With connectivity levels skyrocketing, MENA’s consumers are finding their voices online, engaging the world around them and expecting to be heard. And with unprecedented connectivity comes the pivoted reality of how media is being consumed, information searched for and opinions formed.
Despite the fact that infrastructural, cultural and societal challenges have slowed down the development pace, the direction in which the transformation is moving is catching up to the trends that are now the norm in more developed regions around the world. As a result, the now booming (albeit somewhat late-blooming) digitised market in the Middle East and North Africa presents immense opportunities for businesses and organisations working in this developing region, and those with an eye on it. This is a window for smart businesses to penetrate a market with untapped potential by discovering new ways to find, connect with and engage consumers in rougher digital terrain.
Smart devices & smart prospects
Dial up modems and fixed Internet troubles are no longer the ball-and-chain dictating access to the internet, and like the rest of the world, MENA is on par with the aid of new technologies that have elevated the way consumers interact with the global market. The shift in consumer behaviour in MENA is largely attributed to the rise in smart devices throughout the region.
But it is one device, the smartphone, that has created the largest impact; with 84% penetration across MENA’s mobile subscribers it has become the region’s ‘device of choice’. Thanks to the introduction of lower-end devices at more affordable prices, even lower-income households are no longer limited in their access of the latest technology.
Geography matters, a region of contrasts
Everything from laptops and smart TVs, to mobile Internet and online shopping are seeing higher penetration rates across the GCC than in other MENA regions. In fact, GCC consumers are 6 times more likely to own a laptop at home, 5 times more likely to own a tablet and twice as likely to own a smartphone than those in North Africa.
Millennials, agents of change
Millennials have the highest ownership and usage rates of all the new technologies available in the market, with 9 out of 10 millennials owning a smartphone, 54% of which are high end flagship phones and almost half of which are 4G enabled, thus allowing the 80% of millennial mobile subscribers to be connected to mobile internet.
It comes as no surprise then that 9 out of 10 millennials use social networks, and 80% use chatting platforms in the region. Like their global counterparts, they are also big on reviews, engaging with brands, and best of all, are hyper sharers.
Social media, an indiscriminate monster
A staggering 90% of internet users in MENA are on social media, and this has had a profound impact not only on the creators of content, but also on consumers of it. In an effort to defy ageism, and contrary to common belief, social media is not exclusive to the echo-boomers. In fact, with roughly half of those aged 45 and older using the internet, 80% of them are on social media. As such, this unlikely age group now accounts for 18% of all social media users in MENA.
While all in all, the three most popular social networking platforms in the region are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a look at each platform’s user base reveals interesting variations that may be telling of an inherent shift in attitude that comes with selecting these different platforms.
Engagement, from monologue to dialogue
For brands in the region, the growth in social media usage arguable presents them with the most exciting opportunities yet, ones that were almost non-existent in the days prior to the digital revolution. Today, almost half of MENA's social networkers follow a brand online, and the difference between those aged below 25 years those above 45 years are surprisingly not very big (54% vs. 41% respectively), meaning on ability to directly and closely engage with consumers from all walks of life.
E-commerce, the next frontier
Despite all the growth indicators in MENA’s digital arena, one area where the region still falls short is in e-commerce, with most consumers either reluctant, or unable, to conduct e-commerce activities, resulting in usage levels of only 23%, and even then, these are limited to specific categories such as fashion and travel.
Expectedly, consumers in the GCC are much more likely to opt for debit/credit cards as payment methods online given the larger percentage of banking consumers and higher credit card penetration levels in those markets.
The digital scene in MENA is vibrant and expanding with the growing adoption of smart devices. For those operating in this fast-developing region, it is an opportunity to capitalise on the rising popularity of digital touchpoints and the resultant changes they bring in consumer behaviour. An increasingly engaged and active audience that is hungry for interaction translates into an ability to continuously connect with consumers in a way that is unprecedented.
In particular, MENA’s millennials are a force to be reckoned with; a segment that is changing the rules of marketing and brand engagement, redefining purchasing habits and shifting trends in media and content consumption, and they will continue to push the digital envelope to new frontiers over the next few years.
Tapping into all that potential requires businesses and organisations to reexamine how they attract, involve, and communicate with an increasingly digitised consumer, while overcoming the unique challenges presented in the MENA region, and forming a clear understanding of the differences that exist between markets and demographic profiles. Those that are able to best adapt can expect to prosper within this booming digital space.