European SMEs spend twice as much as UAE SMEs on online advertising. Why are we lagging behind?

Is your online marketing taking advantage of this region’s potential?

In Europe, SMEs spend 40% of their marketing budget on digital platforms: websites, mobile ads, social media and more. In the UAE, this spend is just 18% – and across the wider MENA region as low as 6%.

Yet ours is one of the most ‘switched on’ societies in the world – with, for example, 74% of us owning a smartphone, the highest ratio anywhere on the planet. In addition, research conducted by Google and Ipsos MediaCT in 2012 also found that smartphone users in the Middle East are more likely to make mobile purchases than our American counterparts. And over 90% of smartphone owners in the UAE are more perceptive of mobile advertising as they access the Internet.

So are SMEs missing a trick, by not making the connection between where they are advertising, and where consumers are accessing information?

The issue is amplified by two further factors.

Firstly, the fact that, for most SMEs, a marketing budget is tight. So choosing how and where to advertise is key, yet a lot of local SMEs appear to still be preferring methods that are both more costly and that can’t be measured as well, such as magazines and newspapers or outdoor billboards. 
Secondly, as digital technology makes it increasingly possible for global companies to transcend regional barriers, local SMEs face competition from any and all quarters. Arguably, by not being online enough ourselves, we’re in danger of leaving the digital door open for others. 

Tarek Abdalla, Head of Marketing at Google MENA, agrees. “Small businesses in the region are missing a great economic opportunity by not embracing the web and reaching out to customers online,” he said. “The internet can provide small businesses with the same advantages that large companies have long had.”

The cause may well be a lack of information and understanding. Recent research by Google MENA showed that 92% of the SMEs in the UAE didn’t understand how being on the web could help them grow their business, with more than two thirds in the region not even considering having a website.

Set against this, the reluctance to advertise digitally comes into even sharper focus. Many SMEs may perceive it as too challenging to arrange – too much of a ‘black art’ – and thus fall back on simpler and older methods like magazine advertisements and posters.

However it doesn’t have to be daunting. And those companies that have got to grips with it are convinced of the benefits. Of those SMEs who are online, 87% said they are there to advertise their company, while two-thirds believe advertising online is easy to use.
If you feel your SME is behind the curve when it comes to online marketing, the key step you need to take is to find a digital agency that will act as a partner, not just a supplier. Then follow these three principles.

Firstly, you need them to help educate you in the basics of online technology, web presence and social media – and how these can be adopted into your company’s growth strategy.
Secondly, don’t be tempted into demanding immediate results. Take the time to appreciate the importance of understanding website audit, analytic analysis and gradual yet sustainable marketing improvements.

And thirdly, once you have an active online presence, be aware that you can never stand still. Consumer’s changing lifestyles are a constant reminder that you will need to always update your marketing approach, or risk falling behind again.

“The opinions expressed within this article are generic. Mashreq is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of Mashreq. Mashreq does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.”