Forging new paths                   in old landsonline research                  T                           hese days, it...
The unavailability, until recently, of          the population online - mirror the                    mentioned above, and...
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Forging new paths in old lands (Quirk's, 2007) #digital


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Forging new paths in old lands (Quirk's, 2007) #digital

  1. 1. Forging new paths in old landsonline research T hese days, it is practically impossible to pick up a major American newspaper without reading about Dubai.Whether it is the con- By Ahmed Nassef struction of the world’s tallest building (which will also include the and Tamara Deprez world’s first Armani super-luxury hotel), the world’s biggest shopping mall or the world’s biggest amusement park (housing the biggest Universal Stu- dios), Dubai’s incredible growth has made it a center of commercial atten- tion and has brought the larger Middle East market into focus for many of the world’s businesses. However, reaching Arab consumers is not always easy, and trying to reach them online presents its own special set of challenges.While Dubai’s high Internet penetration rates (over 60 percent) should present fertile ground for online research, you’ll be hard pressed to find much of it being conducted, even by local branches of some of the international research firms.And beyond Dubai, the rest of the Middle East offers additional ob- stacles for online researchers as well. For one, although the region’s population of over 250 million people shares a common language and culture, they are spread out over 22 coun- tries from Morocco to the Arabian Gulf, with often widely varying di- alects, degrees of social and political openness, cultural mores and govern- ment regulations. Even in a high-tech hub like Dubai, consumer databases are hard to come by. Unlike the United States and Europe, where a long tradition of catalog and database marketing made it easier to shift to online approaches, the astonishingly fast economic growth in the region has meant that many businesses have had to formulate theirA look at online marketing strategies without having the proper database infrastructure toresearch in the support their marketing and market research needs.Although customer re-Middle East lationship management continues to be a hot topic in this part of the world, it is still a long way from imple- mentation in most businesses here. This is why, until today in both Dubai and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, most marketing research activities take place through the Editor’s note: Ahmed Nassef is vice traditional means of mall intercepts, face-to-face and telephone interviews president and general manager of (and even the latter is not all that common)., an Arab Web portal. Since the practicalities and costs of harvesting a large enough proprietary He can be reached at anassef@ online consumer database to allows for refined targeting of consumer seg- Deprez is ments are prohibitive for most research firms, even for those that already director of Dubai-based Maktoob have the software and infrastructure to conduct online research, it winds Research. She can be reached at up being a lot easier (and cheaper) to rely on the tried-and-true status quo. © 2007 Quirk’s Marketing Research Review ( Reprinted with permission from the July 2007 issue. This document is for Web posting and electronic distribution only. Any editing or alteration is a violation of copyright.
  2. 2. The unavailability, until recently, of the population online - mirror the mentioned above, and Arab women areonline consumer samples has also been skepticism that was often heard early more accessible online than via tele-the main obstacle for many of the large on in the U.S. and Europe about the phone or face-to-face interviews, sinceglobal online agencies to offer their truthfulness of respondents online. Sure as we mentioned previously, the Internetservices in the Middle East, which has you may have a huge consumer sam- presents them with an open space freemeant that many U.S. and Europe- ple, a typical skeptic would counter, but of the usual social restrictions that arebased clients have had to skip the re- how can I be sure that someone who often placed on them in some contexts.gion altogether in their fieldwork plans. claims to be a young Moroccan woman really is one, or how can I real- Improving the outlookHaven’t felt pressure ly be certain that the Kuwaiti respon- Besides the issue of accuracy, there areTo this point, many of the local re- dent ticking off a high income bracket some other factors that are improvingsearch firms haven’t felt much pressure to answer my property ownership the outlook for online researchers into go online since many of their local study isn’t really a struggling Egyptian the Middle East.clients are still working with the im- college student with time to kill? As more and more multinationalpression that the Internet cannot offer For those of us who are true believ- companies adopt online research as aa representative sample of all consumer ers in online research in the Middle core part of their overall research mix,segments in the region. East, the best way to assuage these con- more and more pressure builds on their While this may have been true four cerns is to implement strong data con- local and regional branches here in theor five years ago, when Internet pene- trols. In our case, we have built a highly region to begin the process of incorpo-tration was barely measurable in the segmented database over the past seven rating online methods.We’ve alreadyArab world, the situation is far different years of Arab consumers that includes seen this process taking place in thetoday.A variety of factors - from gov- information about gender, age, country online advertising sector, where localernment sponsored financing of per- of residence, profession and other de- marketers have had to quickly educatesonal computers in the homes and the mographic information. But of course, themselves in online marketing tech-availability in some countries of “free” we can’t stop there to satisfy the truth- niques in order to integrate global on-Internet through dial-up connections, fulness concerns.The data supplied by line campaigns, and the same process isto the proliferation of Internet cafes the consumer upon registration must happening for online research as well.even in provincial towns and the in- always be confirmed by the data they Another development that is en-crease in broadband access in large supply on a live questionnaire. If there couraging more researchers to go on-cities - have contributed to skyrocket- are discrepancies, their responses are line is the fast adoption of social net-ing numbers of people from all walks thrown out. working and Web 2.0 tools in the Arabof life going online. But beyond the basic checks and fil- world. Not only are international sites In addition, especially in more tradi- ter controls that must be implemented, like Blogger,YouTube, and Facebooktional societies, the Internet has be- there are also issues unique to our re- commonly used, but localized versionscome one of the avenues for open, un- gion that make online research actually of these sites are popular, offering Arabfettered communication and access to much more reliable in many cases than users a way to connect with virtualinformation. For many Saudi women, traditional methods. Many Arabs are of- affinity groups and friends networksfor example, the Internet provides a ten much less willing to share deeply using an Arabic-language interface and within a culturally acceptable environ-chance to virtually go places and so- personal information with interviewers. ment (some countries in the regioncialize in a way that would otherwise Questions about social attitudes, smok- have banned some of the internationalbe practically impossible in the brick- ing habits or political views are often sites due to inappropriate content).and-mortar world. considered deeply private and not easily The popularity of these services For all these reasons, there are up- shared, and traditional fieldwork here makes it possible to conduct the samewards of 30 million Arabs online today, often has to involve some prodding by advanced type of online qualitativeand that number is slated to double in the interviewer that can pose the dan- studies that are occurring worldwide.the coming two years. ger of swaying responses. Further, Researchers can find consumers who The fact that we have reached good reaching women in some areas, espe- are already engaged in a relevant dis-representative levels, even for lower-in- cially in the Arabian Gulf countries, cussion to join online qualitative panelscome groups that are less represented presents a special challenge on its own on related topics, and again we haveamong Internet users, has been corrob- for the traditional interview approach, found a much higher level of opennessorated by our clients who have con- which makes it exceedingly slow and and willingness to discuss sensitive is-ducted parallel offline and online stud- expensive to conduct - an especially sues within this environment.ies to test this very issue. frustrating challenge for FMCG re- All of these developments, combinedMirror the skepticism searchers for whom females represent with the universal advantages of onlineHowever, despite the large numbers, the main target consumer market. research - flexibility, speed and lowerthe objections we hear from marketers However, we have found that by go- costs - are quickly making the onlineand researchers in the region - even ing online, these obstacles largely disap-ones who acknowledge the fact that pear.We regularly receive high responses option much more palatable to region-there are sufficiently large numbers of on the very same sensitive issues we al decision-makers. |Q To purchase paper reprints of this article, contact Edward Kane at FosteReprints at 800.382.0808 x131 or