RBBI Joining ArabNet Digital Summit 2013

RBBI will be talking digital performance marketing at the arabnet digital summit in Dubai June 2013

ArabNet Digital Summit comes to Atlantis The Palm on June 24th 2013 and RBBI will be there!

I have been asked to join the panel at the ArabNet Digital Summit to discuss Performance Marketing and I am very excited to see what the attendees have to say. After leaving UM MENA to create RBBI Performance and launch Addictive Mobility in the MENA region I have been entirely focused on bringing excellence in digital media to the market. RBBI is a team of talented and ambitious digital specialists.

To be given this terrific opportunity to evangelise about performance marketing and communicate with so many industry professionals in one place is a great privilege and I for one hope it signals a new chapter in the digital media industry in MENA.


If you would like to join us, tickets are available online from arabnet.me best get in now though because they are pretty expensive on the  door…


Mobile Show Middle East – an introduction

ImageThe mobile show Middle East is coming to Dubai again this May. In anticipation of its arrival and with some exciting news to share it seems a great moment to share some of my insights into the mobile ad space as it stands today.

“The year of the mobile” was a phrase commonly banded around only a couple of years. The fact that the digital industry was so eager to welcome the year of the mobile (I remember the false proclamation of the year of mobile on at least 3 occasions) delivered an important message – when mobile did arrive, it would change EVERYTHING.

Indeed it has already begun to do just that. Looking at the recent changes by Google Adwords from “legacy” campaigns to “enhanced” campaigns suggestions the manifestation of change in the largest digital specialization (According to IAB, PPC made up 46.3% of digital spend in 2012).

The IAB also recognise the astonishing rate of growth in mobile advertising. From 2011 to 2012 mobile ad spend grew by 111% and that rate of growth is not a one off! Since PWC began recording digital ad spend trends mobile has experienced triple digit growth every year. Just look at the chart below and compare that growth.



So, now we know. Mobile is a big thing behemoths like Google, Facebook, Twitter are all trying to employ a “mobile first” attitude to new products and the race is far from over to own the mobile space in a way that resembles how certain household names already dominate their disciplines (Google – search, Facebook – Social etc.).

Mobile is different to conventional digital media channels for various reasons. There are the obvious form factor differences, there is the always on element, there is the hyper local aspect and most excitingly of all, it is the only device that you can be almost certain is unique to each person. Very few people share a smartphone (unlike a desktop or laptop).

It is this particular attribute that interest me most about mobile advertising. In theory an advertiser could become so effective in their targeting (and this is going to seem somewhat Orwellian) that they can have a one on one conversation with a consumer.

For now that doesn’t exist (thankfully). It is at this point that I would like to introduce you to some very exciting technology that does allow an advertiser to become more effective with their targeting, specifically on mobile devices. Introducing mobile ad network - addictive mobility.

Addictive Mobility is unique in that it can effectively target an audience with messages that are contextually relevant based on an audience’s social media activity. Our team at RBBI discovered addictive recently and are now very proud to be representing them in MENA as their champions and exclusive reseller.

It is the first step away from the traditional catch all approach of existing media channels and carves a new path towards display advertising becoming more relevant at a time when an audience can really use what is on offer. Perhaps an example might help to visualise how this technology can be used.

Imagine you are a Twitter user and are currently venting about being stuck in traffic heading to work, desperate for coffee. A cafe (or likely a chain) could then serve an ad to you offering a discount cup of coffee from Tim Horton if you show the QR code contained inside the ad unit. All of a sudden display ads got much more useful.

If you would like to learn more about Addictive either contact the team at RBBI or swing by the mobile show on 14th May. We have a stand and will be speaking at the mad world track at 2pm and 4pm (day 1).

#twitterMENA – Twitter ads in Middle East

twitter mena at atlantis

RBBI were lucky enough to be involved from an early stage with twitter in MENA. We ran one of the first comprehensive pieces of activity in the region and have some insights that we would like to share with you ahead of today’s #twitterMENA launch event.

Let’s start with one of my favorite topics – lingual fragmentation in Middle East. Markets like the UAE are full of expats. Qatar is increasing it’s expat ratio significantly too with huge plans to increase the population. The result of this diverse population is a variety of languages and cultures.

We found that Arabic speakers in UAE were 400% (exactly) more likely to share and amplify your message than English speakers. In Saudi Arabia the engagement rate in Arabic was a whopping 14.7% (for those who don’t know twitter charge on CPE. An engagement is defined as a click, a reply, a retweet, a photo view etc.). That means for every 100 people who say the ad 15 of them engaged with it!

We found that targeting by @handles was more effective at reaching the right audience than targeting by interest and targeting timelines rather than searches was a more effective way of reaching a wide audience that remained relevant to our target demographic. In our experience the CPCs on search targeted ads was very high (686% higher than our lowest timeline CPC, that is still <$1 though) and refines the audience to such a degree that generating reach is nearly impossible. As the universe grows in markets like UAE and Saudi this should change and we’ll revisit. For the time being we’ll be targeting by @handle and avoiding ads targeted to search.

From a direct response perspective we had some great success too. CPA was very competitive and in some cases better than the staple DR channels (Google/facebook). In fact, compared to facebook Twitter was 50% more effective at driving conversion.

The most interesting insight was in regards to investment strategies. As a performance agency we like to run always on activity. Indeed, on Facebook running your activity over a longer period of time allows you to acquire page likes at a much lower cost and thus reach a larger audience over time with more messages. We found that Twitter was far more efficient when you invest in aggressive bursts. You reach a wider audience, faster…and they amplify it. Lots! We found that investing $x over one day generated 6 times more engagement and conversions than the same budget over 2 weeks (same creative).

Our opinion is that twitter will become a performance marketers second best friend in MENA. It is great at driving traffic and even conversions. Part of that is because the mindset of a twitter user is consuming quick pieces of bite size information…outside of twitter (similar to a search engines).

If you’ve been using twitter in MENA, let us know what you’ve found

Twitter Advertising in Middle East



Twitter are about to launch their paid media service in the middle east (through a proxy called connect ads). For a performance marketer this is a huge reason to celebrate.


The bid media channels available are increasing in MENA and with the full launch of YouTube true view ads by Google last year, facebook opening a regional office in Dubai and now Twitter arriving the trend for tangible, performance based media buys continues to gain momentum.


Twitter is a valuable tool for any DR or results focused advertiser because it is open. Consumer behaviour on Twitter is to access content outside fo twitter. It is essentially a real time search engine giving links to content that is relevant to a consumer based on their interests at a given time. From my perspective this makes it a more valuable DR marketing tool than facebook. It comes down to your objectives. If your goal is to get people talking about you online then arguably facebook may be the right channel for you (granted twitter can help here too, see this statistic which demonstrates how rapidly people share on twitter) based on its size. But, if you gear your advertising towards lead gen or sales or other DR objectives Twitter offers an infinitely superior proposition (assuming your audience use it!).


At RBBI Performance we have been lucky enough to be a pre launch partner for Twitter in MENA. The results we have experienced both in terms of amplification and direct response have been fantastic. CPCs coming in very competitive and conversion rate far higher than even Google. It’s effectiveness and efficiency has us convinced of its sustainability and value to advertisers in the region.


If you would like to know more about twitter and how it can help your business please get in touch through RBBI

Adwords Remarketing In Search – a double edged sword

Back in september 2012 Google announced a huge new product – remarketing in search

We at RBBI Performance were lucky enough to be one of the few search agency in Dubai included in the beta test and so have some insight into its early performance. What we have quickly learnt is two-fold:


  1. Performance can be improved enormously by using RLSA (remarketing lists in search)
  2. Because performance is better you can pay a higher CPC and get a lower CPA


The first part is good news for advertisers. Getting better, more qualified traffic to your site is always an attractive proposition, especially when you are paying for it. We should be happy. We have been using a new marketing technique that is generating CTRs about 5x higher than the control and conversions that are significantly lower.

However, I am concerned about the macro consequences of this new product.

CPC is calculated every time that you enter an auction based on the competition in that particular auction. My concern is that if I am able to pay a higher CPC using my remarketing audiences the entire auction will eventually become more expensive.

Let me explain using the geo targeting example:

If you are an advertiser targeting Dubai with the keyword “flights” and there are 9 other advertisers targeting UAE with the keyword “flights” you all enter the same auction.

You may bid more because you know that targeting outside Dubai does not convert and thus know (from the historical data) that you get a world-class CPA. However, advertiser B may have a higher CPA ceiling and therefore begin to bid more aggressively. The two of you inadvertently begin a bidding war and the price for the top 2 positions inflates dramatically. When a third or fourth advertiser then attempt to buy the top positions the entire auction can become effected resulting in a much more expensive keyword.

Remarketing in search functions in much the same way. If you are using a remarketing audience in your search campaign you will still compete with advertisers in the auction who do not use a remarketing audience and vice versa.

By releasing this product in to the eco system Google may well have developed a way to have the market inflate CPCs itself.

From our experience so far the audience lists are quite small meaning that scalability is hard to achieve but then the search audiences have only been growing for the last week or so…

We are going to begin monitoring the shifts in market CPCs using a third-party tool to monitor advertiser intensity and positional shifts over the next few months. We anticipate that as more advertisers come on board with remarketing in search we will see dramatic position fluctuation and expect some CPC changes to take place.

Let us know what you think in the comments section below


MENA Travel Search Trends – Google White Paper

Google’s first whitepaper for travel search marketing trends in the GCC back in October delivered some very interesting insights for those interested to understand how consumers in the region behave online in the GCC before they purchase or book a holiday.

The Google whitepaper calls out several pieces of data which are valuable for all advertisers even those who haven’t begun any online activity, including:

  1. Travel queries in GCC grew by 95% between 2009 and 2011
  2. 75% of the travel queries in GCC came from KSA or UAE making these two markets critical to success in the region
  3. Public holidays have a profound effect on seasonality.
    • Ramadan and Eid Al Adha create significant dips in search volume
    • However, the period immediately preceding sees the highest peeks
    • GCC is the second largest consumer of YouTube content after USA
  4. Consumption of travel content on YouTube follows similar seasonality trends to search volume

This information is of great importance when a business is considering why it should be visible in the search engines in MENA but doesn’t help us to understand or formulate strategy. Fortunately the second half of the whitepaper provided enough detail to have us evaluating several new opportunities and the rationale behind them.

Own your brand!!

96% of the queries in UAE are for brand keywords and most of those queries were for pure brand queries (examples of pure brand keywords are: Qatar Airways, Atlantis the palm, Sky News Arabia, ADIB).

This can be used to define two strategies: brand protection, brand hijacking

The first strategy, brand protection requires an advertiser to cover 100% of the search queries associated with their brand keywords in top positions.

The second strategy, brand hijacking raises various ethical questions. The concept is, simple: buy your competitors keywords. So if you are Qatar Airways, you might buy “emirates airlines” because it is relevant and you might be able to convert the consumer. Ethically though, this is a hot potato. There have been various companies who have taken each other to court for this activity, most of the cases are unsuccessful though.

The generic search universe accounts for 3% of travel queries in UAE. That compares rather dismally with the scale available in other markets like UK where the generic travel universe is about 45%. However, this is pretty standard in emerging markets.

The travel vertical in UAE is built up predominantly by airline brand queries with 76% of all queries in UAE being for keywords like “Qatar Airways”

KSA is the second largest market in GCC

The share of queries between UAE/KSA wasn’t divulged but we do know that between these two markets they control over 75% of queries in the GCC.

KSA is also the largest Arabic searching market in the GCC with 79% of travel searches in KSA being in Arabic. For more information about the multi lingual differences in GCC check out some of the other posts here including this one about local search behavior in UAE

KSA also represents an opportunity based on very low ad depth (ad depth is a measure of the number of competitors in the auction). According to Google’s data ad depth actually contracted YOY Q2 2012.


If you would like more info or a copy of the whitepaper, get in touch at info@rbbideas.com

Making A Difference To Digital Media in MENA – Much More Than Just Product

I believe absolutely that the digital landscape in MENA needs to be repaired. The below is not a rant. It is not made up or embellished. It is an account of what happened and what I (and a few others) am trying to achieve in MENA. Several digital people in MENA are working hard to try to develop an industry that is being sabotaged by mis-information

About 12 weeks ago I posted a tweet telling my friends and followers to expect much more content to published in the coming weeks. That didn’t happen and I’ll explain why


I spent 1 year and 4 months at UM MENA (part of MCN) where I earnestly tried to improve not just the performance product but the management and business lead’s understanding of digital. I was unsuccessful so, eventually I resigned. I can truly say that I did everything in my power to help the agency and their clients to improve their digital footprint but while you can take the camel to water, you can’t make it drink.

So roughly 4 months ago I joined a start-up called RBBI. They were (and still are) the first and only accredited usability agency in MENA, an accreditation bestowed upon them by the UPA (Usability Professionals Association). I joined RBBI to create and lead RBBI Performance and had anticipated a slow start (hence promising to create more content) but I was mistaken.

There is a huge appetite in the region for specialist agencies. Given the poor work that is consistently trawled out by the big 5 agencies in MENA, I can’t say I am surprised. It does seem to be a new and acquired taste but then the product and services we offer are pretty much new to the region:

  • Data led insight from the beginning (media) to the end (UX/UI)
  • Informed decision-making based on trends not conjecture
  • proper website analytics that provides actionable insight leading to changes in business performance

the list continues but I digress. If you would like to learn more please get in touch through our site but this isn’t about selling RBBI. This post is about making a difference with digital in MENA and the journey we have experienced so far.

In the first 2 weeks at RBBI Performance I was able to provide work that I had been unable to do for the previous 16 months at UM. The quality of product being provided improved by removing the bureaucracy and politics of a big agency (and belive me the politics were unbearable). Looking back, it seemed like I was spending 70% of my time battling with the account directors and senior management about unimportant things. Freeing up this time opened the opportunity to unleash some great work, excellent insight and valuable changes for new clients. I discovered lots of interesting nuances about language in the region, how users interact with content, how buying patterns are being influenced, what turns different cultures on and off and all because I finally had time to look at all the data.

Then I started being threatened by my old company, UM MENA. I received various phone calls explaining that they were going to take me to court, from various sources both inside and outside the agency. It was a stressful time but we looked at it as a positive thing. After all if they were investing that much time, energy and resource in to us then we must be doing something right. Needless to say, nothing happened. All a lot of hot air. Until they lost one of their largest digital clients.

I received a phone call on my mobile from a gentleman from the UAE police force explaining that someone had made a complaint against me. The charge: that i had stolen their client…

I was told that I could give a statement over the phone. so when asked if i was “stealing” clients I responded with a simple “no” and that was the end of the call.


and that was the end of it…until I received another phone call. This time from an old colleague. My colleague was very concerned about my well-being and informed me of a conversation that had taken place between the MD and them during which my ex colleague was informed I was in jail! At first I had to hang up because I couldn’t believe how ridiculous that comment was, especially coming from somebody so senior in the organisation. Then after a while the severity of the accusation set in. These guys are actively going out there telling the industry that they have had me sent to jail!


We then did some digging and found that in roughly 6 weeks roughly 6 clients had left. It seemed that rather developing their product they were more interested in blaming people.

This experience has taught me some valuable truths:


  1. A good product doesn’t directly lead to a succesful agency in MENA.
  2. Existing agencies are struggling with digital because senior bodies have become institutionalised and lethargic.
  3. Trying to change the landscape in a market dictated by a handful of players will result in those players making trouble for you.
  4. The way in which agencies treat their people is identical to the way they treat their clients: when you go you are a scape goat and the group left holding the empty bucket will never take responsibility.
  5. Changing the digital landscape in MENA is more about educating clients to make good decisions than chasing clients for their business.
  6. There are lots of advertisers in MENA who have had enough of the status quo and RBBI (plus a couple of others) want to help