From Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter to the meteoric rise (and plateau) of META, the past year has been dynamic for Digital Marketing. Changes in policy, advertising spends and the rise of new technology, has impacted people’s roles, channels and areas of focus, the ripple effects of which have been felt even within the MENA region.

However, Marketing in MENA is booming. As per Sortlist, over the past three years, MENA not only is the second fastest growing region for eCommerce, but also has seen 300%+ growth in digital advertising expenditure, the number of projects has risen by 285% and the number of agencies servicing the region has increased sixfold. This matches audience interests in online platforms, with the UAE having one of the world’s highest social media use rates.  

To understand the factors that have contributed to this growth, it is vital to consider the trends that have shaped the digital marketing landscape in the region, and how this has evolved. By analysing this current decade there have been a few common trends which have recurred over the past few years. These include: the rise of influencer marketing, proliferation of new social platforms such as TikTok, use of storytelling, content optimisation and audience engagement. 

When compared to predicted trends for 2023, we see that influencer marketing is here to stay, along with, content marketing, and personalisation. This is addition to the growth of e-commerce, where the lines between this and digital marketing are becoming increasingly blurred. 

Audiences crave relevance, and engagement can only be driven through increasingly personalised content and advertising which in in line with audience interests. With the growth of content, there is a need for on-going optimisation, and increased visual and voice-based activations, that reflect how audiences absorb content and changes in advertising that impact how and where they are targeted. Changes in privacy laws, have resulted in how audiences use and interact with platforms and technology, which means while marketers have invested in cookies and other tech-based solutions, there is a need to re-look at how we’re reaching audiences based on our understanding of them, and using classic interest-based targeting. As people spend more time online, brands are developing eCommerce solutions on their platforms, websites & apps, and therefore marketers are expected not only to drive audiences, but also be proficient in lead generation, growth marketing and online conversion. 

As the growth of SMEs dominates the MENA region, many companies are looking for people who have multiple skill sets to meet the needs of the business. Therefore, the digital marketer of the future, will not be specialized in one area of marketing but will be expected to have a 360 understanding of the digital landscape and be able to advise on consumer behaviour, content creation, advertising, martech solutions, and eCommerce as well. 

Breaking down the trends of 2023, here are some of the specifics that will be highlighted:

  • Short form videos 

Even as people spend more time online, interests are diversified with different needs and expectations. To match this, channels are innovating with short form videos which are termed as ‘snackable content’, to meet the needs of audiences and their increasingly reducing attention spans. Brands need to learn how to maximise these formats in their best interests, with only 60 seconds at most to leverage story telling best practices to drive their message. This also means brands need to invest in shorter campaigns which maintain audience interests. 

  • Authentic conversations

Social media channels are being held to a new standard. With the rise of fake news, deep fakes and AI generated images, audiences are pushing for higher standards and more authentic conversations. This has resulted in the advent of new social media channels such as BeReal with increasingly authentic user generated content, and branded communities, where audiences can interact with others who share a genuine interest in the same pursuits as they do. This is an opportunity for brands to engage with people who have the potential of being exceptionally loyal to them. Authenticity extends to the use of social media as customer service platforms and as a CX platform for customers. Brands must prioritize customers by providing support, information and solutions as fast as possible to foster seamless experiences. This reflects a customer focused culture that puts audiences first, building relationships and driving loyalty. In addition, authenticity implies personalisation, therefore giving audiences what they are interested in and what they expect, thus retaining customers for the long term.  Recurring customers are more valuable and help increase the reputation and awareness of the brand.

  • Hyperlocal marketing

Proximity marketing is focusing on audiences on the right time and in the right locations with the support of technology to send personalised messages. This includes using geo-fencing, Bluetooth technology etc. to reach a specific audience within a specified location. This is especially useful for brands with physical locations, so they can target people within the store with operational or offer based messages based on their interests, which is optimised when connected with a CRM system. There is an option to also target people via social media to reach audiences within a specific radius to attract them to visit the location. Like the resurgence of the QR code, hyperlocal marketing technology has been around for a long time, but now is being increasingly used to send personalised messages to relevant audiences, especially when combined with IoT technology, where audiences can be targeted in the moment. 

  • Optimisation

The nature of search is changing. Based on the kind of information audiences are looking for, they will not only visit Google, but also social platforms such as TikTok and product based searches are moving increasingly to Amazon. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the death of Google, it does show how search is changing and marketers need to be present on all channels related to their audiences. Besides being present and uploading relevant content, it also means they need to further optimise this content to reach audiences. Audiences rely on discovery of content to be inspired, but also use AI based software such as Siri or IoT devices such as Alexa to search for relevant products, this means optimising for voice-based searches. So while the transition to social search will be a long one, it is better for marketers to be up to date on social search optimisation from the start. 

  • The rise of AI 

With the increasing adoption and improvement of AI, there are predictions of its use for content creation and to assist with marketing efforts. While we’re seeing Google adopt AI to improve with analytics or in martech for programmatic placements, content generation is still fairly new and being tested in customer service and chatbots. While AI tools are skilled in writing, they still lack the human element of the brand, so therefore it can be used more to support marketers and streamline their efforts than take over from them.

For marketers to succeed, it is important to keep up to date with trends, but more than that to understand the true purpose of the brand, create trust and build on the human experience. 

  • Customers support brands that share their values; therefore, it is vital for brands to act with purpose and communicate their values to audiences. This de-mystifies purpose and aligns brands with their audiences. 
  • The current environment is dynamic, and marketers need to be agile and stay updated current technologies. It is important to accelerate investment in marketing technology to drive marketing growth, especially in more troubled times.  
  • Brands need to think about audiences strategically, especially since engagement is a two-way street. Audiences expect brands to be collaborative and the influencers, ambassadors they use to be relevant to them.
  • Use of data to create and segmented audience lists to send personalised and targeted messages. 
  • Overall, it is vital to build trust, based on the brand promise, messaging and delivery. If either one of these breaks down, then brands and reputation can negatively be impacted.

Marketing principles don’t get old, but they need to be adapted to and suit changing technology and societal expectations to be effective. The key to success is understanding the brand, understanding audiences and staying updated. 

The definition of marketing is changing and expanding, moving beyond branding and marketing to a holistic business experience. Marketers must work with other departments to focus on improving customer experiences and fostering long term relationships with its audiences.