Many nations, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Qatar top the digital consumer charge with increased rates of smartphone and social media use. Nevertheless, not all countries are at par in terms of digitization, as some businesses and governments struggle to keep up. Based on its history of innovation, the Middle East has the opportunity of transforming itself into a leading digital economy to enhance economic growth by attracting potential stakeholders.
In terms of business, the implementation of digital technologies in the Middle East is low. Only 18 percent of small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the United Arab Emirates, 15 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 7 percent in Egypt have an online platform. By 2019, forecasts approximate that the Middle East will have the world’s highest rate in cloud traffic development at. There are many advantages of using the internet to market products, whereby time and cost saving are the major reasons for its increased use. The Internet has become the widest channel of communication, which facilitates an organization’s marketing plans and does not restrict its reach to a variety of consumers at a reduced cost. Firms can manipulate time efficiencies by utilizing the Internet since the nature of the channel enables customers to inquire and purchase commodities and services conveniently at a click of the button. This process has been successful because almost business is computerized, and firms are not required to spend any specific time with individual clients. Internet marketing is a great business, and some firms have performed well whereas others struggle to survive. Therefore, it is vital for a firm to comprehend what works in this market since not all online businesses are profitable.
Advanced utilization of internet marketing by numerous businesses in the Middle East underline the rapidly growing rate of digital platforms. For instance, Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) and Emirates Petroleum Products Company (EPPCO) in Dubai have created a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) supported prepaid fuelling system that permits cashless as well as cardless computerized fuel payments. Several large oil firms in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are determined to make their oilfields smarter by digitizing processes with big data and analytics, sensors, as well as control systems. The local online private car-booking service, Careem, is another example of a digitalized business. Although the international market is dominated by giants like Uber from the United States or Didi in China, Careem manages to compete regionally with a localized method that concentrates on B2B incorporation and additional features like arranged bookings, for instance, the Roads and Transports Authority in Dubai (Witchalls and Chambers 6). In addition, Bank Audi in Lebanon has introduced Novot, an artificial intelligence–based humanoid robot. The autonomous mobile robot greets and directs clients, and advertises the bank’s products and services. Novot also raises client experience to a higher level and enhances interactive sessions with clients. Souq.com, the first unicorn (a new business with a market capitalization of over USD 1 billion), is the Middle East’s top e-commerce marketplace; it has enabled the link of 75,000 Middle Eastern businesses with clients they failed to reach earlier. Recognized companies are also determined to digitize their business and explore current digital adjacencies. Etilsalat and Du in the United Arab Emirates have introduced numerous smart cities and Internet of Things (IoT) services (Witchalls and Chambers 6). Moreover, Saudi Telcom Company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia produces IOT-based fleet management tracing cars, as well as trucks.
Several countries in the Middle East have realized that the Internet plays a crucial role in the attainment of the wider goal of nation building, as well as the change to a knowledge-based economy. In addition, marketing on the Internet is vital in promoting sustainable economic development and trade integration. Internet marketing can lead to economic development in the Middle East through various ways. Firstly, the Internet infrastructure and services result in national productivity, as well as competitiveness. The internet also has a greater influence on poorer nations by minimizing economy-wide inefficiencies. Secondly, the Internet encourages competitiveness in manufacturing through information technology (IT)-enabled supply chains. It also enhances business processes by outsourcing and promoting trade development and integration. Despite the benefits of Internet marketing, the Middle East is falling behind in terms of Internet access and use, development of digital content, and creation of infrastructure (Witchalls and Chambers 11).
The Middle East is an enormous, sophisticated market, which has raised challenges for various major companies performing Internet marketing in the Middle East. Thus, foreign firms need to make various adjustments when marketing to Middle Eastern consumers with a distinctive culture. The Middle East is a diverse landscape, and the nations in the region have several economic and cultural differences. Qatar has a higher class of consumers who focus on high quality products regardless of price while Egypt has several middle class consumers who are price conscious. Variations also exist in their way of living, political beliefs and use of technology. For example, Yemen has an Internet penetration rate that is below 20%, while nations like Kuwait and Bahrain have a higher percentage of their population online compared to the United States. Many people in the western world still depend on ignorant stereotypes when they reflect on the Middle East. Thus, it is essential for any firm to conduct a deeper local research on the targeted market, as well as distinguish its marketing strategies for different nations in the region.
Islam is the main religion in the Middle East, which influences various aspects of their lives. Arla Foods, a Swedish firm, managed to market its dairy products effectively in the Middle East until 2005 whereby the renowned scandal arose. The Danish newspaper printed a cartoon portraying prophet Muhammad, which the Middle Eastern consumers did not take lightly. They defected the Danish products, and the firm took more than five years to attain the revenue it had before the scandal. This case does not imply that a firm should utilize several religious imageries in its advertisements. On the contrary, various failed promotions have revealed that people in the Middle East desire to have some separation between religion and business. Therefore, a marketing firm should aim at blending into the landscape.
Another challenge of Internet marketing in the Middle East is the failure to comprehend the media regulations. Due to religious, cultural, and political reasons, advertisers in the Middle East experience various stern regulations. Several laws shield consumers from trailers’ exploitation. In the conventional Arabia, there is strict suppression of advertising content that does not adhere to the Royal Family’s perception of Islamic morality. The regulations are not as strict as others might think, a firm can exhibit ads with women in them, but they constrain what some firms may usually display in their marketing. Iraq has comparatively few government regulations on advertising. The Middle Eastern consumers from Iraq delight in a diverse media landscape with multiple famous autonomous voices, for example, blogs as well as radio programs (Gelvanovska, Michel and Carlo Maria 20).
Poor translation services is also a challenge in Internet marketing in the Middle East. Iraq has four different dialects based on the part of the nation that a person comes from, which does not include the language spoken by its Kurdish minority in the North. Middle Eastern consumers are different. Consequently, a firm conducting Internet marketing in the Middle East needs to work with indigenous writers to create its advertising text. Arabic is a very multifaceted language with nuance in the way one may write or speak based on the circumstance. Businesses targeting the Middle East consumers put in much effort to attract as many clients as possible. They develop content that is relevant to the market. Moreover, native translators can also assist in ensuring that a firm’s online content is boosted for Google’s page-rating procedure. Many searches in the Middle East are carried out in Arabic. Thus, a good translation is essential to ensure that the content comprises the keywords that a firm wants to attain. This process enables many businesses to attain a competitive advantage.
Failure to utilize professional voice talent is another challenge in Middle East Internet marketing. Majorly, foreign businesses marketing to consumers in the Middle East need to put in much effort to fit in the local culture. It is difficult for a person who is not a native speaker or has no experience in commentary work to deliver an excellent performance. It can also be difficult for an individual from outside the region to understand how well the narration will work. Therefore, recruiting experts and conducting a thorough audition enables a business to assess prospective voice actors. Moreover, a business requires the probable actors to have experience doing advertisements in the specific area to find a person who can interest its targeted audience. Alternatively, a business can examine Arabic commentary alternatives that feature skilled voice actors who understand the regional tones. Finally, a firm can also create a marketing video that attracts the local culture, adheres to rules, as well as religious feelings, and is skillfully interpreted. A low-quality voiceover ruins all efforts.
Marketing luxury fashions and beauty products in the Middle East is difficult. Firstly, in terms of religion, the Middle East has conservative guidelines for women’s dressing and appearance. The principles differ from one country to another, and what is regarded improper for Saudi Arabia may be accepted in the UAE. However, for international brands, developing localized content, such specific targeting, needs a lot of dedication to deep cultural expertise. Therefore, firms that intend to spread their digital presence in the Middle East must understand their markets.
The rise of Arabish language, which is an intense mix of Arabic and English, poses another challenge to marketing. Arablish is highly used in the Middle East, especially among the young, Western educated Arabs. The changing language trend in the Middle East means that retailers have to market their products using Arabish to entice the Middle East consumers. Moreover, several businesses understand that when it comes to clients, communication is important. Therefore, as they purpose to reach out to their client base using online content, they are supposed to establish effective localization strategies to develop consumer relationships. Also, regarding customer service on the internet, clients anticipate swift, accurate dialogue with brands, which may be a challenge in the Middle East.
Presently, several people in the Middle East use the Internet in executing various tasks. The number is anticipated to rise because of increased social media users, for example, Facebook and Twitter. Soon, many business transactions will be conducted online as various organizations have started realizing the benefits of internet marketing. Overestimation is likely to happen in some areas with emigrant populations since they are not considered among the users but they highly tend to use the Internet with business acquaintances in their countries of origin. Several restrictions, for example, the ban of Internet access or increased scrutiny of content in certain countries makes it hard to evaluate Information Communication Technology (ICT) usage in such areas (Gelvanovska and Carlo 80).
Developing nations in the Middle East experience challenges that are similar to other developing nations in the world, such as low educational levels, poor technology set-up, and low levels of income. Technical skills, as well as technology, is a major requirement in the use of the Internet. Therefore, one needs to have a source of power, a communication line, a terminal that can interrelate across the communication lines, and fluent English since a lot of content on the World Wide Web is written in English. This process results in digital divide in the Middle East countries (Ghashghai and Rosalind 3).
ICT faces strong opposition from the government in several Middle East nations, which limits Internet access. The majority of the leaders in such nations believe that the Internet is a Western-based instrument of moral and political rebellion. Therefore, several nations sternly impose restrictions on Internet connectivity. While nations such as Egypt and Jordan have continuously advanced in developing Internet connections, others like Saudi Arabia have been resistant in permitting broad access to the Internet. For example, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen utilize proxy servers that can inhibit internet users’ access to “unwanted” sites. On the other hand, Iran permits access, but the extent of the traffic monitoring in the nation is indefinite (Ghashghai and Rosalind 3).
Cultural issues are significant in ascertaining the utilization of the Internet in the Middle East. Many people value the traditional verbal interaction, and they do not regard any other form of communication, particularly online messages. Therefore, businesses venturing in the region have a task of convincing the locals that advancements in technology have made the Internet one of the best mediums of communication. Some kinds of ICT that have been effectual in developing nations in the Middle East are oriented towards group usage or audiovisual communications, for instance, cyber-cafes where a large number of people access the web in a public setting. The cyber-cafes are prevalent in Iran’s major cities (Gelvanovska, Michel and Carlo Maria 61).
The reason behind low levels of Internet use in the Middle East is the expenses involved. Many people do not afford to purchase essential tools for connecting to the Internet, such as laptops or desktops. Users also experience recurring costs that emanate from the Internet service provider, which offers connectivity and the services necessary for sending mail or surfing the net. Hence, cyber-cafes have increased in number to prevent nonrecurring user costs and minimize recurring costs. For nations that are hesitant to invest in new infrastructure, allocating the limited national resources to Information Technology (IT) is considered a wastage of funds. Nevertheless, the majority of Middle East observers concur with the United Nation’s report that despite high costs involved in using ICT to build national information infrastructure, the costs of failing to do so are much higher (Ghashghai and Rosalind 4).
The Internet enhances growth in developing nations by improving business opportunities, which include cross-border prospects, Nevertheless, many nations in the region are concerned about various negative consequences of using the Internet. People can access pornographic content on the Internet, which negatively influences their behavior, especially the young people, and promotes immorality. Another fear is the spread of the western culture, which can also influence the locals in a negative way because of various disparities that exist between the two cultures. Pornography is a major concern and in states with integrated political and religious leadership, the leaders are hesitant to adopt technology that tends to increase immorality. Consequently, measures have been established to ensure that individuals do not access unauthorized content. This process is intended for protecting the future generation from the negative impacts of the Internet. It also serves as a way of preserving the Middle East Culture.
Although it is easier to understand the perceptions of Middle Eastern leaders and governments on the use of the Internet, determining the opinion of the Middle Eastern people is difficult. There is no much information on what the Easterners view the Internet, their level of awareness and interest in utilizing the Internet, and their observation of its possible merits and demerits. Public receptivity to the Internet in such nations can be determined by assessing pubic receptivity of initial form of ICT. Satellite TV has become popular in the Middle East because of reduced costs, increased content, as well as well-matched language programming (Ghashghai and Rosalind 4).
The inevitable development of the Internet technology in the Middle East, though gradually, shows that regardless of their determination, governments will not manage to block connectivity to the Internet forever. Nonetheless, the immediate needs of Afghanistan and low rate of economic development in the Middle East reveal that measures should be implemented to establish a practical, as well as the culturally acceptable strategy of assisting the population to enjoy the advantages of ICT. The Middle East information and technology links are among the weakest globally and are below the international standards.
Various challenges that arise from marketing include website management, pursuing the right audience and selling them the right product-market mix, and assisting clients to come up with good buying decisions. It is also difficult for businesses to choose the right online marketing channel, produce quality traffic with high sales conversion, and offer the best customer care support. In spite of political instability, the Middle East is still a valuable consumer market. The Middle Eastern consumers have many trillion dollars in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide a great opportunity for development-oriented firms that want to grow globally.
Gelvanovska, Natalija, Michel Rogy, and Carlo Maria Rossotto. Broadband networks in the Middle East and North Africa: Accelerating high-speed internet access. World Bank Publications, 2014.
Ghashghai, Elham, and Rosalind Lewis. Issues affecting internet use in Afghanistan and developing countries in the Middle East. No. RAND/IP-231-CMEPP. RAND CORP SANTA MONICA CA, 2002.
Witchalls, Clint, and J. Chambers. “The internet of things business index: A quiet revolution gathers pace.” The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013, file:///C:/Users/edu/Desktop/middle%204.PDF. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017