The future is data driven: Shifts shaping marketing in Egypt in 2022

Photo courtesy of Omar ElSabh

To keep up with a fast-changing, increasingly digital reality, marketing needs to consistently uphold purpose and add value.

Companies operating in Egypt are becoming all the more aware of the importance of data driven marketing as a prime pillar of their business, not just for driving growth, but also for maintaining and building their brand reputations, positioning themselves as adaptable market leaders in an evolving world, and actioning killer strategies.

In conversation with a digital marketing whiz

Few people in the local market understand this better than Omar ElSabh, the insanely humble-albeit-genius creative powerhouse behind ripplemark Egypt, a digital marketing agency. Equally gregarious, humorous, and curious, ElSabh started out in digital marketing back in 2014 whilst self-learning, although he later acquired degrees from the globally leading Digital Marketing Institute (DMI) in Dublin. He had ample insights to share about how the marketing landscape is shifting in Egypt; much of his viewpoints align with a Simon Sinek quote on the ripplemark website: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Next to running ripplemark (small ‘r’ reflects their underdog origins) with ‘the ripplers’ (his amazing team and partner to which he attributes most of ripplemark’s success) ElSabh is an instructor of a new digital marketing certificate program launched by the AUC School of Business Executive Education. DMI-accredited and just started last March, the course is deeply rooted in the strategy, practice and art of digital marketing.

Omar ElSabh, founder and managing partner at ripplemark, and digital marketing instructor at AUC School of Business Executive Education

Effective marketing “is not just about selling products…if you are marketing solely to sell products, then maybe you should re-examine your value system,” he tells me flatly in an engaging, thought-provoking discussion tackling digital marketing in a localized context. “The rise of technology and startups trying to solve problems in the world has created much more aware consumers; useless products (most of the time) get relegated to the dustbin of history. Therefore as marketers we should focus on improving people’s lives and respect them, not just blindly selling products.”

“Startups and startup culture in general in Egypt is a lot more aware [about marketing] than most companies,” he affirmed.


Full-funnel marketing

Tailoring marketing messages to the particular stage a client is at, is crucial for a healthy
measurable impact on their bottom line.

No matter what a company’s marketing funnel is like, be it traditional advertising or growth marketing, justifying client spend and budget is key for effective digital marketing. Although big billboard and TV advertising budgets were the first to slash in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, given lack of measurable Return on Investment (ROI), digital marketing spend increased dramatically and e-commerce companies popped up everywhere.

Justifying client spend goes beyond generating awareness, ElSabh explains, pushing for the importance of a “full funnel” understanding based on data analytics and placing data-driven decisions at the forefront. Essentially, the full funnel helps put digital marketing investment, be it time or actual spend, into context, thereby ensuring correct Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and meeting business goals.

It’s also important to pair investment in data-driven digital marketing and full-funnel strategy with selecting the right team, and avoiding costly, often ineffective marketing campaigns that might not be in line with strategic objectives. Many agencies in Egypt invest too much in push marketing with no distinct understanding of data analytics, or what is called inbound marketing (i.e. being found for what you do rather than spamming people with it).

Understanding digital’s swift business impact

Implementing new business strategies requires either new people or technology (often both), raising the need for the right tools and infrastructure.

From an organizational perspective, nailing the strategy–particularly in light of digital transformation–is immensely important and aligns with using the right tools, hiring the right people, and putting in place the right flows matching day-to-day business practices. For example, ripplemark works with major market players to help them put in place a strategy, which is based on correctly auditing and diagnosing their organization and marketing activities, as well as activating that strategy with account-based services (i.e. SEO, content marketing, media buying, etc.) This mindset encompasses everything from accurate business process mapping, posting accurate job descriptions on vacancy listings, to closely collaborating with other teams in the same company.

“Culture precedes tools, and people have to understand what the use of these tools is,” ElSabh advises. “You also need to be very on point with your digital needs. In the end, there is no right or wrong formula.”

Continuous upskilling in digital

The future of digital marketing education in Egypt lies in continuous certification, be it smaller or larger ones. This is particularly important in an ever-competitive job market, where tools, algorithms and channels are rapidly changing even if the craft’s principles might remain constant.

“Companies need to invest in upskilling their employees. That’s one of the most important but the largest organizational changes that I would love to see,” ElSabh asserts. “When you open up your people to education, they will be happier. Treat your employees as if they’re clients.” He says this is particularly true in the digital age, where professionals have a broad range of options, can work virtually from anywhere, and where the traditional 9-5 is falling out of fashion.

Nailing culture, and specifically digital culture, lies in understanding that talented professionals have so much more agency than they may have had 10 years ago, and consequently, they thirst for inspiration and intellectual growth. Across marketing, data science, and digital marketing functions, continuous learning and consistent technical growth is key for talent to stay on top of the market.

Thought leadership in Egypt

One common pitfall for MENA businesses, large and small, is spending millions on marketing whilst not investing enough in thought leadership content marketing. When business websites become a platform for cultured, informative, content-rich material, this changes consumer behavior and generates better quality leads, boosting long-term bottom line and brand awareness at a much lower cost than online paid ads

“There’s a massive difference between the Unilever website in the MENA region and in Europe, and the same is for Coca Cola, or equivalents in most industries…You need to be helpful to your audience beyond simply selling your product–stop selling and invest in thought leadership,” says ElSabh Omar. He invests in building a blog for each of his clients, utilizing keywords on pertinent topics and breaking the misconception of content marketing as solely synonymous with social media posts. Egypt has barely scratched the surface in terms of search engines’ potential, he finds, although content discoverability is increasingly brought to the fore with the Ask Google campaigns raising the country’s awareness of search engine culture in recent years.

“Companies should invest in thought leadership and showcase the knowledge they have, rather than just putting out promotional material,” ElSabh attests. “Respect your audience, no matter their income brackets; those people also have complex needs and questions that need to be answered. Today, if people don’t find something useful, they are going to throw it away.” Long-term thought leadership comes from genuine customer-centricity, creating valuable content that adds value beyond direct sales generation.

Collect first-party data

Consumer privacy is a major priority for the public in the post-Cambridge Analytica, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) age. With the roll-out of IOS 14, Apple delivered App Tracking Transparency, whereby apps are required to ask users before collecting data across websites and platforms, attributing conversions by consolidating data has become much harder today than it might have been a few years ago. Across the board, there is a greater need for transparency about how user data is utilized, and this greater awareness means companies don’t have as much leeway to collect infinite user data points as they once did. Also, third-party cookies are on the way to becoming a thing of the past.

“With data points becoming more and more scarce, companies are going to be required to collect their own data in order to be able to personalize things like email marketing,” ElSabh argues. “For instance, if you’re an e-commerce platform, you might want to start investing in a proper Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and pair that with a good understanding of email marketing automation to increase retention and therefore reduce churn and increase repeat business and bigger basket sizes.”

5 digital marketing trends to look out for in Egypt in 2022

ElSabh also voiced his view on more concrete digital marketing trends, specific to the local landscape and context in our market and taking much from evidenced regional currents. Even following a year as tumultuous as 2021, the conversations and online promotional activities influencing Egyptians show signs of rapid digital consumer shifts.

A few highlights to look out for, in ElSabh’s view:

1. SEO is less “game” and more integrated, as per a recent post on the topic by Instagram creator Wadih Constantine. Essentially, with Google’s page experience algorithm update, SEO is becoming more user experience-driven and less based on “hacks” and “tricks”.

2. Prioritize optimizing for mobile and speed: Mobile-first indexing and core web vitals are the name of the technical SEO game. This makes focusing on website speed and stability absolutely crucial for the success of any digital marketing endeavor.

3. Algorithms are driving media buying more aggressively, despite growing consumer awareness about the harms of big data, but as data targeting options minimize, this creates a need for more creative user testing and tracking.

4. LinkedIn is driving growth in digital jobs, which are becoming more ubiquitous and specialized. The platform is also becoming increasingly popular across the MENA region and in Egypt, especially amongst younger generations who understand the power of personal branding.

5. Market products based on jobs-to-be-done rather than personas. Personas are great for targeting and channel understanding, however they tell consumers little about why a product is useful. Companies in Egypt should shift for a jobs-to-be-done digital marketing direction rather than focusing on personas, while also communicating the benefits that consumers stand to gain from their product rather than the product features themselves.

6. The line between social media platforms and search engines is becoming more and more blurred with platforms such as TikTok looking to capitalize on the power of search as the key to unlocking user intent. This means that now and for the future, TikTok is no longer simply a fun social network to find trending content, but a must-have for any serious digital marketing team to help achieve their companies’ growth potential.

But don’t blindly follow the trends…

The relevant data in Egypt is often not a replica of global trends – so we can’t blindly follow macro trends given our specialized context. To keep abreast, keep your eyes and ears open on localized thought leadership.

The conversation about digital is intrinsically linked to the consumption of information. Ironically, in a world of diminishing attention spans, building a mass digital audience might lie in going against the grain: crafting quality, often long-form, content that piques critical thinking despite the seeming dominance of the micro-short form.

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