Old regions, new markets

Martin Wootton

Ten years ago, the buzzword was BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India and China. We were told that this is where growth was going to come from – and they were right. Business has boomed in these countries and countless companies have thrived on the explosive growth in these markets.

Today, the next markets tipped to boom are Africa and the Middle East. In truth, there’s always been a background buzz around these markets, but it rarely came to the fore because it covers such a wide variety of countries, cultures and political environments. And with Africa and the Middle East typically seen by multinationals (especially American ones) as a sub-set of their EMEA region, with a head office almost invariably in Western Europe, it’s no surprise that these countries have typically received only a fraction of the attention or budget that they really deserve. Frankly, few marketers thought much about these emerging markets – the focus of attention was on the BRIC countries.

Nowadays, many are realising just how short-sighted this has been. With the near-doubling of Nigeria’s GDP as a result of “rebasing” the economy, and the massive growth of the tech market (as just a couple of examples) in the Middle East and Africa, this is a part of the world offering plentiful opportunities for growth. And especially so when the established Western tech markets are approaching saturation point.

But it’s fair to say that most marketers outside of the Middle East and Africa know surprisingly little about these countries. Did you know that:

  • Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a bigger combined GDP than Russia;
  • Nigeria has a population of more than 160 million – making it the seventh most populous country in the world;
  • North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt combined) has an even bigger population – more than 180 million;
  • More than 1 in 5 in Africa are now internet users, according to the ITU?

The opportunities are immense both for consumer products and B2B services – I’ve certainly seen a recent spike in demand for market research in these countries. As more and more companies allocate more resources to entering African and Middle Eastern markets, solid insights into what customers and businesses in these countries think, alongside hard economic data, will be even more of a must-have.

It’s not something to take lightly. While it’s become easier for marketers to run their own surveys and research in western countries, Africa and the Middle East remains a minefield: cultural nuances, political and religious situations, local language considerations and protocols all need to be addressed. It can be easy to get it wrong as several (in)famous examples attest:

  • Tiz razors – meaning “sharp” in Persian but something very different in Qatar
  • Neerlandia’s milk powders abandoning reusable tin can packaging, in favour of cheaper, softer packaging, and sales falling through the floor because customers actually really valued the tin cans as storage containers and cooking pots
  • Heineken including the Saudi Arabian flag in its 1994 World Cup advertising, thus associating alcohol with Islam

We’re seeing many of our clients looking to us to help guide them around the pitfalls of planning and undertaking research in the Middle East and Africa.  To help, we’ve produced a guide, which though mainly targeted at tech companies, carries invaluable tips to anyone looking to engage in the area. If you would like a free copy, just get in touch with me or one of my colleagues.

Martin Wootton