Sales and Marketing SME Tech

9 Ingredients of a Successful Digital Marketing Strategy for SMEs in the Middle East

After 8 years working in the UK digital marketing industry I was really keen to see how things differ in the Middle East, a region with one of the fastest growing economies where digital uptake should be strong, says Col Skinner.

Digital-marketing-strategy-1-Intelligent-SMEIn September 2015 I was privileged enough to be invited over to Dubai to work with, train and support several businesses, all based under the same family owned business group.

The UAE, for example, now has the 2nd highest internet usage with 96% of the population online (according to We Are Social study in Jan 2016).

9 months later and having worked with several Middle Eastern businesses, agencies and developers, I feel that I have discovered a range of areas where they typically fall short.

Below are nine must have ingredients that will help make the difference between failure and successful digital marketing strategy in the Middle East.

1. Set Practical Goals / KPI’s for Your Business
Understanding what worked and what didn’t is a key part of the process. Going into a marketing strategy or campaign with no aim is only going to leave you coming out with no measure of its success. On the other side of the coin there is the setting of unrealistic goals which can be just as counterproductive. KPI is Key Performance Indicator. A statistics or figure that dictates a campaign has been a success. If you have an agency working for you then this will be something for them to aim for. Goals can be engagement based where you are looking to achieve a certain level of engaged user. Or they can and often are sales or lead based. Some examples of goals or KPI’s may include:

  • Site bounce rate below 30%
  • Site conversion rate of 15%
  • Channel conversion rate above 10%
  • Time on site above 2 minutes
  • Paid media traffic to exceed 40% of overall traffic
  • Contact form completion rate above 5%
  • 25 phone calls through the campaign (using call tracking software)
  • ROI of 100% (investment divided by profit)
  • Cost Per Acquisition below AED 24

(Note that these figures will vastly vary for different types of business so ensure you put the research in to find realistic figures to aim for.)

2. Understand Your Audience
Crafting a plan to get in front of your audience is going to be very difficult if you don’t know who it is you are actually marketing to. Market research is no longer reserved for big businesses. Market research helps you get to know your market, follow relevant trends and determine strategic priorities for your brand. This can ultimately save thousands of dollars and days/months developing products or services that fail. You may want to use some of the following examples to build a profile of your ideal customer:

  • Keyword research – look into how people search and the terminology they use.
  • Website analytics – Use Google Analytics to understand how users currently interact with your website and any live advertising
  • PPC based research – this will help you learn more about the terminology used.
  • Existing buyer data – audit any buyer data you may have collected from email marketing or offline marketing campaigns.
  • A/B testing – Use testing to understand what works and what doesn’t across many online elements.

Digital-marketing-Intelligent-SME3. Craft a Compelling Value Proposition
A piece of research in Canada by Microsoft tested the attention span of 2000 users and found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in today’s smart phone filled world.

You now have just 8 seconds online to communicate why your ideal target audience should do business with your brand. Everyone goes on about how their products are the best and their customer service is great etc etc.  Users are blind to these kinds of typical unproven sales messages. Think about those things that truly make you stand out from the competition. Those unique selling points that will quickly convince a user that you are the brand to go with.

4. Establish What’s Needed To Succeed
Whether your plans are starting small or you have a complex mutli-channel strategy, there will be a certain amount of resource and assets required before it can start. Here are some examples of things you may require to fulfil a marketing strategy:

  • An Organisational Process,
  • A Marketing Strategy & Priorities,
  • Copywriters or Content Creators,
  • Competitor Data & Research,
  • Tracking Methods,
  • Customer Insights,
  • Stakeholder Buy In,
  • Internal Staff With Relevant  Experience,
  • Support From Key Internal Staff,
  • Support From External Partners (e.g. Facebook, Adwords, Agency X etc)

5. Perfect Your Call to Action
A Call To Action (also known as CTA) is essentially a message that convinces the user or potential customer to take a specific action that benefits your business. Common examples could include:

  • Call Us Today
  • Request
  • Talk To Us
  • Download Our Whitepaper

6. Carry Out Competitor Analysis
How can you be better than the competition if you don’t benchmark who they are and what they are currently doing to market to your audience? Before you plan your tactics, advertising channels and advert messaging, ensure you research those movers and shakers in your market/industry. If you are an international business then this process could be a little trickier but still needs done. Questions to ask during the analysis process include:

  • How actively are they using social media and for what purpose?
  • Investigate their customer acquisition approach
  • What is their unique value proposition?
  • What kind of convincers and calls to action are they using?
  • Where do they operate? Local? Online Only? Both?
  • How good is their customer acquisition strategy?
  • Are they doing content marketing and is it producing results?

The answers to the above will give you a firm grasp of where you sit and what work you have to do to compete in your market. Then it is a case of applying that information to formulate an action plan / strategy.

7. Identify The Business Impact
Determining the impact that carrying out a strategy is going to have on your firm is an important step in ensuring the least barriers or hurdles during its implementation.


For example these might be: 

  • Prospecting – Generate fostering leads for follow-up by sales and marketing teams.
  • Sales – Help your fund raising or sign up team to close sales more effectively.
  • Marketing – Generate interest in your charity and services.
  • PR – Build and repair public opinion about foster carers and caring for children. 
  • Community – Develop friends and fans that interact socially with St Christopher’s.
  • Customer Support – Help carers and kids get the most from your services and support.

8. Test, Test & Test Again
Many Middle Eastern businesses often trial a new digital marketing platform, medium, advertising etc. and very quickly decide if it works or doesn’t. The benefit of digital marketing is that you can instantly amend things for immediate gratification.

A/B testing is a fantastic method for figuring out the best online promotional and marketing strategies for brands. It can be used to test everything from website copy to sales emails to PPC ads. Well-planned A/B testing can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Here is a range of areas you can implement testing:

  • Colours, Images, and Backgrounds
  • Value Proposition
  • Website Calls to Action
  • Various Ad Messaging
  • Different Ad Platforms
  • Different Landing Pages
  • Alternative Media Formats
  • Diverse Online Offers & Deals

Within your strategy, factor in how and what you are going to test during the campaign period. Then ensure you always track and record any testing to understand the repercussions of your changes. This way you’ll know what had a positive effect and what caused a downturn.

9. Track Your Performance
Analytics and tracking should be a part of any strategy. How can you understand the success of your digital campaigns without tracking and attributing data? Accurate data is the first step to making smarter business decisions, reducing costs, and learning more about the products and solutions you sell on your site. This insightful data can help you change aspects of a campaign when certain elements aren’t working, ensuring future success and boosting eventual ROI.

Google Analytics is the industry standard tool for tracking visitor behaviour to your website. It is very easy to install and is also completely FREE. So there is excuse not to have it installed on your website and advertising campaigns. I recommend paying particular close attention to the following statistics in Google Analytics:

  • Time On Site
  • Bounce Rate
  • % New Visits
  • Pages Per Session
  • Conversion Rate
  • Referral Traffic
  • Organic Keywords

Bringing It All Together

In 2015 I did a survey of 55 startups to better understand the digital marketing issues and hurdles they face. The survey results found that a massive 71% of startups do not have a documented digital strategy.

Don’t fall into that habit of planning and executing a digital marketing strategy without documenting it all first. This is important for any size of brand and helps everyone in the team understand what the digital marketing is there to achieve, how it’s going to be achieved and lastly how it’s going to be tracked and assessed.Col-Skinner-Intelligent-SME

About the author

SPI Group

An integrated platform created to serve entrepreneurs and service providers. SPI engages with over 100,000 Entrepreneurs & Senior decision makers through a unique combination of cutting edge business magazines, high profile B2B summits and conferences, strategic alliances with Govt, business associations and government bodies. SPI also leverages the power of digital marketing and social media.

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