Despite political turmoil, the Middle East remains a valuable consumer market. With several trillion dollars in GDP and a burgeoning middle class, the Middle Eastern consumers represents a huge opportunity for growth-oriented companies that want to expand internationally.
The Middle East is also an incredibly complex market, one that has caused massive problems for several major companies. Marketing to Middle Eastern consumers in this unique culture requires foreign companies to make a number of adjustments. Here are some tips to reach consumers and effectively expand your brand in the Middle East.
Tip #1: Recognize Local Differences
The Middle East is a varied landscape, and different countries in the area have various economic and cultural distinctions. Qatar, for instance, has an extraordinarily wealthy upper class and a culture of conspicuous consumption, whereas larger countries such as Egypt might have a more diverse and cost-conscious middle class.
These regional differences also extend into various aspects of local culture, politics, and methods of media consumption. Yemen has an internet penetration rate of just under 20%, whereas countries such as Kuwait and Bahrain actually have a higher percentage of their population online than the U.S.
Too many people in the western world still rely on ignorant stereotypes when they consider the Middle East. It’s important to do extensive local research on your intended market and differentiate your marketing for different countries in the region.
Tip #2: Religion Matters
Of course, there is still one popular conception about the Middle East that holds true. Religion plays an extremely important role throughout the region. There are significant minorities of Christians and Jews throughout the region, but Islam is of course the most powerful force in the region.
Danish/Swedish company Arla Foods had been extremely successful at marketing its dairy products in the Middle East up until 2005 when the famous scandal emerged where a Danish paper published a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad. A boycott of Danish goods ensued, and it took over five years for the company just to get its revenues back to where they were before the scandal.
This doesn’t mean your company should start using a bunch of religious imagery in its advertisements. Quite the opposite, many failed campaigns have shown that people in the Middle East prefer to have some separation between religion and commerce. Instead, you should aim to blend into the landscape. To really get a sense of how different the advertising landscape of the Middle East is compared to the United States, all you have to do is view the commercial below:
Tip #3: Know The Media Regulations
For reasons religious, cultural, and political, advertisers in the Middle East face a variety of strict regulations. The United Arab Emirates, for instance, has rigid consumer protection laws that crack down on commercials with claims that could be construed as misleading.
In conservative Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, there is strict censorship of advertising material that does not conform to the Royal Family’s view of Islamic morality. The rules aren’t as severe as some might believe, you can show ads with women in them, but they definitely limit what some companies might normally show in their marketing.
Iraq, on the other hand, has relatively limited government regulation of advertising. It also has a varied media landscape with plenty of prominent independent voices such as blogs and radio shows.
Tip #4: Get Good Translation Services
If we were to include the numerous regional variations of Arabic, this article would be about five times longer. Iraq alone has four different dominant dialects depending on which region of the country you’re in, and that doesn’t even cover the language spoken by its significant Kurdish minority in the north. Of course, if you want to market in Israel or Turkey that involves translation into Hebrew or Turkish.
Ideally, you should work with local writers to create your advertising copy. Arabic is an extremely complex language with lots of nuance in how you might write or speak depending upon the context. Native Arabic translators and copywriters can help your business create content that will be engaging and natural sounding to your customers.
Local translators can also help make sure your online content is optimized for Google’s page ranking algorithm. Most searches in the region are performed in Arabic, so good translation is especially important to make sure that your content comes up high for the keywords that you want to hit.
Tip #5: Use Professional Voice Talent
As is the case wherever you go, foreign businesses marketing to consumers in the Middle East need to do their best to assimilate into the local culture. High quality voiceovers from a native speaker can be a great way to give your business a local feel. People respond to voice tones on an emotional level, and a voiceover that sounds local and carries a sincere and engaging tone can help build trust with consumers.
It’s incredibly hard for someone who’s not a native speaker or doesn’t have experience in voiceover work to deliver that high quality of a performance. It can also be hard for someone from outside the region to know how well the voiceover will work. Hiring a professional and putting out a detailed casting call allows you to vet potential voice actors. You can require that potential actors have experience doing commercials in the area already so you know you’re getting someone who can connect with your intended audience. Or, you could also peruse VoiceBunny’s Arabic voice over options featuring experienced voice actors who already have a firm grasp of the regional nuances.
You can design a marketing video that appeals to the local culture, complies with regulations and religious sensibilities, and is expertly translated, but a poor voice over will spoil that hard work. It’s worth the extra money to get a quality end product.