In the past few years we have witnessed an increasing transformation in advertising in the MENA region with more brands investing in digital ads and social media content plans. The idea of pinpointed targeting, automated bidding, and lower unit costs has fascinated many and led them to see the digital space as a replacement to the dated offline channels, or even worse, as a separate entity altogether. This mindset in the region has paved the way for many digital-only agencies to pop up hoping to capitalize on the fad and to continue pushing the idea that digital is king.
While one cannot deny the fact that digital channels yield a great deal of benefits ranging from accurate consumer behavior insights to extremely interactive campaigns, marketers need to realize that Offline is still just as important. Luckily, a few brands with big budgets do understand this and allocate separate expenditures to the different types of media within their marketing departments. Unfortunately, there is still a gap between these different channels as they are treated as separate strategies.
One of the most common types of campaigns in the region is Social Media activations with the following formula :
Facebook Tab + Semi-engaging repetitive content + Page Like ads + Boost button + Twitter and Instagram posts driving traffic to the Facebook tab + In-store posters with a Facebook link
While this strategy was highly successful three years ago, the world has moved on to bigger and better things, and it’s time for us to step up our game. The key is integration. It’s time that we combined online and offline in the most efficient way possible.
The first thing we need to understand is that the digital and physical worlds coexist. Our consumers may spend most of their time staring into a digital screen consuming content varying from movies, to music, to even shopping, but one thing has not changed about them; they still go out. Our MENA consumers who have evolved into a tech-savvy Smartphone-wielding generation still want to socialize the old-fashioned way. Malls are crawling with people of all ages lining up to watch movies, placing orders at the food court, and going around from one shop to the next, all the while clutching their Smartphones.
We can now take advantage of this behavior and the high mobile device penetration rate by providing less mass-targeted content. Personalized marketing should become more prominent by utilizing the latest technology. Malls can do so by employing location-based listening tools to monitor social activity in their vicinity and respond to consumers’ concerns in real time. They can also use these platforms to make product recommendations based on the users’ online activity.
Brands also need to utilize in-store activations to create social experiences using AR technology. Consumers can interact with these digital screens to create shareable content highlighting certain products and broadcast it across their social networks in real time. For example, a “create your own outfit” AR in-store experience would give female consumers the ability to add their own touch instead of being subjected to pre-existing outfit arrangements.
The best example of an integrated experience in the region is the Majid Al Futtaim Monopoly activation that took place last August. In order to increase footfall at Mall of the Emirates, Deira City Center, and Mirdiff City Center, MAF created a 10 x 10 meter Monopoly board with life-size props. Shoppers who spent a certain amount at the mall were given the opportunity to play the game for 10 minutes for the chance to win various prizes. The digitally-activated game board also included an on-site queuing app that reduced wait time and contributed to crowd control. The activation also connected the participants to the digital space by giving each of them a tablet that tracked their score and allowed them to share it via social media in real time. Monopoly was the best performing campaign across the group’s portfolio with over 15,000 participants. It also contributed to the malls’ highest sales revenue with transactions values of more than 23 percent of Mall of the Emirates’, 30 percent of Deira City Center’s, and 33 percent of Mirdiff City Center’s.
The next step in personalization is tailored ads. Those who have seen Tom Cruise’s Minority Report are familiar with the concept of extremely personal ads that pop up as you walk through a mall. The ads show you exactly what you would be interested in buying, which reduces ad costs and increases conversion. While some of us hope that this will become a reality one day, not all marketers share my love for the lack of privacy. Tesco (UK) has attempted to replicate the technology within their stores by installing face recognition software that can identify age group, gender, and race in order to make personalized product recommendations. The fate of the project is unclear, but the uproar it caused hints at its perpetual demise.
It is difficult to imagine such a technology being implemented in the MENA region. Culture and religion will play a significant role as the idea of a database containing images of female residents is not favorable. However, other methods of personal identification voluntarily embedded in mobile devices can be used to transmit data to readers located in stores which in turn can prompt personalized ads to pop up on mobile screens.
Bridging the gap between offline and online can be easily done across all industries. Take the architectural industry for example; while not known for its iconic campaigns, architectural firms can create integrated experiences to enhance brand awareness. By utilizing events such as CityScape, architects can have visitors use their Smartphones to convert 2D architectural images into 3D models and navigate through them. These memorable experiences are highly shareable and can contribute to the overall digital presence.
The point is, regardless of your industry and business type, integration between online and offline is needed to enhance brand awareness and create memorable experiences.