Marketing in the Middle East: Getting It Right

21 Apr, 2024 - UAE Life & Economy

The toughest aspect of operating in a new market is not knowing what you do not know. Cultural layers, language nuances and an ability to “read the air” come with time, which is the one thing market expansions don’t have on their side.

This is most apparent in the positioning and marketing of your firm, which may be one of the 2-3 most important decisions you make in entering a new geography. It’s a topic everyone knows about, but can find it difficult to get right when stretched for resources, as is often the case during market expansion.

As an OCO joint venture focused on digital marketing, C Studios is well versed on marketing in international contexts. This topic is better suited to a two-day workshop, but for now, here’s a quick review of 5 initial steps to consider with respect to marketing your firm in the GCC.


  1. Understand How Decisions Are Made: In much of GCC, business decisions are made in a hierarchical, top-down way, which influences who you are targeting when selling to companies. Persuasion in business discussions also works very differently than in the UK, where GCC buyers often look for theoretical arguments leading to defined conclusions. “Getting to the point” doesn’t work as well, so marketing materials from UK businesses will need to consider this buying style.


  1. Consider How to Build Trust Faster: Credibility is low when entering new markets, so finding business organisations to align with is important. Chances are that you have a presence in GCC because you’ve had clients here before, so lean into those success stories heavily through all of your marketing. Partnerships with long-time local companies could be advantageous if there’s an existing connection you have with them. Also consider that building trust is much more relational here than in the UK. For B2B, sharing positive experiences at in-person industry events will be critical; for B2C, coming up with activations that engage consumers creatively will build trust quickly.


  1. Know the Language Dynamics: In general, try to have your materials and website in English and Arabic where you can for maximum reach and effectiveness. There are cost-effective ways to do this, from enabling auto-translation in your website CMS (free) to using low-cost tools like WPML or Weglot that allow for a combination of automation and human editing. However, English-only still works depending on your target buyers. Business conversations in the UAE along with Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are usually in English as the primary language. But if you’re trying to reach consumers, Arabic is a necessity for these markets and all others in the region. Also consider whether your message will be seen only within major cities or outside of them; using Arabic in the latter will be more effective.


  1. Consider Where People Spend Their Time: Social media use in GCC is extremely high and on channels that are different than in the UK. X (Twitter), LinkedIn & Instagram are more ingrained in daily society than many Western countries and used frequently, as are messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. There’s a higher comfort level with businesses reaching out through these platforms, so finding ways to tap into those for your business case is advisable. Bigger picture, mobile phone usage is higher than other global regions, so marketing content must be consumable on tiny devices. LinkedIn is still gaining traction in some GCC countries, and if your main audiences is other internationals, that might be sufficient; if just local populations, it could be quite a few more years before we’re there.


  1. Localise. Localise. Localise. No matter your marketing channels, don’t forget to localize the content as well. Most notable, this is done through careful image and video selection using people from the region. Translations also need to be done with sensitivity and intention. Not all Arabic is the same, so depending on your audience, you might need to consider one dialect over another for particular campaigns. Before you put your company’s reputation on the line, have a trusted local review for those nuances.


There are plenty of other considerations, but those lead the way. Of course, one advantage of operating in the UAE is that finding talented marketeers and culturally-sensitive employees for your team is easier than many other locations within GCC. Another option is bringing on an agency with the expertise to quickly reach your end audience and do so in the appropriate way. We might just know of one if you’re interested, so give us a shout.


About the author:

Steve Duncan

Managing Director, C Studios