Q&A: Marketing in the Middle East with Xerox
Multi-billion dollar document technology and services company Xerox has been pioneering in its industry for more than 100 years and now holds more than 12,000 active patents.
In charge of ensuring that its 30-years strong Middle East presence continues to drive company growth is Dan Smith, Head of Integrated Marketing for the region.
BRE: Briefly describe your role at Xerox and what the company is doing in the Middle East.
DS: I represent the Middle East division, and am in charge of advertising and promotion, pricing, product management and traditional four Ps of marketing.
We have an indirect model – we don’t have many Xerox employees on the ground in the Middle East but we use our partners that are based out there. We have been present in the region for more than 30 years now and have some very long-term partnerships.
In one sense this is a very traditional marketing role in terms of strategy and operations, and in another sense it is a little different due to our indirect approach to the marketplace.
What similarities and differences are there in the marketing spheres in Europe and in the Middle East region?
I have been working on the MENA region for 12 years now so I’ve seen the development of marketing.
There is some convergence in terms of approaches – for instance there wasn’t a huge amount of online activity; it was embryonic for a long time but recently there has been a rapid take up in the use of online marketing and social media.
As an IT-based company there is a lot of similarity to what goes on in the UK and Europe and the basics of marketing in general are the same. As a hardware vendor we look to market our products and services to our channel and we look to offer value added training just like you would see in any other part of the world.
There are cultural differences to consider, for example it is important to understand the different sales cycles and conversion rates.
However cultural differences doesn’t make marketing harder, it simply makes it different. We take our corporate strategies from Europe and elsewhere and adapt them to be appropriate in the Middle East. The similarities are converging.
Do consumers in the Middle East expect the same from businesses?
There is the same level of expectation at the basic level. There is an expectation that the product you deliver works, that the services around this are efficient and that the employees are polite and focused on what the customer requires.
The interesting comparisons come in the enhanced expectations of what customers want. Consumers in the Europe and US tend to be a little more demanding as they know they can demand a range of value-added services from business, but this is starting to happen much much more in the Middle East now.
People are demanding a level of service, a suggestive approach and an understanding of their own business from the companies they are using. They are moving away from a spec sheet sale to a more consultative approach in the same way a consumer goes into an individual store and asks for guidance.
Does the adage ‘a quality product sells itself’ still hold credence?
I think a quality product is still a quality product – this is what you base your whole value proposition around. However, a quality product in the wrong place is like the analogy that there is no point in buying a sun seeker to put in the bath.
Our value proposition in the US and Europe has always been seen as a premium product with a fair price, but people are expecting a lot more for that nowadays. In the Middle East where you have third parties carrying out that brand promise you must ensure you have them well equipped and trained so they can carry that out.
People do their own research before considering buying something, so by the time you get the chance to interact with a potential customer their decision has almost been made. We must take that into account as marketers.
In light of this, is there a particular area of marketing that is taking off or on trend in the Middle East which we should look out for in 2015?
Offering clients in-depth experiences of your business. We carried out some activities which involved a huge push in the services part of our operation, in line with the increasing awareness of consumers that service is part of the value proposition.
Recently we took 25 of our most important clients over to New York where Hilary Clinton was a keynote speaker. We showed them all of our latest technology and then had some fun by taking them to the US Open tennis at Flushing Meadows.
Every single one of them without fail reacted incredibly well to what we were showing them and the return on investment we get on that kind of activity is excellent. It sounds like good fun, and it is good fun, but the planning that goes into this is just as thorough as the planning which goes into spending on media.
Marketing has moved from the understanding of the customer and their needs, which we still obviously have to do, to helping the customer understand your business. It is a much more collaborative approach.
Another trend is that of online interaction which is accelerating at a phenomenal pace. People once thought that businesses like to barter in the Middle East and have that human interaction, but some of these things are breaking down which is offering opportunities for marketers and consumers. The world continues to become a smaller place.
What marketing advice would you give to companies looking to extent their offerings into this region?
My first piece of advice is to come and see the Middle East. I come and visit the region a lot and there is nothing better than seeing the culture you are about to operate in.
Don’t be afraid – this is a young vibrant, fast-moving part of the world with a lot of tremendous things going on and coming up.
Ensure that you have local people too. Our offices may be in the UK but we do have an office in Dubai where local people work for us and help us to understand the region; even at a basic language level it is important.
This marketplace is not behind or catching up with the US and Europe – it is its own place with its unique characteristics. Understanding this is key to tapping into marketing opportunities here.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”