The UAE is often jokingly said to run on ‘wasta’. The term, similar to ‘guang xi’ in China, refers to a person’s connections and networks – it’s about who you know. While this is certainly an oversimplification of the social mechanisms that are at play in the UAE, there is some truth to the statement to the extent that Arab society is very community-centric. This can be seen in many areas, with Arab families typically being larger than those in the West and sometimes grouping up to three generations under a single roof, or through associations and social circles sometimes reflecting tribes that are hundreds of years old. One thing is for sure though, and that’s that social factors in the UAE are nuanced and often different from those in the west, and that understanding these mechanics and interactions is essential for a marketing agency operating within the UAE.
Society in Arab nations is sometimes seen as very conservative but this image has certainly shifted and changed in recent times. After all, the Emirates allow for serving of alcohol, sale of pork products, and have a lavish nightlife. The underlying philosophy remains Islamic, but accepting of diversity and open to foreign ideas and trends. Thus, globalization and ease of communication has flooded the area and swung doors open to the rest of the world. Through the internet, social media has become a regional sensation. Over 70% of residents of the UAE use WhatsApp and Facebook, with Instagram and Snapchat rapidly catching up.
What these platforms have done is taken this importance of social proof and interaction that is so prominent in Arab society and simply added a modern twist. This can be seen in the types of posts that people share and engage in with the visual social networks gaining the most traction and growing the fastest. Relatable and humorous content lie at the heart of it all. The use of social media has a profound impact on how firms need to look at their digital marketing in the region.
The sheer numbers make the choice of whether to use social media marketing a no-brainer. This staggering quantity of users see to it that campaigns can have an incredible reach. Furthermore, visual advertising emerges as the most effective, with videos, particularly humorous ones, giving ways to engage viewers and establish a relationship of give and take that is the end goal of content marketing. Finally, the importance of personal relations and social proof make advertising through so-called personalities and influencers very potent. With certain users garnering tens of thousands of followers, approaching them and having them become brand ambassadors can prove to be extremely effective and yield an amazing ROI on online marketing campaigns.
The impact of personal relationships and social interaction also comes into play when selecting ways to garner inbound marketing. Since personal ties are so important, and concepts such as consensus and collaboration deeply rooted in the culture, people tend to often consult with their peers for advice regarding business decisions. This means that while the West might be shifting more towards personal research with marketers banking on SEO and organic leads through content marketing, the UAE still has untapped potential for creative marketing methods that tap into its rich underlying cultural values.
Whether through referrals, partnership programs, or the creation of packages for groups rather than individuals, the collectivist nature of society in the UAE responds well to initiatives that will get a community involved in whatever is being marketed and ultimately lead to strengthening of social ties and gain of social proof.
As the world converges towards a more and more globalized state, important differences and nuances exist that prevent creating blanket marketing strategies and applying them blindly. The semi-globalized state allows for marketing agencies and, in particular, digital marketing agencies, to come up with very creative and engaging content that is tailored to the UAE specifically. We can look down to the cultural values and norms that encourage community, family, and relationships, in order to market more effectively and provide far more valuable content.