Continuing on the series of UAE Digital Marketing interviews that I’ve been hosting where I first talked SEO with Naguib Toihiri and PPC with Freya Jones, I now move onto digital marketing in general with Mark Rofe. Mark is from the UK and is a relatively new arrival onto the Dubai digital marketing scene where he flexes his muscles at Blue Beetle.
How did you get started in digital marketing?
My digital marketing journey began when I discovered that a popular deals’ website, in the UK, was making money via affiliate marketing. I hadn’t heard of affiliate marketing before, but I liked the sound of it, so I decided to make my own affiliate website because I thought I could make some easy money. I started a voucher code website on a blogspot domain (it’s still live here, and it still hurts my eyes), and I quickly realised that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. I needed traffic, and over the years I began making more sites and learning SEO.
What do you love most about digital marketing?
I think what still fascinates me about the internet is how you can connect with people around the world. Someone from Peru left a comment on my blog rofe.co.uk the other day, I find that insane. What I love about digital marketing, though, is how measurable and efficient it is compared to traditional marketing methods, and how easy it is for anyone to get started. You can have an online business set up for $50.
Of the many areas within digital marketing, which areas do you love the most and why?
I love SEO and e-commerce. I love SEO because I like free traffic, and I like the challenges that come with it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a site you’ve worked on rise up through the rankings to increase leads or sales. I love e-commerce because I enjoy the variety you get with it, there’s so many levers you can pull to increase revenue or orders. I also feel it requires a higher level of thinking and strategy, and I enjoy that aspect.
What’s the biggest challenge with digital marketing in the region?
I work as a digital marketing manager at Blue Beetle and we’re a boutique digital agency. We see a lot of challenges, but I think most of them stem from the fact that there’s a massive lack of understanding when it comes to digital marketing.
I get the sense that companies are still prepared to invest a majority of their marketing budget into offline channels such as PR, radio, print or billboards etc, but are approaching digital marketing cautiously. Coming from a digital marketing background I find that difficult to understand, because it’s far easier to measure the return on investment through online channels. My personal opinion is that I think there’s a bigger emphasis on looking cool “hey did you see our ad in x magazine” or “did you see our billboard ad on Sheikh Zayed Road” as opposed to being ROI focused “hey we spent this much on advertising over here, what returns did we see on that?”.
For those that do decide to invest in digital marketing, we find that the vast majority of potential customers are highly price sensitive. Often price is the only variable that is considered, disregarding the expertise of the people carrying out the work and their credentials. We often get undercut by cheaper agencies, only for the same client to approach us again down the line asking us to fix issues created by the previous agency.
People put more effort and research into deciding which TV or mobile phone they want to buy than deciding on which agency they want to hire to grow their business.
So yes, there’s a lot of challenges locally, but thankfully there are companies that understand digital marketing, and those are the ones that are reaping the rewards.
How do you handle Arabic requirements?
We haven’t found this to be too much of an issue because our digital marketing clients have only required our services to be in English (often because they only have an English version of a website). We do build websites in English & Arabic and in these instances we make sure the website adheres to UX and technical (hreflang tags etc) best practices.
Obviously the region has a long way to go, so where do you see digital marketing going in the region?
Over time we will see more companies shift their marketing spend from traditional marketing to digital marketing. I think the MENA market is still relatively untapped from a digital marketing point of view and there’s a lot of opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some large international brands enter the market here, particularly in the telecoms and e-commerce industries. This would inevitably increase the amount of places users have to shop online, and the amount of competition in the market.
Got any pro tips for anyone looking to get into digital marketing in the region or in general?
Yes – locally, it’s a small industry so if you’re looking for a job I probably know someone who knows someone (who knows someone) that has a job going! Hit me up on Twitter @iamrofe and I’ll see if I can help. Meet as many digital marketing based in Dubai people as you can. Aside from that, be prepared for the fact that the industry is really lagging behind compared to the western world, and understand that whatever role you find yourself in you’ll need to do a lot of educating and have an abundance of patience.
Learn more about Mark Rofe (in his own words, no less!):
A smart, handsome and modest digital marketer from the UK and currently Digital Marketing manager at web design and digital marketing agency Blue Beetle. (editor: he’s a proper geezer!)