Digital marketing in the GCC market has massive value in the regional market of the Middle East. The GCC is the key driver for business expansion with the biggest market share of the marketplace. Ultimately, the global business arrives in the MENA region with the main business goal of establishing their business in the GCC countries first. The same business goal is also common among regional companies that tend to scale within the region.

Digital marketing is considered as the main strategic approach to reach the GCC markets in the most cost-effective and reliable tactic. In addition, digital marketing is considerably a fast-track to establish a market presence and to build a consumer base in a new country or region.

Why the GCC market is the most attractive market within the region?

The Middle East market is considered a hot spot for political conflicts, instability, business liabilities, and financial issues. Quick market research could show up with several sorts of complicated obstacles such as slow internet services in some countries, absent of business environment, lack of online payment solutions, difficulties with customs, or even war zones.

For over a decade, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region, which includes 6 Arabic countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar), has rapid economic growth with GDP increase by total 65% in the last ten years. Now in 2020, the total GDP of the gulf nations is $3.464 trillion. The GDP of the Gulf countries presents one of the wealthiest markets in the world. 

Dubai-digital-marketing

Therefore, the Gulf is considered the most reliable market within the Arab region. The political stability and financial rapid growth in the GCC countries is the main factor that attracts investors and businesses. The GCC has some of the most competitive places when it comes to the ease of doing business or establishing a startup. In addition, Dubai is considered one of the most important business hubs in the world.

The Stats of Digital Media in the GCC

Digital marketing the GCC is an ultimate marketing tactics due to several important factors.

  • Internet: The GCC countries are digital empowered with approximately 92% of Internet penetration according to 2020 statistics from Internetworldstats.  While the worldwide rate stands at 54%, the Gulf countries are way ahead of many global markets.
GCCPopulation
( 2020 Est. )
Internet Usage
April-2020
% Population
(Penetration)
Facebook
April -2020
Bahrain1,701,5751,615,62094.9 %1,352,500
Kuwait4,270,5714,231,97899.1 %4,093,000
Oman5,106,6264,011,00478.5 %2,635,400
Qatar2,881,0532,942,00099.6 %2,942,000
Saudi Arabia34,813,87131,856,65291.5 %23,720,000
United Arab Emirates9,890,4029,532,01696.4 %8,737,000
Total58,664,09854,189,27092%43,479,900
  • Social Media: The GCC has one of the highest rates for Social media users. According to statics the UAE and Qatar have the world’s highest rate at 99%, while the rate is 98% in Kuwait and 92% in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, the biggest market with GCC, has a high number of actives users with 12 million Instagram users, 11 million Twitter users, and 14 million Snapchat users.
  • Digital Ad Spend: Digital Advertising is developing rapidly in the GCC market in the last few years. The total digital ad spend is expected to reach USD 6.51 billion in 2020 in the MENA region with the biggest share of spend targeting the GCC. Programmatic advertising in Dubai is on the rise due to the massive demand from multinational firms in the city which considered the home to headquarters in the pan Arabic region. Internet giants and digital agencies are considering Dubai as the key access to the region when it comes to the advertising dollar. 
  • Digital transformation: According to Internal Data Corp, the digital transformation dedicated budget in UAE in 2020 is US$11 billion, while in Saudi Arabia it is estimated at US$8 billion. 
  • Ecommerce:  The Gulf region with Egypt is accountable for more than 80% of the E-commerce market in the MENA region. According to BMI Research state in 2020, the UAE market share of e-commerce is 45.6%.

With this overview of digital marketing in the GCC, we can have a clear understanding of the big opportunities in the market. However, the important question is: How to access the GCC market effectively with a digital marketing plan.

1. Invest in market research

Initially, there are several confusions and misconnections about the gulf region. Hooking up with a local agency through some ads is the most common mistake I keep seeing in this market for a decade now. However, digital marketing is highly competitive in this “red ocean” spot of the world.

It is wise to stop thinking of advertising and start with conducting market research and strategy. Business owners tend to save the time and budget that is spent on conducting strategy, and this is a fatal mistake. The first marketing investments that arrive in the region are usually wasted.

Start but dividing the GCC marketplace into countries and even major cities “Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Al Riyadh, Jeddah, etc.” and explore the demographics of expats density versus locals, the competition and market needs. It is a mistake to look at the GCC market as one local market. For instance, the expats dominate cities like Dubai where you will have to rely on English content. Saudi Arabia has the lowest number of expats with 32%, however, the purchasing power can differ between cities.

Market research is a crucial investment for companies and startups in the GCC. It allows effective targeting and filtering for the segmentation as well as the ability to compete successfully.

2. Define the consumer persona

Do you have a clear understanding of the consumer culture in the GCC? That’s the first question to ask clearly and loudly. The purchasing decision is highly influenced by family and community culture as well as the current trend. The Arab purchasing decision is considered different from individualistic decisions in markets such as Europe and the USA. This leads to the conclusion that Middle East consumers and Arabs in the GCC are not fast movers when it comes to new ideas or services. They consume new ideas slowly and they are waiting till they see high demand in their community.

Understand the persona of your targeted segment before building a digital marketing strategy. Focusing on building a reliable and outstanding brand image is the key to access this market.

3. Build a localized digital marketing strategy

Setting up the digital marketing for the GCC requires focusing on a localized approach. Ultimately, there are several factors that can define your tactics and strategic approaches such as budget, marketing resources, market research findings, industry, and technology. However, in the following steps, we will focus on the common factors for a digital marketing strategy in the GCC and Arabic countries.

  • Language approach: Arabic localization is more than a language translation. Having an Arabic website or social media channels is not the key to sell to the GCC. In fact, English is a common language for a major amount of gulf users, especially in B2B services. Arabic business owners and consumers tend to search for local choices to grantee some amount of reliability. Initially, Arabic digital marketing campaigns are not the only choice to access the Gulf region. For some industries and services, the majority of search is conducted in English. To be able to define that, it is important to conduct market research as mention in step one.
  • Local business approach: Setting your business locally might require registering a local company. However, you can overcome this by virtually setting up your local identity using digital capabilities. The first step is to purchase a local website with a local domain and create a version of your website dedicated to the region. Most multinational firms choose the domain (.ae) for their Middle East version. Adding a local contact (local phone number, address, WhatsApp, etc.) is a highly beneficial step for GCC consumers to increase their conversion rate. Most importantly, add local currencies for your products, services, and digital marketing campaigns since the GCC consumer tend to prefer transactions with their local currency.
  • Digital marketing approach: The biggest mistake you can possibly do, is to select the wrong digital marketing channel. Marketing in GCC requires implementing the most effective marketing channel and not just relying on the popularity of social media among the local consumer. Setting Arabic social media campaigns can be beneficial for branding but not for conversion. You might need to expand your vision than to include Arabic SEO, content marketing, Google Ads, Email and inbound marketing, and even channels such as Video marketing and Display.
  • Digital marketing services approach: Searching for a reliable digital marketing agency in the GCC can be tricky. There is a diversity in the choices when it comes to the best Arabic digital marketing agency. While Dubai is the biggest hub for digital marketing services, there are also other Arabic agencies to look at in places such as Cairo, Jeddah, Amman who has expertise in the Gulf market. It is important to avoid low-quality freelancers as well as digital marketing agencies in Dubai with ineffective costs. Search for a digital marketing consultant first to review your needs and provide you with guidelines to start on the right foot.
  • Marketing evaluation approach: Set your digital marketing strategy object and expectation. Prepare KPIs for each digital marketing services you are going to hire before you start in order to reach a pragmatic milestone. Eventually, there is a misconception about the GCC which is so common. Some believe that the high purchasing power of the Arabic consumer in the GCC means an easy profit. Research how you can position your brand in the market first. The wealth of consumers comes always with it is different purchasing habits and preferences.
  • Branding approach: To gain a local presence it is important to revamp your branding strategy and customize your local tactics for Arabic marketing campaigns. Avoid translation and work on native content as the first step, then simplify your marketing message for the local consumers. It is highly important to understand that Arabs are not sophisticated when it comes to online experiences. It is highly important to use a language and a marketing message that is easy to consume by the average consumer.

4. Optimize the digital marketing campaigns

Digital marketing services contains several channels and campaign tactics to reach the consumer. In the GCC, there is a huge rise in social media usage, but this is just the surface of the statistics. Each marketing channel can serve different objectives and provide a certain rate at a cost for impressions, clicks, conversion, and ROI.

digital-marketing-consultant

The campaign channels can vary from social media and SEO to Google Ads, Email marketing, video marketing, display networks, content, and influencer marketing. In order to achieve digital marketing objectives, it is important to create your digital marketing mix and optimize the channels.

Social Media Marketing in the GCC

Firstly, it is important to understand that social media marketing is not limited to Facebook and Instagram. With that said, we have to understand that choosing the proper social media channel is the cornerstone for setting up the social media strategy. Each channel has it is a function and it is the effectiveness rate. It is important to understand that Instagram for Arabic consumers is more about entertainment and trends. Therefore, implementing the regional Instagram marketing campaign should have aligned with Instagram’s user behavior. Therefore, awareness and retargeting are the most relevant objectives for the channel.

Secondly, social media in the GCC doesn’t mean creating a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter, or stashing money here and there on several paid social campaigns. The GCC users are mainly using social media for entertainment and chasing the trends. Therefore, it is not ideal if your industry is B2B or business services. As a marketing consultant, I always face the misconceptions of social media marketing role. And I have to say, “It is not a magic”.  If you don’t have a strategy of the proper channels that can serve your type of industry, then you are wasting your efforts.

Thirdly, social media bidding is very high and expensive in some local markets due to aggressive competition. Kuwait has a very high cost for reach and CPC followed by Dubai. Running social media campaigns without planning can just burn out your budget in a few days without gaining a proper cost per conversion.

social media in GCC

In conclusion, it is important to have a plan for lead generation and acquisition before launching a paid or organic social media campaign. A digital marketing agency that is offering only some attractive designs and posts for social media in the region is just a part of the job but not all the jobs. You need to design a conversion funnel, email automation, retargeting settings, and KPIs before you implement your social media in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf region.

Google Ads and PPC in the GCC

GCC has an emerging consumer who is searching for products and services. Google Ads such as search Ads are a highly effective way to access the region in a short time and generate conversion at a lower cost. Google Shopping is finally active now in all countries within the GCC, which provides a great opportunity for e-commerce. However, Arabic PPC and Search Engine marketing require professional skills in configuration and optimization.

In the GCC countries, the search skills of the Arabic audience are not really advanced for most of the consumers. In other words, Arabs are not specific when it comes to search habits and the search behavior is limited to trends and broad terms. For instance, I have been hired by a global car rental company to run an audit for their Arabic keywords and Google Ads. After researching the case, I advised them to ditch all the keywords that are very specific to care rental in cities and just target the whole country or even the continent as “Europe”. The issue that Arabs who search for car rental, they don’t write specific city or an airport but they just type “car rental in Europe”.

Finally, it is important to understand that international businesses in some industries are heavily targeting places such as Dubai. Ad bidding is getting skyrocket for some highly competitive services such as real estate, finance, consumer goods, business services, etc. However, there are always opportunities in the market if you have advanced skills or resources with search engine marketing. Programmatic advertising in Dubai is on the rise and there is ongoing growth in this digital marketing services.  Check the article: Arabic Google Ads and How To Improve The Audience Engagement With Ads.

SEO and Content Marketing

Arabic SEO has been one of the most effective digital marketing services for businesses in the GCC. Dubai, Egypt, Saudi, and Jordan had the biggest share of online content. With the rise of SEO services and awareness in the GCC, the market is becoming more competitive and reaching maturity for some categories. Eventually, the misconception of SEO remains in three practices.

Most importantly, some SEO agencies in the GCC are trying to sell SEO packages without researching the customer needs or building quality practices. This ends up with low-quality content scrapped from the internet and edited. Therefore, it is important to avoid SEO packages and search for high-quality services.

The second misconception is about old SEO tactics that are not effective anymore. For instance, some SEO agencies will offer a package with backlinks and brag about the number of backlinks they are offering. Backlinks are not just about the number of links, it is all about relevancy and quality. Hence, local domains are more important than having links from blogs created in India.

Finally, SEO services should focus on local SEO to enhance visibility and relevancy. Including keywords for local geographic locations and content are two important factors for increasing your rank and brand visibility. In conclusion, SEO services and content marketing are a long-term practice and has to be built up organically and professionally. Choose the SEO agency that can provide original quality content and well-researched keywords.

Video Marketing in Arabic

Due to demographics and social changes, video is an ideal medium to reach the Arabic consumer. Gen Z in the GCC is consuming videos at the highest rate in Saudi Arabia. However, video marketing is limited to entertainment content and the content creator in the region is still serving this type of demand. The social behavior of the regional content is considering videos as more entertainment than educational or awareness. Therefore, video marketing in the region is not for everyone and is not effective unless you have fresh content that has entertainment incentives such as travel, media, gaming, fashion, gadgets, and so on.

The most important tip about video marketing remains to create an entertaining content with straightforward message. Avoid using translated videos and create authentic content that address the regional consumer.

The paid advertising remains highly effective on YouTube in the long-term, while Facebook can generate massive views in the short-term. Live content and human elements are relevant to the GCC consumer more than animation and slides. In conclusion, it is important to use influencers and interviews to showcase your services and products than focusing on other aspects. In addition, the entertainment is more important than quality in most cases.

Email Marketing

The GCC is hotspot for massive offers and Email campaigns. However, the region didn’t reach the full maturity of Email marketing as a digital marketing tactic. There is a huge amount of spamming and impersonalized campaigns that is flooding the user’s inbox without proper automation plan.

The most important guideline for Email marketing in the GCC and Arabic countries is to focus on proper frequency and fine tune the promotion with personalization. Open rates are considered very low in the region since the local consumer tend to use it mainly for business and career purposes. However, setting up effective automation tools with proper workflow and segmentation can improve the cost-effectiveness of the digital marketing campaigns.

5. Know the culture

I kept this point to the end since it is for those who are digging deeper. Digital marketing allows companies to reach consumer quick and at major scale, but that’s only the water surface. Establishing a brand name on the ground is a matter of art and science. With that said, we have to understand that any brand is dynamically interacting with the culture.

This fact is commonly discussed and evaluated in the rooms of marketing teams of the big brands who are well established in the region. They know that their brand image should always address the Gulf culture. You will see this in all their marketing campaigns from creatives to marketing message. Automotive brands tend to focus on luxurious specification with the dessert in the background as main theme. Beauty brands will focus on black hair to match the Arabic beauty prospective. Fast food companies are continuously adjusting their meals to match the local taste.

The global brands are not only customizing their products but also tapping into the mind of the GCC customer and trying to catch the momentum. Eventually, a proper understanding of the culture in the region will help to unlock the shopping trends, seasonality and the key motivations that drives the GCC customer. Ramadan is a big season for some industries, but there are expats who are also interested in Christmas season. The culture is diversified due to globalization and the GCC is no longer a closed and conservative environment like before. The younger generation are avid consumer for new ideas and main cities has a cosmopolitan culture of young workforce coming from all around the world.

In summary, the GCC is a thriving market and driving the MENA region in many sectors such as e-commerce, finance, aviation, tourism, and retail. Digital marketing services is an opportunity for many small and big size businesses to access the Gulf countries. However, the opportunity is not only in the high purchasing power, but it also relies on how you design your marketing strategy and the digital marketing consultation services you depend on. As an independent marketing consultant, I always suggest conducting proper research of the market before setting the marketing campaigns. I hope you find the provided guidelines helpful, and I would like to hear from you if you have questions or marketing inquiries.

Published by Yasser Ahmad

Yasser Ahmad is an independent marketing consultant & digital marketing strategist. Yasser holds a Master degree in Data Analytics & Marketing. With over 16 years of experience in Digital, he is specialized in MarTech, AdTech, Marketing Automation, Performance Marketing, and Growth Hacking. Providing marketing consulting services across different regions including the Middle East, Europe, and APAC.