By: Omar Alhaza’a
Planning on taking your brand to MENA?
The Middle East North Africa Region (MENA) can be an excellent destination for your business and can provide tremendous growth opportunities. The following practical tips will help you formulate an effective expansion strategy for the marketplace in MENA.
1. Be Patient. Be prepared to slow down. Some brand owners tend to have a short-term focus and look for immediate results. Not in MENA my friends! You must be patient and be prepared to develop personal relationships & trust before making a deal. In the region, doing business is more of a personal thing as it is professional. Impatience can be viewed as a negative sign that you are not willing to invest in a long-term relationship with your potential partners. Don’t fall into the trap of chasing prospects, attract them!
2. Cultural Barriers. You will have to understand the different ways people communicate and do business. Expanding in MENA requires learning not only the business customs, but the culture as well. it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the local culture, and attitudes. Understanding and knowing about the Mideastern culture is a crucial skill for the success of your brand.
3. Language. Be willing to translate some of your marketing materials to Arabic. But think in terms of “localization” rather than translation. A common mistake most brands make when translating their materials to Arabic is to think that it’s all about translating words. It’s not! Marketing communications need to be consistent with the local context. If you can’t communicate with the locals, then how can you expect to grow your brand in the region?
4. Do Your Homework. Conduct extensive market study and analysis to determine the potential demand for your product or services and be conscious of the local competition. Find out what your competition has done in the same territory. Get the facts first before taking any action.
5. Be Ready to Adopt and Adapt. Listen, just because something worked well in your home market, doesn’t mean it will work in MENA. The most common mistake international brands make when planning to expand in the region is thinking that the business model that brought success at home can be fully & easily “exported” to other markets. Trying to expand in the region with the “this is how we do it back home” attitude will not help you. Adapting & gaining a deep understanding of the current local market trends, will largely contribute to the success of your brand. Your brand’s ability to adapt and change is a huge asset.
6. Be Strategic. Have a plan. Don’t assume anything. It is essential to develop a localized strategy and business plan that drives local success. Keep in mind that going global really means going local, just somewhere else. Don’t fall out of rhythm when promoting your brand internationally. Develop a plan and Stick to it. It’s also essential to showcase your brand in the right local platforms so potential buyers can easily find you. Remember; “Your visibility is more important than your ability. Visibility gets prospects in the door; your ability keeps them in”.
7. Develop a Unique Approach. Today’s marketplace is overcrowded & noisy. Don’t fall into a trap of following the pack. Don’t let industry norms define your brand. Don’t be another “me-too” product or service. Those brands already overcrowded the local market. To succeed it in MENA, you must be clear about what your brand brings to the table, what is so unique about your business. Stop being ordinary. Be extraordinary. Mediocrity will never cut it!
8. Understand Local Laws. Each country in MENA has its own sets of rules, & regulations. Taking the time to understand the local legal issues is without a doubt the most important factor before committing to any business agreements. Find and work with a good local attorney to protect your intellectual property and all other legal aspects.
9. Be Available. If you’re planning to promote your brand in the GCC but you’re based in New York, you’ll need to provide local support. You must have boots on the ground. Time zone differences can create a big communication challenge. The biggest challenge is that your early morning is our late evening when all of us have already left for the day!
10. Find Capable Franchise Partners. Having the right franchisees make it much easier to succeed. The wrong fit, however, can seriously cause irreparable damage to your brand equity. I’ve seen many brands who failed to select the right partners and ended up leaving the marketplace with no chances of coming back any time soon. Take your time. Consult with your local expert, he or she will help you not to get fooled by that red Ferrari, again!
11. Get expert advice. Choose who you listen to. Take the time to understand the pros & cons of working in the region by engaging local expertise. Select a native expert with a broad business background rather than someone from your industry alone.