Hanging out with Google in the UAE

Google MENA held their first real life hangout with bloggers in the UAE at The Pavilion Dowtown Dubai and I was one of the selected (read: lucky) few to be invited. Joining us from the Google team was Ari Kesisoglu (MD Google MENA), Maha Abouelenein (Comms head for Google MENA) and Hind Rasheed (Comms Manager for Google MENA).

Both Joe Akkawi (@JoeAkkawi) and Ion Gonzaga (@ionGonzaga) have covered the event quite exhaustively on their blogs (and I highly encourage you to check it out) so I’m not going to be doing that again. I will however talk about my impressions of the event.  The entire event was very Google-esque, right from the choice of the venue to the setup of it. Not only was it done in an informal setting, the Google team (and especially Ari) were extremely welcoming and encouraging of our feedback, and were extremely gracious in receiving it – both the good and the bad. In fact, at one point @IbaMasood and I went into a semi rant of sorts against Gmail’s search operators and Ari was listening intently. I’m not sure if/when improvements may be made, but at the very least it served as catharsis. I can imagine the other attendees may have had similar conversations with the team.

The event served as a great way to meet fellow bloggers who I have only met virtually until now as well as a catalyst for discussions about issues affecting us – not necessarily with Google products. The Google team here must be lauded for effectively putting together a great event without turning into a sales pitch as Iba may have feared. Ha.

I only managed to get a few pictures of the event which can be found on my Google+ page (had to be done). I must say I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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5 key considerations for effective Mobile Marketing

A few weeks ago I attended the Mobile Marketing Association Forum in London. It’s held in various cities across the world, but the London chapter heads up the EMEA market. The two day conference featured professionals not just from various industries – banking, insurance, FMCG, travel – but also from the various areas of the mobile ecosystem – brands, agencies, developers, solution providers and publishers.

Over the days and through the sessions, there were a few themes that stood out, themes that digital marketers should pay close attention to, themes that will influence and determine the success of their campaigns in the coming years.


Mobile is creating new activity – Mobile is creating and fostering activities that did not exist before. Right from citizen journalism to geo-social activity; the interaction of users within and outside their social networks is not the same anymore. The omnipresent nature of mobile has resulted in a dramatic shift in consumer behavior.  Yes Social Media gave the users the power and platform to express themselves, but it is mobile which ensure the power remained in their hands when they were on the streets; for most of the tweets, photos and videos came from a mobile (or maybe a tablet) and not a laptop or a desktop.


Contributor to the Economy – Many of the marketers at the conference had ‘mobile’ in their title. A lot of these jobs didn’t exist until recently. With the world still recovering from a recession – and fears of a double dip – the digital marketing industry is one of the very few which has shown signs of growth – double digital growth –  (IAB, 2011) and mobile is set to serve as an industry growth catalyst. With fill rates declining (meaning consumption is more than ads served) and this budget to time spent ratio considerably lower than other mediums; the only way is upwards.

Extension of Reach – We often think of reach as the size of an accessible audience. With growing penetration numbers and continents leapfrogging generations of technology, not only does mobile have an unparalleled reach; but it lets you increase your brand’s exposure to an existing audience. Debenhams released a set of mobile applications in the UK and has found that usage peaks at 10pm. No other platform can reach out to the user at that time with such high engagement levels. Jonathan Stephen from jetBlue believes mobile has given his airline the opportunity to connect and influence passengers offboard in ways that have not been possible before. The experience of flying now begins much before the user arrives at the airport.

Don’t do Mobile in a silo – In a guest post on the Econsultancy blog, I havediscussed the importance of using mobile to extend the experience of the user.  The best examples that include mobile were about using the medium as part of a larger campaign. Yes ‘Integration’ and ‘360 degree approach’ may sound like overused buzzwords but their importance must not be downplayed. The style of integration is just as important as the act of integration. Think cross platform as opposed to multi-platform –the latter is making the content available across multiple channels resulting an either/or situation when it comes to content consumption. The former actually works towards building a solution making multiple platforms work together and concurrently.  Weather.com’s mobile apps provide a different set of content when the microphone on the phone detects the TV channel; content that complements and not duplicates what is on TV. Eliminate redundancy.

Only the relevant succeed – Okay that’s probably a strong statement and may imply that the ‘irrelevant’ fail, which is not true. However just like the internet, mobile marketing can perform extremely well if the message is made relevant. The weather.com mobile application works with brands to create ads that are ‘climatically’ relevant; the Dunkin Donuts Coolatta ad is shown on a hot day, or Zyrtec ads are shown for areas with high pollen activity. The same ad can be customized for different weather conditions – on a hot day an ad for an automobile will encourage going for a long drive, on a rainy day the messaging changes to exhibit the car’s traction control and other safety features. Relevance.

Compared to the other advertising mediums, Babs Rangiah of Unilever says, the internet is still in kindergarten, and mobile in its infancy. However mobile has the advantage of learning from internet advertising and not repeating the mistakes the internet industry made in its early days. And this is something Greg Stuart – current CEO of MMA and former IAB board member – is adamant on achieving.

 This post first appeared on the Clique Media blog

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What Facebook left out with Lists

Facebook recently revamped its Lists system, improving it tremendously. Most importantly, you can add a user to a list while on their profile, a simple feature that was missing for the longest time. The ability to drag users in the chat sidebar in lists was available at first, but was then removed for reasons unknown. Until the recent improvements, Lists on Facebook were broken at best. One of the best things Facebook did was proactively organize people under lists, just like they did when they first introduced them.


With new lists in place, Facebook has made it easier to target status updates/posts/links to certain groups of your social network. But one couldn’t possibly have a list created for each sub group of the network. Which is why on the fly  lists would work perfect. If I had a link/post that I imagine only a selective audience would appreciate – a joke that only  the guys in my network enjoy, or a video that is relevant to my friends from Dubai and India, but not England – I could merely select any of the elements of a profile, to create a list on the fly and have it sent to them.

For a brand page, Facebook already lets admins target a post to users from a particular country or speaking a particular language, why not roll out profile based targeting to both users and brands.


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Adding your own digital local flavour in the Middle East

As an industry, digital marketing in the UAE, and the Middle East is heavily influenced by the west. We’ll look at the likes of Mashable, DigitalBuzzBlog, TheNextWeb and other key prominent sites featuring international campaigns and executions. But it’s important to adapt and localize the ideas to fit locally and be culturally and socially relevant. I discuss the importance of doing so and a few brands that are doing it well in my newest blog post on Econsultancy.

Click here to read Adapting digital marketing for the Middle East


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Focusing on the mobile experience

There’s a lot of talk around mobile marketing and it’s not expected to slow down. And as easy as it is to get lost in the buzz, we often need to take a step back and realign our goals and objectives with the executions. In my first post for the Econsultancy blog, I write about focusing on building an experience that may augment their real life experience rather than merely creating a substitute platform.

Click here to read the post on Econsultancy blog

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