Advice, rules, suggestions, ideas and everything in between about content marketing abound.

There’s a ton of great information out there in the form of books, blogs, youtube videos, articles etc etc, even courses available to help you to understand content and content marketing.

My post today is about content marketing from a Dubai / Middle East perspective, with some important information that’s critical to content marketing success if you work for, with or in regional companies. All of what I will share here is borne out of my own professional experience and may or may not be 100% perfect for your role as a content marketer, however I hope you can take away some good from it and that it helps you in your role.

I began content marketing 10 years ago in March 2007 when I joined IQPC (The International Quality and Productivity Centre). A visionary company that embraced digital marketing and more specifically content creation when it was still in its infancy as a marketing strategy, we were thrown into the deep end with the CMO steered the global marketing direction towards these channels. Having to learn overnight, we were bombarded with some of the best initial material out there way before the numbered listicles on the same started appearing.

My favourite to date is the Velocity B2B Content Marketing Workbook. This ebook single-handedly directed my focus and helped me create remarkable content that generated tens of thousands of leads for the company that converted into $$$s. Yes, it says B2B in the title but in reality the concepts and advice on offer apply to all forms of industry.

For the last 10 years, I’ve created content for the Middle East ranging from podcasts, vlogs and surveys to videos, infographics and blogs. This ebook helped me immensely.


It’s a free download, so go ahead and click on it. What’s more: they don’t ask for your email address or to register!

Right, so let’s get to it. Here’s my 5 tips to successful content marketing in the Middle East.

1. Write content copy, not advertising copy

It never ceases to amaze me how many marketers who create their own content or outsource it think the content title, headline and even the body copy needs to be ad-keyword heavy. Let go of the ATL (above the line) thinking so prevalent in the UAE and other GCC countries. Content marketing is not the same as advertising.

The best content by brands are those that don’t appear to be advertising. A video, infographic, clip, image or the like that relies on giving remarkable information to the customer without overpowering the content with your logo, brand or selling points is what content is all about.

Why is this important? Imagine you’re scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter timeline. Notice just how much of your time on the timeline consists of continuous scrolling with the occasional pause on a particular piece of content shared by someone. Notice, also, how almost none of that is on advertising but on user generated or very user-focused brand content.

Now apply that thinking to your customer, for whom you’re creating your content. Why would they pause their scrolling for it? Is it yelling out your brand name or does it gently create a desire to consume the information you want to share?

2. Use visuals related to your market

Isn’t it incredible how many companies here create great content in terms of the copy, information and nuance yet end up using cliched and stereotypical stock photos and imagery that no one can related to?

Before I discovered the awesome Dentist Direct in Dubai for my dental concerns, I went dentist shopping. I did what most people do: I searched for ‘good dentist in Dubai’ and one dental chain other than Dentist Direct kept popping up. These guys are on top of their SEO like no one’s business, so I decided I’d research them a bit. An Indian dental chain, 99% of their specialists are from India, which generally tends to have great dentists. Based on the locations of their clinics, it was also quite obvious their target audience was the sub-continental expatriate population in Dubai. Yet, their website as well as their clinic when I visited featured stock photos of only white, Western individuals and families. Blonde, blue-eyed folk with perfect teeth. This is before the video started playing. The entire video content on their screens was of stock video of a Western family, woman and man strolling, smiling and eating in what appeared to be the United States.

As I sat there, all I could see in the waiting room was a number of people none of who matched any of the content being used to market their excellent dental practice. No doubt, their actual practise was impeccable, but think about what you’re doing with your content.

In another incident much close to my own marketing experience, I used to work for a large multi-billion-dollar German company. We were doing a complete rebranding of our look and feel – not the logo, just our appearance – in our advertising and decided to engage with one of our globally approved advertising partner agencies. This agency is one of the world’s most iconic advertising behemoths, whose founder is often quoted and who the agency is named for. That’s all I’ll say 😉

After a series of briefings, meetings and discussions, a month later we received the first invitation to the mood board discussions.

When the mood boards were laid out in front of us, one of them pertained to the Saudi market’s visual identity we wanted to create. The mood boards were prepared for newspaper print ads and highway billboards. What went wrong?

The imagery used was of Western women in typical Western attire.

This agency had absolutely no clue of what imagery works in the Saudi market. I’ll give you a hint: women need to be shown wearing the traditional Saudi head-cover and / or the abaya which is the full body black cloak. Any images showing skin aside from the face and hands is either rejected or the final product is covered using markers.

Imagine our shock when it wasn’t limited to this. We were told also that the model used would be featured in the video content they would then start creating for us for ‘consistency’.

Yep, consistently idiotic.

Know your market, understand what pulls people in and what pushes them away. Understand the culture, traditions, dos and don’ts. You’ll win wonderfully.

A perfect example of this is the Rainbow Milk Facebook advertisements. For a while their advertising focused on generic tea and evening imagery. Problem: Arabs mostly drink their tea without milk, preferably with mint. The majority of Rainbow Milk users are the tea cafes that are popular among the Pakistanis and Indians of the region. This target doesn’t care about posh evening images of tea time. They don’t relate. So Rainbow Milk’s agency decided to go in another direction. Their new concept focused on sub-continental pop culture instead. Images of truck drivers wearing turbans, of labourers enjoying a brief respite in the shade listening to Bollywood songs on their cell phones, of silhouettes of popular Indian and Pakistani pop-culture icons like characters from a film, a rickshaw, a kite etc.

Things that resonate and draw that audience in.

3. Vernacular text with images is on the rise

It sounds like something everyone should know. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘content is king’. Something obvious, yet tell me how much of this you actually see even by the big brands. du, Etisalat, ADCB among others are excelling in this yet international brands are still sticking to their guns on English being their language of choice.

English will always be around and will be a favored language for your advertising, but your content is not advertising. It’s guttural, resonating and should always be in the language your audience ‘thinks’ in. People in the Middle East and especially in the GCC commonly think in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Tagalog. They also use those scripts in their Whatsapp and FB messages and posts.

Why else do you think radio jockeys in the UAE’s stations that cater to the above expats speak a mixture of English and the specific language they cater to? It resonates, it clicks, it delivers the nuance, humour and other aspects you won’t be able to share with English.

Create your content with this in mind.

4. The GCC is not a monolith

One of my favourite pieces of content from this region will always be an infographic on how men in the different GCC countries wear their head-dress. Men from Saudi wore it differently from men in the UAE, and the UAE from Kuwaitis, the Kuwaitis from Qataris etc. And while it was a generalisation and a non-offensive stereotype, it was also a great look at the little differences that make up an entire nation’s cultural heritage. Everyone who saw that infographic at the time nodded quietly to themselves with a smile and in some cases it became a great point of discussion.

I can’t find it right now and will share it when I do, but you get my point.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, even Yemen and other neighboring Arab countries are all very different from each other in terms of their demographics, cultural nuances, people, pop-culture. Treat them that way when you create content. Don’t just go and make a ‘clever’ video in Arabic and use it for the entire GCC. You want it to resonate with the people of a country? Use references from THAT country. It may cost you slightly more, but it’ll pay dividends.

5. Micro-Influencers will abound in 2017

Remember my outrage on influenza here? While that was directed at people who ‘thought’ they were influencers, I’ve always maintained that real influencers do a lot of good for a brand.

In 2017, you’re going to see the rise of micro-influencers, or people who are popular on social networks but DON’T boast hundreds of thousands of followers or fans.

I’ll have a full post on micro influencers ready for Sunday, however what’s important is this: more and more consumers are getting drawn towards and are engaging more with people who have sometimes as low as 5,000 – 8,000 followers or fans on Instagram, Twitter or likewise.

They’re craving authentic, deeper insight from ‘people like us’. Since the middle of 2016 and now into 2017, the peer network is gaining steam again, while the celebrity suggestions are taking a back seat.

If you’re someone who uses influencer marketing to promote your products or brands, consider the micro influencer in your strategy discussions this January.

Quality, not quantity, is coming back into the discussion.

So there you go, those are my 5 tips for a successful content marketing strategy in the Middle East for 2017. Do share your thoughts in the comments.