trends is a tool that will allow you to learn a lot from your keywords. It will give you data for not just today, but for a longer period of time. This will add another dimension for your keywords and will help you to understand when the search volume increase and decrease around the year. This is highly recommended for e-commerce keywords and B2B businesses.

4. Understand the consumer’s search habits: The majority of searches in the Arabic language are using long tail combinations, which means that searchers do not usually look for specific keywords, but rather many other keywords get a small number of hits as well. This requires more planning and deeper research to get the most relevant keywords which might don’t show high volume but it is effective to reach the audience.

5. Categorize the keywords: In order to have a strategic approach to your keyword list, you will need to divide your keywords into several categories.

Branded Keywords, Industry Keywords, Transactional Keywords, Informative Keywords, etc.

It is important to define the categories that are relevant to your business and marketing objectives. Each business has its own different nature of content that might vary and that’s why categories of keywords should be relevant. Keywords categories for SEO and content strategy would require more focus on context while categories for AdWords campaign would require more focus on bidding metrics and competition level. Furthermore, negative Arabic keyword research is essential for AdWords campaigns.

6. Set the priorities to build the strategy: By setting up the keywords priorities you will be able to define the strategy and action plan for your keywords. Defining which keywords will be used for content creation requires understanding putting together the priority factors of organic conversion. While in search engine marketing requires different priorities such as suggested biding, broad/exact, landing pages score, etc.

Explore the competition and analysis your website and landing pages content before you set the proper metrics for keywords filtration.

In conclusion: Arabic keyword research is not an easy task and requires a native speaker with solid experience in exploring the consumer search habits. Keyword tools are helpful to find relevant keywords but in order to get an effective keyword list, you would need to expand your resources. Keyword strategy is the main guideline to have a proper categorization and filtration for your Arabic keyword research.

Avoid translating your keywords from English and run a culture customization based on the targeted market and consumer search habits. Finally, make sure you define the top relevant keywords for the Arabic consumer whether it is a local term, transcreation or transcripted.

I hope this was useful and contact me if you have a question or looking for an Arabic SEO consultant.

How to build an effective Arabic Digital Marketing Strategy

Reaching the right audiences with the right messaging is the core of your Arabic digital marketing strategy.

What if you need to reach the target audience in the Middle East? Localization is one of the essential keys to hijack any market, but most importantly you should come up with an Arabic digital marketing strategy for the local markets in the region. Eventually, most of the international marketers would come up with basic steps as Arabic website translation and maybe a social media profile in Arabic. While such initial steps are highly important, but it is still not going to help in increasing the online acquisition and conversion rate.

Digital marketing in the Middle East is becoming more challenging and highly competitive just like any marketplace. Without an effective strategy, your digital ROI will be always disappointing! Even though, I wouldn’t recommend any paid advertising such as Arabic PPC or Facebook advertising before getting things right and starting with the basic foundation of performance.

There are few basic steps for any successful campaign in the Middle East marketplace:

  • Conduct a Market research: Avoid treating the whole region as one market and start packaging your Arabic campaigns to broad segments all over the countries. Arabic audiences are slightly or largely different and you need to learn how and why.
  • Get the Competitive analysis: Your competitors might have a solid digital marketing foundation in these markets. Discover what they do and their tactics in each country to understand the gap. Learn how to compete and where before you take any steps.
  • Understand the Localization: Customize your messaging, visuals, social media and Arabic SEO based the facts that the Arabic language has so many dialects, cultures and traditions might vary from a region to another. Moreover, English campaigns could much effective in some countries such as UAE and with B2B businesses.
  • Divide and Conquer: Don’t set all your budget for the same market. Track your conversion rate and update the budget for each market/segment accordingly. Don’t stash all the money in one campaign targeting all while thinking it is one market. Learn from the analytics and divide the region into separate segments.
  • Build a Successful Funnel: Building your online funnel properly requires a great attention to organic as the cornerstone of every conversion. Invest in a long-term strategy to achieve a successful rate of organic results using Arabic SEO, Optimized Arabic channels on social media, strong brand identity and voice.

In conclusion: The Arabic digital marketing strategy could serve your strategic goals if you consider the market properly. Arabic website translation or PPC keywords/Ads translation is not the only key to gain results in this emerging market. To build an enhanced strategy you need to treat the market with different customized tactics and proper analysis for each segmentation. Focus on effective market research and organic results as one of your main tasks before you allocate any advertising budgets.

For consultation and Arabic digital marketing strategy, contact me to discuss your objectives and vision.

How to Build an Arabic Content Marketing Strategy

The main concept behind content marketing is filling the gap between what the company produces and what the consumer is searching for. Arabic content marketing strategy will always be one of the top marketing activities for companies to grow in the Middle East.

Middle East North Africa’s (MENA) online audience is currently one of the fastest growing online segments with high rates of growth. Although the demand for Arabic content is growing, the online Arabic content is still way behind.

Only 2% of worldwide content is written in Arabic. And 5% of Fortune 500 websites have an Arabic language version. The gap between the size of the market and the percentage of the content available online is huge. Although there is a gap in content, there is a bigger gap in the distribution, topics varieties, and specialized websites. Social media is playing a big role in the region but would you do if you need you need to discover your content marketing opportunities beyond the social media? What if you want to enhance your organic search results through inbound links? The answer is Arabic content marketing.

Do I really need to create a content marketing strategy for Arabic?

When it comes to the Middle East region, companies rely heavily on Paid Ads and Social Media as an effective tactic to accelerate their results. Since Arabic content creation is one of the biggest challenges, the marketers would not recommend it as one of the top approaches. Over the years, clients used to ask me why you always recommend Arabic content marketing. The answer is; simply because it is underestimated!

As I’ve learned from the market, not only do you need an Arabic content, you also need to market it to go viral.  Now, let’s try to find out the most important practices for an effective Arabic content marketing strategy.

Define Your Business Goals for Each Local Market

What is content going to do for you? Create awareness? Generate leads? Improve loyalty and retention? Those are all important question you’ll need to answer with your strategy. Yet, the most important goals for the regional market would be tricky.

It is very important to define first your goals for each local market separately. Avoid the common concept that since all those countries speak Arabic so it takes one strategy. Well, that’s not true! The dialects are different; the trends are tricky; the channels are specific. To get the right conclusion, you will need to divide your goals in the region by countries.  Your KPIs and analytic reporting should be defined for each local market accordingly. Separate the KSA market from the Egyptian market to get real insights and to enhance your approach.

Research, Customize and Adapt

Forget about the standard principles and drive your researches further into the market. Based on the insights you’ll need to adapt and build a customized strategy. Learn as much as possible about the target segments, their preferred channels, their top sites, their search behavior and the competition. The market is full of gaps and it is a golden chance for those who are willing to take advantage. An effective Arabic content marketing strategy should be fully customized for the local culture.

Enhance Your Arabic Content

Investing in quality content is one of the most critical issues. Some would imagine that translating their English content is all that it takes. In fact, this would never help you reach your audience in the region.

Enhance your content quality and originality. Avoid translating your marketing materials from English to Arabic and start creating original and localized content. Bring in native copywriters, designers, and creative artist to create engaging content. Include the trends into your content calendar. Get the local team involved in the process of content creation. Take the advantage of creating different types of content. There is no enough infographics, video reviews and presentation slides in Arabic and that’s a huge chance.

Finally, investing in Arabic content is profitable and very effective in growing your Arabic SEO SERPs.

Open Up Your Network

Content marketing is challenging in Arabic. One of the major issues is the lack of specialized websites. If you exclude social platforms and global websites, almost 90% of the traffic in the region is dominated by news portals. If you are trying to market your products, you should think of creating a new story around your product. It might sound tricky but the Arabic news portals are trying to cover all the Arabic readers’ interests from light news to product reviews.

The practices of discovering content marketing channels are not the same as in the USA or Europe market. You will have to dig for different approaches. Partner with startups who are taking initiatives of creating content platforms and specialized website. Open a platform for contributions and content creation contests. Get your PR and Social Media teams busy with pushing the content into your network and top influencers. Maintain a very solid relationship with press and media in the local market.

Finding Arabic channels for content distribution is not hard after all. It is all about team effort and in-depth researches.

Build it to Grow

Content marketing is an ongoing effort. It is very important to have the seeds for growth and to get all the team involved. Building content and marketing it requires effective online communications as well as offline events. Explore for partnership opportunities on content creation and marketing. Benefit from your internal team and partners feedback to enhance your content marketing plan. As long as your network keeps expanding, your content exposure will grow over time.

The Arabic online market is already changing

Over the years, the online market in the region is continuously changing. 8 years ago the forums took the control of Arabic content. Later on and due to Arab Spring, the news portals started to dominate. Now and as we speak, all this started to change again. The startups are taking huge steps in creating platforms for Arabic quality content (check startups like 7awi and Wamda). Video bloggers and independent YouTubers started to generate huge demand vs TV shows, especially in Morocco, KSA, and Egypt. With increasing funds and digital investing the region is a hot spot for content marketing.

Digital Marketing in the Middle East: Where is the Gap?

Digital marketing in the Middle East has been growing and expanding, but what about effectiveness? The Arabic consumers have changed. The digital experiences are no longer new in the local markets … They are expected to bring a value.

While there is a massive amount of digital campaigns in the region, the Arabic consumers are eagerly looking for something more specific, personalized and unique.  The gap will increase between the consumer and the marketers if the digital experiences don’t adapt to these changing expectations.

I have spoken to a large number of brands in the Middle East region looking to increase their digital marketing and while there is a definite desire for investing into digital, there is an equal lack of understanding in critical objectives such as how to measure and track the results, or how to personalize content. In most of the cases, they are more convinced with quantities and the short-term results. I have been watching digital agencies running everywhere on social networks to just fill the plate with numbers.

So what is next? We all know that the market will certainly have to consider new expectations or to be more accurate “the right expectations”. To put digital marketing in perspective, you have to implement it in your overall strategy. It is not anymore something you can just assign it to an agency or team and expect it to work like magic. Yes, digital marketing not anymore a “plug-and-play” tool.

The Evolved Customer

It is clear to everyone now that the evolution of marketing is moving beyond the goal of creating new customers to the concept of creating an evolved customer. No wonder that the content-driven experiences are now the natural-selection process that moves the customer along.

To succeed in the Middle East, marketing departments must themselves evolve. They must not only advertise the brand by describing the value that has been created in the product but also to create differentiated experiential value that is separate from that product.

Personalized Digital Marketing

Personalized digital marketing is no longer a luxury. Some would even say it is the future. I believe that the consumers in the region are more interested in relevancy more than anything else. With those multiple social networks feeds and buzz feed at every corner, there is a major need for personalization. Arabic content is still suffering from the lack of quality and quantity. Companies and brands are still relying on translating their marketing messages from English into Arabic instead of creating original content. Products are not providing enough content targeting the behavior of the Arabic users.

Personalization is one of the major gaps that digital strategists and content marketers should work on to achieve better results in each market.

Conversion Optimization

Conversion metrics are not only helpful for setting the right expectations and ROI, but it’s very effective to learn more about your consumer. Understanding the audience is always the key to creating a targeted message and digital experience that appeals to that particular audience. Put in mind that every local market in the Middle East should have a different conversion and metrics.  I always brought the conversion as the main topic for every campaign discussed with a client and with that I was able to set the right goals for the campaign.

Finally, digital marketing is not always about the top 10 practices or following the notes from speakers and gurus, it is all about innovation and testing. Middle East markets are not a major challenge if you get closer to your target segmentations and learn how to avoid the gaps.

If you want to start putting your Arabic digital marketing approach into the right action plan, contact me for consulting and discussing the opportunity.