The Persian Gulf is full of small-to medium-sized B2B companies. With the Abraham Accords, they are now open for business with Israeli companies, and this is big news. Business relationships and opportunities that were once off-limits became not only possible but expected. But can you launch a LinkedIn campaign targeting the Persian Gulf and expect leads? Not quite.
Penguin Strategies is partnered with Digital Nexa, the leading digital marketing agency in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Their Managing Director, Andrew Thomas, gave us advice on how to reach this new market who has an unfamiliar culture. . .yet untold opportunities, especially in these industries:
- Shipping Logistics
- Warehousing Logistics
And anything tech-related that is associated with the above. Let’s get started.
Andrew’s Background in the UAE
Andrew Thomas moved to Dubai 22 years ago. Since that time, he’s seen massive growth in the region and watched things change. He started selling door-to-door, learned the culture very well, and now he runs the top digital marketing agency in the UAE. He offered invaluable insights he’s gained from living and working in the region.
A Brief History of the UAE
The UAE has enjoyed tremendous prosperity because of the natural resources discovered there, namely oil, steel, and gas. They were, so to speak, a goldmine, and the abundant cash these resources brought in allowed many other businesses to develop, grow and flourish. In the IT sector, that included support mechanisms like business intelligence— from analytics to everything associated with it.
Dubai has a different story. This is a city in the UAE whose financial wealth came from other sources, namely real estate, retail, and hospitality. Dubai is a tourist city that boasts ultramodern architecture and a popular nightlife scene. There are a ludicrous amount of hotels. Tourists come, fall in love, and buy a holiday home, relocate, or set up a business here. It is an expatriate-friendly city.
The UAE is seen as an IT hub, and Dubai itself, as a hub for imports and exports to the region. Jebel Ali, a port and free zone, is just outside the city. There is a huge opportunity in logistics and shipping, warehousing and everything associated with importing and exporting. As time goes on, innovation will be required to support the growth.
“So it's a good lift off as far as getting involved in a bit of hardware, software fintech, and security”
Andrew Thomas, Dubai’s Digital Nexa
But Israel is not alone. Businesses in India and Singapore, as two examples, also want to come to the UAE. So there is competition, but this is good. It gives people in the region an opportunity to decide with whom they want to work. So make sure you get your messaging right. (See Getting Your Marketing Started, below.)
English or Arabic?
Around the world, the language of business is typically English. If you are already running campaigns in English, start there. If you go to the wider field, like the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) or Saudi, it’s a blend of languages, so it’s better to have a bilingual offering or messages in Arab or English.
The demographic makeup of the UAE comprises seven Emirates, but the main hubs are Abu Dhabi and Dubai. All the global and regional players have a base from there from an IT perspective. 85% of these are expats from around the world.
Saudi Arabia is more bilingual. It’s wise to have messaging in Arabic and in English. But you have to make sure, and if you communicate in Arabic, be sensitive to the different dialects, especially when leads start coming in. You want to speak their dialect.
What to Say and What Not to Say
If you call somebody in the USA, it’s common to talk about local weather or sports at the beginning of the conversation. But here, the small talk starts with family and friends. Be prepared to dedicate several minutes, sometimes many minutes, to talking about family before discussing business. Do not jump right into business. Also be mindful there are many internationals, like Andrew who is British, and they retain their own cultural preferences. Know who you are talking to.
While everybody loves humor, we know that what resonates with one group of people may not resonate with another group. The Persian Gulf, even just the UAE, is made up of different cultures, so you have to be careful if you are employing humor in your B2B marketing.
One common thread: there is a spirit of entrepreneurship across the region and an appetite for innovation.
There is an interesting disconnect here. The people are highly connected individuals with a large part of the population as millennial, Gen Z, or Gen Ys who carry two or three phones. There is huge mobile engagement, but that sometimes doesn't translate to the business environment. For instance, you can walk into an organization, and they won’t have a CRM. They’re working from spreadsheets. So sometimes, as great as a business looks from the outside, if you scratch a little bit below the surface, you’ll find the technology hasn't caught up, and there is an opportunity.
Getting Your Marketing Started
Remember to be humble. Just because you can now do business in this part of the world, remember that there are many companies already established here. The Abraham Accords do not mean you will get a bunch of business. The Abraham Accords opened the door for you to start communications, and start with the basics: What can you offer better than other companies? And why should anybody in the Arab world care?
If you have a lot of clients in the U.S., talk about it. Say that you’ve worked with international companies for a number of years already. Which names would they recognize? Leverage testimonials, customer stories and proof of concept. You want to open lines of communication. Don’t try to sell right away. Remember what to say and what not to say (in the section above).
Lead Generation is important, but brand is much more important to get your message out.
What do you do when nobody has heard of you in a new region? How do you break into the region and create a brand?
Social Media & Google
Google is the low-hanging fruit from a B2B perspective. People who are looking for your solutions and your products are going to go to Google first. Build up your SEO in the region while there is still little competition. And while you work on that, use Google ads to drive some of that search traffic back to you.
As far as social media channels, there has been a huge increase in LinkedIn the past two years, both for companies and individuals branding themselves. LinkedIn is popular for job searches and for B2B. LinkedIn is the social media channel to start with.
Instagram is popular and so is Snapchat. Arabs are very private individuals when it comes to family. So a lot of people have a public Instagram account and a private Snapchat account.
Twitter is not used as much in the UAE. The government might use it to communicate, and companies like Emirates and FedEx use it for customer service, but it’s not a good B2B targeting tool. However, Twitter is dominant in Saudi Arabia.
TikTok is used but is not the best platform to make a first contact. TikTok would be a good platform for retargeting.
Apple just came into play.
“Bottom-line advice: Start on LinkedIn and retarget using the other channels".
Andrew Thomas, Dubai’s Digital Nexa
Direct Vs Channel
Before COVID-19, you definitely needed boots on the ground, especially if you wanted to grow. There might still be some validity to that, but not so much in the early stage. For discovery, Zoom is the new normal.
Make sure when you choose a channel partner, you choose the right partner from a digital perspective. In the past, pre COVID-19, partners would do the door-to-door knocking, but COVID has changed that. Now businesses must quickly learn how to engage digitally, and many aren’t there yet. So you need to dig a bit to make sure you understand your partner’s digital capabilities.
If your company is a start-up, there may be an opportunity to come in and offer something as a more reasonable kind of investment. If you’re at the proof of concept stage, this could be an opportunity to work and grow with an organization in the Gulf from an innovative tech perspective.
There is a massive influx of companies setting up here. This is an opportunity, too. These organizations may need help.
What are the Technology Accelerators
There are government backed accelerators and private enterprises. For example:
- Hub 71 in Emirates Towers in Dubai.
- Two-Four the technology-media one in Abu Dhabi.
Some provide C funding and work with you while others provide office space.
Legalities and Limitations
Let’s talk about data protection, for example. There are rules in place for Gulf Nationals. Financial, health, and sometimes even customer data can not be stored in the cloud. There are data centers here, in Saudi Arabia, and across the region. HubSpot, for instance, can be used for marketing, but once a lead becomes a customer, they need to be removed from the list. This applies mostly to large organizations, not so much SMEs. There is no GDPR in place. You can buy lists and you can reach out to individuals using outbound, ABM or nurturing campaigns.
There are abundant opportunities to do business with Persian Gulf companies. Knowing who you are talking to and understanding the organization’s background will give you a big advantage, but it’s still complicated. Reach out to Andrew Thomas at Digital Nexa in Dubai and let him help you navigate the business world in the Persian Gulf to get the leads and customers that are now open to your business. You can sign up for Digital Nexa’s weekly Digital Growth Show webinar and podcast.
Watch the webinar with Andrew Thomas and Perry Nalevka.
by David Yahid on January 06, 2021
David has been a marketing professional staying on top if the latest marketing technologies and trends as they come up.