How Agencies Should Sell Digital Marketing Strategy to Clients

Digital marketing agencies know the pain of submitting digital marketing strategy proposals, RFPs and vying for new clients. That process is both time-consuming due to the extensive research and often ineffective, especially when the resulting contracts do not lead to long-term business deals. I consider selling digital marketing strategy to clients as one of the best ways to foster a long-term, equitable relationship.

According to Agency Spotter, more than 120,000 ad agencies exist in the U.S. market today. Digital marketers feel that in the recent past, the industry has become increasingly competitive. If your business model depends solely on one-off projects like web development or social media marketing, your agency won’t be able to compete without a stream of recurring revenue.

The key to for digital agencies is recurring revenue and the ability to provide ongoing services to existing clients. Again and again, agencies that provide digital marketing strategy or SEO services to clients survive and thrive in this competitive environment. Because, as it turns out, becoming a strategic partner for your clients comes with a number of considerable benefits and above all digital marketing ROI.

Why most of the clients won’t consider the importance of the digital strategy you are offering?

I’ve heard many agencies bragging about the fact that clients won’t pay for strategy. But that’s just one side of the issue.

The picture is incomplete! There are several critical mistakes the agencies not paying attention to:

  • I believe that when agencies have given the opportunity to put a strategist in front of a client, they only use their strategists to retro-justify an idea that the creative team has already fallen in love with. Sadly, many of those ideas have no strategic rationale, and the strategy end up as just another ‘sales pitch’. No client wants to pay for that.
  • The strategists should not focus only on justifying a broader ‘channel mix’ for the client’s marketing, or the existing competencies of the agency, or justifies activities that help the agency win new clients and awards. Putting the agency consideration first would always decrease the value of the strategy outputs for the client.
  • Agencies get caught in the trap of being production houses and “yes men” to their clients. And in turn, clients treat them like a production house. Agencies should always avoid getting stuck in that position by adding value to the business. Agencies should work on changing the perception of being project-based to strategy-based. Digital marketing strategy requires looking beyond your client’s entire marketing scope and investigate in business core, sales process, CRM management, automation, and tools in order to find ways to leverage the strategy into a solid revenue case.

How to sell the digital marketing strategy to your client?

  • Clients will only be willing to pay for strategy when the agencies show they’re willing to make strategic recommendations that don’t advance their own agenda first. Avoid the strategy that only serves your resources capacity and sales targets. The client would be only considering his business objectives, not your package.
  • Investiagte into their business objectives, structure, and process. Not all clients understand the real value of digital marketing and how it can increase the efficiency of sales and customer support. Highlight the impact of the digital marketing strategy on real-time analytics that can benefit the decision makers.
  • Business leaders are always interested in scalable tactics while expanding in local and global markets. Focus on building a strategy that is reliable for different markets and easily implemented in multilingual and multichannel environment.
  • Speak the language of numbers. Without numbers on future revenue forecasting, business ROI and advertising ROAS, your strategy will not have cost-effective benefits for business owners. The digital strategy is an investment decision for businessmen and they take the decision based on that.
  • Going from “Why” to “How” is what makes the strategy solid. Convincing your clients about the success potential of digital marketing is only the first step while providing an actionable plan with progressive KPIs is the whole point.
  • Dig deeper into the client’s business, understand the challenges, speak their terms and learn their methodology. The digital strategy should be spotting the right approach and providing real solutions to their problems.
  • Be realistic and avoid the generic details such as the importance of content marketing or the infographics about the rise of mobile marketing, we all know this stuff. Your strategy should focus on the situation and not a graphic book with fancy charts. You will have approximate 30-40 minutes to convince the business managers, so hit the point directly.

If you have a question or need to contribute with your thoughts, I will be glad to listen and discuss.

An Overview of Digital Advertising in the Middle East [Infographic]

Over the last few years, the Middle East had a small share in the global digital advertising expenditure. I made research to dig deep into the current figures and the stats of 2011 to 2017 to better understand the landscape of digital advertising in the Middle East including market trends and the status.

1) The global trends in digital advertising

According to the eMarketer report in April 2017, paid media advertising outlays worldwide will increase by 7.3% in 2017 to $583.91 billion. Growth will be roughly on par with previous estimates, and spending will rise steadily throughout the forecast period, driven by increased investments in the e-commerce industry and mobile ads. Digital will remain the fastest growing medium with 14% in 2017.

Market size: Worldwide digital ad spending will reach over $205 billion in 2017 and represent 38.3% of total paid media. The numbers are expected to see double-digit growth at least 2020, eMarketer estimates. Mobile ad spending will reach around 63.3% of digital and 24.3% of total media ad spending. Developed economies are expected to show a slowdown in investments in this sector in 2017. Counterwise, ad spend in the APAC market, followed by Latin America are showing high growth in revenue.

Digital vs TV

Digital vs TV in 2017: Several organizations and researchers also expected a new fact: For the very first time in history, with a projected $205 billion digital ad spending compared to a projected TV ad spend of $192 billion, global digital advertising spend is expected to exceed TV advertising spend in 2017. However the predictions still in process and it might vary from a market to another.

Who are the top Players? In 2017, Google and Facebook, the big two in digital advertising are expected to take more than 50% of all revenue worldwide, and more than 60% in the United States, according to research firm eMarketer. Apparently, Baidu is controlling the Chinese market while some local media networks are competing in display market share.

2) The digital advertising in the Middle East

In recent years, experts have predicted that the Middle East and North Africa will show strong growth in digital advertising. Is that true? We will be looking closely at the top trends in the region to better understand the market share and growth rates.

infographic digital advertising middle east 2017

Advertising Spending in The MENA region: According to Statista, a year-on-year timeline presents the total advertising spending in the MENA region. In 2017, the region is expected to account for 4.1 percent of the global ad spend. Ad expenditure in the Middle East and Africa would amount to 24.25 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, up from 23.1 billion a year earlier, which would constitute a  growth rate of 5%.

MENA Digital advertising stats

Growing or decreasing in 2017: However, a recent global ad spending forecast from Zenith had another opinion. According to the source, The MENA (The Middle East and North Africa) will be suffering from low oil prices. The region forecast expected a decline in ad spend (-9%) in ad spend between 2016 and 2017.

Digital Advertising vs Traditional Advertising in the MENA

Although the Middle East has a small share in the global advertising spend, the region has become a hot spot for international companies. Unlike global markets, TV has the biggest share of Ad spending while only 10% of MENA ad spend is on the digital market according to Istizada, but I believe that the shift towards digital ads is going to catch up in the coming years. GCC countries are expected to grow faster than the other markets like Egypt (which has the biggest share of TV consumers).

Digital Ad Spending in the Middle East and Africa

Digital advertising spending the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is growing in the last three years, but the growth rates are expected to slow down.

Currently, estimated at 10% of the total global Ad spend, the Middle East’s spend is expected to reach $3.80 Billion by 2017 (eMarketer report). While forecasting from ArabNet, a group of digital professionals and entrepreneurs, estimated the digital advertising spending in the Middle East and North Africa is as low as $1 billion.

*Since there are major differences in the numbers, I believe that the numbers could exceed both if we consider that there are big segments of individuals and small businesses are directly financing Facebook Ads. I have been also working with direct Ad placements on local portals and forums specialized in the financial and stocks market. The size of this market is big in the GCC but relevantly unclear when it comes to global statistics.

Digital Ad Spending MENA

Search advertising comes on top of the list with over 58% of total spending in the region. Google remains the top player in the Middle East and Africa with a huge demand on YoutTube advertising in 2017. According to agencies, YouTube Ads are generating a great increase in digital budgets which is used to be allocated to TV advertising. KSA is leading the region in the numbers of YouTube reach.

3) Digital advertising agencies in the Middle East

According to, The region has more than 500 digital agencies offering a range of services in digital marketing, most of which employ less than 15 people. Governments, consumer brands, telecommunication operators, and real estate respectively, are the largest buyers of advertising in MENA.

Egypt and the UAE are the most important economic bases for digital agencies and employees. Thanks to the increasing numbers of digital startups, Egypt represents more than half of the advertising agencies and employees in the region, due to its creative talents in content production, translation resources, low salaries, and its main role as a local content creation hub. The UAE represents 30 percent of advertising companies and employees, which benefit from its economic stability and regional headquarters. The majority of the top agencies in the UAE are international media and digital firms based in Dubai.

4) Media Buying in the Middle East

Media buying in the region represents a large-scale business, involving bulk advertising, space acquisition, and trading. The media buying unit (MBU) market, therefore, consists of fewer but much larger players who deal predominantly with larger buyers. 70 to 100% of their ad spend is sourced through MBUs. However, like advertising agencies, MBUs are typically owned by international companies. MBUs in the region tend to hold premium advertising spaces across the major platforms (60% share of digital ad spend, 70% of TV, and 50% of newspapers).

5) Programmatic Advertising in the Middle East

The stale growth is largely due to the sluggish transition from traditional to digital media ad spend. Unfortunately, with the digital Ad spending still represents only 10 percent of the total advertising market in the region, the investments in programmatic advertising is very low. Collectively, MENA countries trail other regions in innovation and adoption of new advertising and digital marketing technologies (e.g., limited digital measurement, programmatic buying, and non-advertising forms of marketing).

The programmatic advertising has been growing through the GCC region in the past years due to the growth of Dubai based digital agencies and Google partners. However, some of the biggest brands in the MENA market are heavily relying on external agencies based in London.

According to “Status of Programmatic Trading” survey, skills shortage at 39% and deeper understanding at 33% are still considered the top obstacles for its wider and faster adoption.

The region is still lacking behind when it comes to the use of advertising and marketing technologies including machine learning advertising such as Google DoubleClick as well as advanced analytic platforms such as Google Analytics Business, Adobe Marketing Cloud, and attribution models.

As a result, I believe there are many of the opportunities for digital advertising have yet to be realized, despite high levels of digital consumption in the region. There is a big room for digital agencies to tap into the Middle East digital advertising.

6) The MENA digital markets

Let’s take a look at the advertising spend in several Middle Eastern countries.

United Arab Emirates: The UAE has topped advertising spend in the GCC in the first quarter of 2017. At AED1.5 billion, it accounted for 46% of the total advertising spend in the region for the said period, according to TBWA Worldwide.

Meanwhile, digital ad spending in the UAE dropped 14% in January 2017, after rising by 21% for the first 11 months of 2016. Television remains the biggest medium for advertising in the UAE — which accounted for 3.37 billion in revenues in 2015 — and the market is seeing a decrease in some offline mediums and an increase in digital.

Turkey: Despite the firewalls and political conflicts in Turkey, digital ad expenditure is expected to grow in 2017. According to IAB Turkey AdEx-TR 2016 Report, the digital ad spend in Turkey reached TRY 1,872.4 Million with a growth rate of 13.7%.

The display ad spend grew by 11% and reached to TRY 1,059 million. In Display Ad Category, while video ad spend rises by 34% to TRY 179 million. Search Engine Ad Investments reached to 706.6 million TL. Out of 1,872 million TL of total digital ad spend, TRY 30% was invested in mobile platforms, and 64% of social media ads. In 2016, programmatic trading proceeded to grow and reached to 993 million TL.

Iran: Digital ad spending in Iran is estimated to be worth $53 million (without including social media networks), according to Adro. Though experts believe that there’s a big potential in this market due to the increasing numbers of online users and the enhancements in local ad networks. Due to financial sanctions imposed on Iran, social media advertising and Google search are not active in Iran. Only Telegram which is a messaging app/social media is accounted for almost $23.3 million in revenue in Iran.

Syria and Sudan: Sadly Facebook and Google doesn’t allow advertisers to target the Syrian and Sudanese markets. I believe that

Conclusions and Insights on digital advertising in the middle east

  • While TV advertising is still leading traditional advertising to dominate the biggest share of advertising in the region, the digital ad spending market will continue to grow in 2017 with a huge opportunity to catch-up with global market rates in the coming years. The region cannot resist the global change in advertising.
  • Clients have started demanding payment by results (ROI & Return on ad spend ROAS) as well as enhanced consumer insights and analytics. Even from creative agencies, as well as media buyers. This means the whole industry will shift into digital and sophisticated programmatic advertising which is more accountable.
  • YouTube Ads are one of the hottest trends in the GCC region which is going to attract a big share of TV commercial spending in the coming years.
  • UAE is still leading digital advertising in the MENA region. The majority of international and local brands based in Dubai are heavily spending on digital. However, the agencies are outsourcing a big chunk of technical and creative work to Egypt, Lebanese and Jordanian startups.
  • Sadly, there is still a huge gap in digital advertising efficiency in the region due to the lack of advanced tracking, programmatic technology, and skills. Some of the top brands are still relying on UK’s agencies when it comes to search engine marketing. However, there are very advanced local agencies that need to invest more in building solid capabilities in digital advertising and marketing technology.

Finally, do you have any experience in digital advertising in any of the Middle East and Africa region? Send me your comments.

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.

Research: The Demand for Digital Marketing Skills in 2017

In times of great rise of digital spending, shaping strategies and budgets offer an opportunity to shape the digital marketing structures.

Companies were more likely to hire digital performance experts than social media and creative professionals last year, and that trend looks set to repeat itself in 2017.

According to the research from McKinley Marketing Partners, digital advertising, and content appear to be the most in-demand skills required in the market.

The new research shows that the demand for digital advertising professionals is 46%, while content creation & curation had a share of 38% and content strategy 34% skills.

The Rise of Digital Advertising and Performance Marketing

Due to the ongoing increase in ad spending budgets, performance marketing is playing the main role for the e-commerce and online businesses.

The ROI-focused department is the top priority for managers who are highly investing in human capabilities.

Content is Getting Bigger

There will be always a huge gap between the demand and suppliers when it comes to content creators. According to the research, the demand for content expertise is rapidly high this year.

Analysis and Automation

Interestingly, the survey is showing a slow growth in analysis and automation hiring. That might be due to the low supply of talent in those areas. In comparing demand for marketing expertise against those at least occasionally looking for job opportunities, the study found that traditional marketing was one of the only areas in which active supply outweighed demand.

Digital Marketing Jobs

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 314 marketing professionals who are working in a marketing role (246) or have experience in one (68). Employed respondents work at various roles across a mix of company types and sizes. Questions about hiring practices were only asked of those who have influence over hiring decisions.

How to Overcome The Challenges of Your Digital Marketing Department

It takes a lot of what ‘not to do’ before you are able to shape an idea of what you need ‘to do’.

I have been there witnessing how the digital marketers started back in time with just couple of us sitting in the corner with no idea what we do and often treated as internet geeks.

Now digital marketing has become one of the core foundations of the business. It is becoming the department that can drive ROI and has huge ability to shape the business with real-time statics. Yet, it is becoming more and more complicated and the biggest headache for CEOs.

Technically, if money cannot buy happiness then money cannot buy the best digital marketing achievements or teams.

1. Starting with the function of digital marketing

Commonly known as the most critical loop that leads nowhere. CEOs expect direct ROI profitability and growth hacking charts rising up while digital marketers believe that their role is more revolutionary inside the organization.

So what is the bottom line for this debate? Both parties are right, I would say. There are many functions your digital marketing can drive inside your organization and there is no ultimate recipe for that. Digital marketing function will be always built according to the company’s strategic business objectives.

The role of the department should serve the core values and client relationship as well as driving ROI. Looking at digital marketing function as acquisition factory will turn it into another sales representative which is a narrow view of the picture.

In a world dominated by the internet and online communication, digital marketing can affect and functionally drive value to the brand awareness, sales quality, customer relation, retention, product development and even HR.

The conclusion: Digital marketing can bring value to the organization when it is positioned to serve the strategic business objective. Startups do understand this and that’s why they rely on digital marketing to serve the overall business objective.

2. Then what are the capabilities?

Digital marketing is hugely powerful but it is not a straightforward machine to feed with money and expect the profit on the other end.

Let’s forget the magic and try to imagine digital marketing capabilities as the financial assets for investors. There will be long-term profitable assets and short-term ones. If you expect to sell the long-term profitable assets immediately, you will end up with zero profit.

Digital marketing is not all in one tactic to acquire clients that have the same lifetime value. You cannot simply put inbound marketing, content with paid channels in one basket and expect the same results from all.

Scenario #1 “The CEO is again shouting when he is looking at our budget and conversion. These will the 3rd time after one thousand for me to go on mission impossible of explaining how each channel has it is a different function. He wants to see the relation, pushing for the language of numbers and the direct impact on conversion. A few months more till the results started to build up and visible trend finally arrived. The inbound marketing was something hard to push on with the limitation of the budget he forced but it finally paid off. Now he gets the picture of the long-term tactics such as content”

3. Considering technology with the market environment

In digital we are growing massively. Machine learning, digital clouds, automation, and programmatic are taking us to a great level of targeting and monitoring. Yet, the online market environment is getting more and more competitive. From SEO, social media to search bidding and Ad placement we are struggling with more and more challenging space for converting the value conversions. Or in business: “The ROI”.

In the old golden days of marketing, the size of the company and market share used to play a big role while now small startups with gorilla marketing joined the game. The competition is getting wider and highly competitive and doesn’t rely only on your budget size or the USPs of your product. One smart social media strategy designed by a small startup can go viral and beat the big firm massive paid campaigns.

4. What about the consumer?

Along with the big flood of online content, communication, and technology, the consumer habits and behavior are evolving to be more complicated. With all the current competition going on the consumer keep developing different habits online. The data analysts in marketing teams are solely focused on finding the patterns and we all know by now that it is getting how challenging it is.

With the use of advanced analytic tools, CRM, marketing clouds, attribution models, social listening and campaign management platforms, we can learn have advanced knowledge and deeper insights of the consumer, but we also eventually learn how it is important to develop more of strategic funnel journey.

5. Setting the KPIs

Getting to the most important part where we need to define the KPIs for the digital marketing department. The majority of KPIs should be optimized to serve the business strategy. There are several factors you should consider when setting up the KPIs metrics

  1. The department functions inside the organization: For companies with branding objectives they use upper funnel metrics while companies who are customer focused they use social listening and social proof metrics.
  2. The direction of business: KPIs should be always clear for the digital team and doesn’t have a conflict or overlap with other internal departments or process.
  3. The reliability and stability: Chasing everything would lead to nothing. If the KPI focus is stable and not swinging this would help the team to be more strategic and focused.

6. Searching for the ROI

Businesses usually have a different formula to calculate ROI which I believe it is the trickiest task. While it is important for a manager to secure their results and to manage the budget, marketers are always struggling to prove their efficiency.

Over the years, I started to develop the idea that ROI is not one straightforward term. It is can be divided into three types:

A) The initial ROI: It is the rate you need to target so the digital marketing campaign starts to be profitable.
b) The maintained ROI: The rate the where you should plan to protect and stabilize
c) The future ROI: The strategic ROI where the digital marketing strategy should build up gradually.

Yes, we might have different types of ROI according to our strategy but we all know that calculating ROI is a very tricky thing when it comes to the digital world.

  1. You need attribution model to be able to understand the different impact of channels
  2. Each business will require a different approach to cross channels/cross-device journey
  3. The funnel is always different. You might have a shorter funnel in e-commerce and long funnel in business services
  4. ROI channels in B2B is different from B2C channels

I will leave you with the below statistics to have some more insights.

So what?

Conclusion: Let’s finalize some final points:

  • Defining the digital marketing function inside the organization is the first thing that should be done right and clear.
  • Digital department capabilities should be measured with a strategic metrics
  • Marketing technology is a part of the whole environment.
  • The consumer journey is a rollercoaster with common patterns to define.
  • KPIs is not few metrics to measure. It is how you define your digital marketing functions and outcomes.
  • There is no one road or straightforward formula to calculate your digital marketing ROI

That was my thoughts. If you have any points to discuss, please leave your comment or contact me.

What Do You Need to Know About Arabic SEO Conversion

What are the opportunities for increasing conversion by enhancing your Arabic SEO strategy?

That’s the most problematic questions now on the web. Everyone in the digital marketing field could have a different answer for this and even very unique predictions. I wouldn’t agree or disagree with people who consider the golden times of SEO will come to an end “very soon”. The debates would go on for awhile with every new strict update comes from Google. Yet, this buzz is mainly considering the English search results.

What about the Arabic SEO in specific?

I strongly believe that the Arabic SEO will live for a long time and I have my reasons for that. I can think of a lot of solid factors that will let you believe me, but I will in this post cut it short for you, right to the heart of the matter.

In the middle east online markets, Arabic SEO is still one of biggest survivor and certainly a winner. Yes, and it is even more effective than other digital marketing activities such as social media. I know that you might be following the trending fashions and putting several efforts on social media activities like the rest of competitors and might find SEO is an old fashion technic, but let me ask you this: How is your conversion rate doing? How much-converted clients do you get from Arabic social media?

We are not comparing Arabic social media marketing vs SEO here, but we are starting with the right question to get things sorted out.

The Arabic SEO conversion rate

The conversion rate is the main objective of all digital marketing activities. Increasing the conversion rate and creating opportunities are the real targets for all what you are doing online. Over the years most of the companies in Dubai, KSA, Egypt and other middle east markets would come to me asking for social media marketing and they insist on that considering it as the new fashion. They are stuffed with romantic ideas and successful social media cases they heard of.  I always try hard to explain to them that every company, field, and market is a special case when you come to online marketing and I always put the conversion as the top priority of doing things right. If you want the Facebook page that’s fine for branding but might not work for bringing new clients especially when you are a B2B company. Let’s give an example:

If you work in field like export/import or constructions, do you think that you will be able to get potential clients via social media channels? Well, let me suggest email marketing instead or to be more effective let’s focus on “Search”.. Yes, the SEO!

What do you think if we focus on your main keywords and services you offer? think of how much opportunities you can get from having a good rank on the results page? That’s what we are talking about!

Now, what about other fields that are focusing on B2C? Yes, social media marketing is really effective but yet if you consider an optimized website for search engines this will help you among your competitors especially if we are talking about Arabic users.

The Arabic Internet market is much larger than what most of the people expect; it is experiencing rapid growth over the last few years. Recent research indicates that there are currently 82 million Arabic-speaking Internet users. Research has progressively revealed that Arabic Internet users are using Arabic keyterms to find specific and accurate results when it comes to local services. The Arabic search queries are heavily used for fields like governmental services, financial services, law firm, mobile phones and real estate classified ads.

Why is Arabic SEO highly profitable?

To cut it short, let me lead you to the secret that everyone involved into SEO knows: “The competition is not high”. This definitely creates great opportunities for anyone who wants to get on top of the rank and increase his online visibility or catch some good fishes. Let me list for you some facts about this market and why you have a highly profitable chance with this market:

  • Most of the companies in the Arab region have launched their businesses via English-only websites with the assumption that Arabic-speaking customers can simply search and find services using English keywords.
  • The majority of Arabic websites still not optimized for search engines which is a good chance for any website with decent SEO to gain traffic and leads.
  • The quality of Arabic translated content is still poor and this certainly harm their chances with local markets and cultures. For instances, hospitality firms sometimes translate “hospitality” as “ضيافة” which is an accurate translation but not effective for search. This translated word can be related to other things in the Arabic culture and wouldn’t serve the services well.
  • Majority of results are generated from forums and personal blogs. Those are mainly articles or discussions and not service providers.
  • Most of the companies are investing in search engine ads (PPC) instead of organic SEO which requires a lot of money and the results can last for short time. I have been watching that for years and the mentality of the marketing teams is always about “spending the budget on fast and quick results”. Unfortunately, it was difficult to convince them something else.

The playground is yours when you really focus on building Arabic quality content and optimize it effectively for the Arabic users. Finally, Arabic SEO is very effective components of digital marketing strategies and you should always consider investing money and efforts in getting up in Google results.

Why The Majority of Egyptian Entrepreneurs Fail?

In a country like Egypt, the main role of entrepreneurship is to provide an alternative for a whole generation. Looking at the Egyptian youth and you could start wondering what the choices are. The unemployment rate in the 15-29 age range at 27.3% (I would say more than one-third). The government is driving the economy towards a black hole and the political system is already blocking all roads for innovation, creativity, and motivation. We are stuck with only one hope.

Entrepreneurship is the only hope

Taking entrepreneurship to the next level will be the next big thing to do in Egypt. In a country with the lowest rate of education quality and lack of professional training, the role of startups is critical. Startups can create job opportunities, evolve the market, bring technology to the community and change the mindset of the young people by creating role models to follow.

Yet, Egyptian entrepreneurship still falls behind comparing to other countries like Jordan, UAE, South Africa and even Kenya. Even we have a lot of brilliant startups in Egypt that managed to overcome the disastrous business environment and achieve regional and global reorganization. We also had a high record of epic fails. Although, failing is part of the life cycle of entrepreneurs but it is taking longer in Egypt. I’ve seen a lot of close friends not able to move their startups an inch further. I attend events where I see the same startups displays from the last year with the same offering and the same horrible business approach. I decided to investigate more and research the issue. Surprisingly, most of the obstacles were related to the mindset more than anything else. So, let’s discuss further…

Being emotional

One of the biggest issues for entrepreneur could be his own culture. How? Okay, let’s agree that we Egyptians are emotional rather than rational. This is part of our culture and the way we are raised, our families, friends and personal emotions takes a big part of our judgments and tolerance towards our life goals.

Yes, we are distracted by things like how my family feels about my new project? How my stepfather gonna react if I leave my job to have a startup? How I would get to convince my mom that I am doing something that actually has a value? This is such an example of how emotions can disturb our mindset in a long road full of uncertainty towards dreams.

Another example of how the emotional mindset is not helping: In the last 7 years I met a lot of Egyptian entrepreneurs that co-founded their startups with their best friends. It is not a bad idea to start your business with your friends but the question is: Are you going to confront each other at critical situations? Are you going to fire him for his shitty work? Don’t take it emotionally and fire him. Sorry but startups is a business where the right decision should be sharp, firm and taken. Most of the co-founder friends I know are together because of their friendship relations only. I call this type of business “bel7ob business model”.

Understanding the basics

Once a wise guy said “When you have an idea, try to examine it with the most embarrassing questions. If you manage to provide accurate answers then you have something”. A lot of startups are sometimes approaching the market or pitching venture investors with raw ideas. Here is my formula:

Idea + Creativity = Idea

Idea + co-space + Coding + Business Card = Just another app at the app store

Idea + Research + Strategy + Business Plan + Hard Efforts = A Startup

Idea + Research + Strategy + Business Plan + Hard Efforts + Experience = A Brand

Before you start to sail with your idea you need to understand the rules of the real business world. Some startups approached me for digital marketing consultancy and my first questions to them were: What is the role of marketing? What are business objectives for you? Do you have a business plan? The answers were usually no, none or soon.

Filling a business plan template with figures to pitch the investor is not enough!  Understanding business concepts and models is more important than filling some papers or website pages. Egyptian entrepreneurs are usually living in the bubble of Entrepreneur magazine and Forbes, reading motivation stories and thinking this is the kind of knowledge they only need.

The lack of understanding branding is reflected quite obvious in the marketing materials I see for startups. Conversations going on during events are showing that many co-founders have Zero market research, difficulty to understand the difference between B2B and B2C, confused vision for the business model and pinky dreams for their growth rate and cost per acquisition.

Let me just say it out loud: “Reading books about branding fundamentals is more beneficial for you than reading Steve Jobs bio”. Learning about marketing strategies, business models, profit margin, cash-flow, direct sales, project management, buyers’ life-cycle, and online consumer behavior are essential for every single entrepreneur.

It is about time to admit that we need to spread the knowledge and sciences in the community of startups. In other words, we need to inherit and adapt to business knowledge.

The Management of Ego

Startups in Egypt are very profitable business for print houses. The business cards of co-founders are much more than the humps in the circle road. Some Egyptian entrepreneurs are extremely hard to handle. I’ve met few of them who had a great start but because they were not flexible or reliable they lost that success.

A very smart guy who launched his venture-funded content creation startup and it was very successful at the beginning. I approached him as a friend offering an opportunity for a project with a big brand. Before he even knows the brand or the deal size, he replied me with “Nope, busy”. This short answer made me send the 120k USD deal to an agency at Lebanon. I would say that was very expensive “nope”. Or in better words, it was a very expensive cost of a moment of ego!

Egyptian entrepreneurs need to work on their leadership qualities such as quality judgment, emotional intelligence, reliability, and above all the management of ego.

Lack of management skills and weak competition

Egypt suffers from a lack of talents and with talents; I don’t mean only creative talents. The talents that matter the most for startups are the human capital that can build proactive teams and lead it further.

Going through a lot of interviews with investors who are insisting on taking advantage of the Egyptian entrepreneur skills, I usually used to state one big obstacle: Lack of management will kill your potential ROI. After few rounds of trying, they will eventually come back to me with the same feedback “The Egyptians are creative but they don’t deliver on time, they are not providing quality and they lack teamwork ethics”. I advise to hire none Egyptian manager and suddenly the improvement started to show up.

The lack of professional management skills is killing a lot of brilliant startups in Egypt. Apparently, some people might have great ideas but without having managerial talents to maintain the success of business objectives.

Competition would always provide a healthy environment for startups. If you manage to visit Indonesia one day, you will notice how creative they are with their coffee shops interiors. The more those young people compete with each other the more you see innovative cafes in every street you go to. Coffeeshops startups in Egypt are boring to death. This is just one simple example of how the environment could push you towards innovation and creativity.

We live still in the era of single projects. In each category of apps or service startups, you will find one startup (you might see a couple more under this category who are actually copying this one and yet they helplessly believe that they are different). In travel startups for outbound trips and adventure traveling, all startups are copying each other. They copy destination and activities and you will hardly notice any difference besides a logo. Let’s not get further with the long list of examples, but a quick visit to the campus or a couple of startup events and you burst into the scene of poor local competition.

Finally, we are not done with this list as there is major factor related to the lack of appropriate laws, the shitty internet infrastructure, stupid banking and online payment systems, crazy and ignorant venture capital investors, a fear of risk-taking community and the list goes on and on.

I believe that there are things that we can start with. I listed them and I hope to get your feedback. If you are one of my friends with startup so don’t call me bad names in the comments. Keep the insults for private messages. Pretty please.

Note: If you are one of my beloved friends, don’t call me bad names in the comments. Private messages for insults. Pretty please.

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.