JUNE 2011 | COVER STORY

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COVER STORY | JUNE 2011

Do Jordanians dream of electric sheep?
How one country strives to stand out in the region's digital landscape by Samer Zouehid

T

he online future in the region may not be a new piece of software or a social network site, but a country. Something interesting has been happening in Jordan, and as a new generation of user-friendly Jordanians enter the work force, it might not be too long before we see them leading the digital market, like they used to 10 years ago. Figures on Jordan’s Internet penetration tell a story heard all over the region. The Internet penetration rate is still quite low – at 27 percent – but it has been growing steadily and rapidly, standing at 17 percent at the end of 2007 and then 20.5 percent at the end of the first half of 2008, according to the Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. Plans are to reach 50 percent by the end of 2011, but things may move even faster as more people take to the streets and are followed not only by the security apparatus, but by an increasing number of people on Twitter. This growing movement of people using the Internet is bound to induce a shift in Jordanian consumer behavior. Jordanians' footprints are visible on a large number of regional campaigns and online brands that were developed in Jordan. The kingdom has quickly, and as early as 10 years ago, caught onto the fact that it has a new natural resource – its tech-savvy, vast digital natives community – so it is putting programs in place to turn this new

digital generation into the crowning glory of its workforce. And investment in youth’s digital potential is starting to pay off. Not only are public authorities heavily involved in supporting the digital industry, but the private sector is also doing its part and big regional companies are offering their expertise to nurture Jordanian talent. However, while the blueprints are in place, there is evidence that companies are slow to embrace the new power dynamic, and the foundations for a solid local digital market have yet to be laid. The industry is still waiting for planning permission from clients to build the sector. Below, we look at developments, trends, issues and changes that will shape Jordan’s digital future. ON WHY JORDAN’S DIGITAL INDUSTRY SHOULDN’T BE OVERLOOKED Dana Adhami, director digital, Mindshare “The whole digital scene in the region started in the early 2000s when the dot-coms began to boom, and Jordan was the first country in the region to start building its own infrastructure, with many online ventures establishing their hub there. In the past five years, Jordan was also the country from where some of the most innovative digital ventures came, in terms of content and communication; Maktoob, which was the first to offer e-mails in Arabic, or Jeeran, the first Arabic

blogging website. And Jordan was also the first market to introduce really localized online targeting; Jordanians are close to the region, they understand it well. One of the main reasons for this is the people. Jordan is a big students country, a high percentage of the population is made up of students, a lot of whom have a strong interest in IT, the Internet and digital technologies, and are tech-savvy. This talent and this eagerness to grow have paved the way for other players in the region.” Nicolas Geahchan, executive creative director, JWT “Jordan has all of the right ingredients to lead the region: it has one of the best and most affordable Internet services regionally, fair Internet penetration among the population, and the right talent and knowledge available in the market.” Wisam Suheimat, managing director, Memac Advize “The entire range of sophistication is there, from simple banners to viral campaigns, UGC and even CRM and loyalty programs using smart phones, location-based promotions, online advergaming and the full range of using social networking as a platform to promote and engage with brands. We also have numerous companies developing and launching smart phone apps for brands that have been pioneering and are quite sophisticated.”

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Wael Barghouti, head of business development, Insight Group Jordan “There is a framework to nurture vibrant yet internationally competitive professionals. According to Int@j, Jordan’s Information Technology Association, the National ICT strategy (2007-2011) was created to take advantage of new markets, enhancing business maturity, investing in research and development, capitalizing on regional demand, cultivating foreign investment and improving the ICT labor market. Annual sector growth has risen to an estimated 50 percent over the past few years, its generated income representing 12 percent of the country's GDP. There is an optimistic determination not only to position Jordan as the region's ICT hub, but to also service regional markets.” Dana Adhami, director digital, Mindshare “The Jordanian government is building the infrastructure and is supportive, but to become a technological hub, being a good coder is not enough. A country also needs to have the right economy and attractive infrastructure. The support is there, but for some reason, it’s not picking up as it should; maybe because much talent moves to the GCC. If the official 27 percent Internet penetration rate is a reality, it contradicts what the government is doing and students’ aspirations. It shows that people in Jordan are not really adopting what the government is trying to do. Something is missing or maybe it’s just being delayed.” ON HOW ADVERTISING AGENCIES APPROACH DIGITAL IN JORDAN Joelle Jammal, managing director, Leo Burnett Jordan “All Burnetters have regular training in online digital marketing; moreover, all are encouraged to partake in social networking and micro blogging services such as Twitter, and we even have our own virtual Leo Burnett building in Second Life. Furthermore, we have access to Huddle and Notepad, a collaboration tool used across offices in the Middle East and North Africa. Extensive case studies and success stories on digital marketing are available from around the world. And this on its own is a wealth of information and a learning well. This is in addition to our LB MENA blog, where Burnetters share ideas, thoughts, get inspired by one another.” Nicolas Geahchan, executive creative director, JWT “It is our role as agencies to come to our clients with appropriate digital proposals. A way to do it is to answer the clients’ needs in ‘traditional media’ and unlock the power of the same idea ‘online’ through interactive content that champions the user’s experience – making the most out of the latest digital channels (social media, geo-location, augmented reality, Web and mobile applications, hardware innovation, etcetera).” Sinan Gharaibeh, creative director, Insight Group Jordan “There is a glitch in agencies’ structure. We have seen it before in some offerings and are now seeing it again when it comes to ‘do it all’. Advertising agencies tend to design and sell digital

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Sinan Gharaibeh, creative director, Insight Group Jordan “I think it is a matter of time before Jordan reaches the peak of its digital creativity. Jordan was home to some unique successes such as Maktoob [the Amman-based portal and first Arabic/English e-mail provider, since purchased by Yahoo]. The country is proactive and adapts quickly to new technologies. We have creative talent supported by proper technical education and liberal culture. It is worth noting that Jordanian creativity has its flavor for sense of humor such as 3azizi and Emad Hajjaj [a famous Jordanian cartoonist], which are exported to regional markets.” Joelle Jammal, managing director, Leo Burnett Jordan “Jordan is one of the top five with regards to Internet usage, while the UAE is leading the way in digital marketing. The driving force behind this is the large youth demographic found in Jordan and the Internet advanced services offered in the kingdom. Digital marketing in Jordan is driven by social networks. Jordan has influential bloggers who have blogs visited by thousands of people every day, covering subjects about different aspects of life, from news to society, business, fashion... This has become a successful tool to promote Jordan, its culture, tradition, values and, most importantly, its people.” ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GOVERNMENTAL SUPPORT Wisam Suheimat, managing director, Memac Advize “Jordan has dozens of IT universities and for the past 11 years, His Majesty King Abdullah has been very keen and active in developing a strong foundation for a digital economy. Unlike Dubai, where a vast majority of professionals working in the digital sphere are not Arabs and a large number of back-end development is outsourced to countries such as India and Eastern Europe, Jordan provides a bilingual focus and deep understanding of the Arab mindset.”

SINAN GHARAIBEH. Creative director, Insight Group Jordan

JOELLE JAMMAL. Managing director, Leo Burnett Jordan

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campaigns to clients. However, it shouldn’t be the case. There should be specialized digital agencies as it is totally different in strategies, tactics and execution. There should be a differentiation between conventional advertising agencies and specialized digital outlets. Some agencies survive on Web designs and sell themselves as digital agencies. This harms the market rather than support it.” Dana Adhami, director digital, Mindshare “A lot of the online business has moved to Dubai and the GCC, with the increasing number of players entering the digital industry leading to a very fragmented market; so it has become harder for Jordanians to shine as media providers. “And as agencies, we have to pick the best of the best for our clients. If we have to compare, Lebanon, for example, seems far ahead of Jordan. Maybe their work is simply not exposed enough. Because Jordan is still doing very well, particularly on the programming and creative sides. When we work on websites, microsites and so on, Jordanian agencies usually come back with a lot of innovative ideas and a solid approach in terms of Web design and architecture. Jordanians are not only innovative on the media side of things, but also on the creative and technical ones.” ON CONSUMER BEHAVIOR SHIFT Wael Barghouti, head of business development, Insight Group Jordan “We are witnessing a major shift in consumer behaviors, Internet habits, content preferences and digital media buying strategies. It is similar to how puzzling Arab revolts are as social media platforms and their endless opportunities for business offerings are keeping companies and agencies puzzled on how to best utilize such opportunities. Jordan is witnessing a Web boom as per latest TGI [Target Group Index] surveys conducted by PARC. The Internet penetration stats are impressive across the region. Jordan’s Internet penetration stands at 2.3 million users in the first quarter of 2011. This is attributed to the increase of Internet penetration following the uprising and Arab revolutions in the first quarter. We saw thousands of regional individuals joining Twitter since the January 25 revolution took place. News websites have attracted more than 100 thousand followers on Twitter alone since January 25. Jordan’s share from Facebook penetration averages 0.22 percent from global audiences (1,473,080 as of May 3, 2011).” ON CLIENTS' CHANGE OF PERCEPTION OF THE DIGITAL REALM Joelle Jammal, managing director, Leo Burnett Jordan “We still experience much smaller percentages allocated to digital marketing in comparison to what is spent on ATL, BTL or relationship marketing. Clients still do not allocate enough funds for this; nevertheless, it is finally seeing a significant increase spend for ‘brand’ reasons rather than direct response to sales and other ‘hard’ metrics. The spend is focused increasingly on content, apps,

GETTING CONNECTED. Clients need to be present online, says Wael Barghouti social media and service rather than on bought media such as display advertising or paid search.” Dana Adhami, director of digital, Mindshare “On the clients’ side, the problem with Jordan is the same as with any other country in the region. Readiness is there, Jordan is being included in all big FMCG players’ plans, but there’s nothing specific to it yet. All of the big players are located in Dubai and they will target Jordan, but only as part of their regional mix. The next step would be a more localized approach, and it needs to take place, but that’s true for many countries in the region, not only Jordan. Besides, Jordan is a small market; there are no important local players to build a local industry on.” Wael Barghouti, head of business development, Insight Group Jordan “Clients need to understand that if they are not present online, be it through online buying or social media platforms, these are opportunities lost. Consumers are out there. Whether the company is present or not, they are talking about your services and products. We have seen the banking sector being the most resistant to enter the online platform. They fear that someone would write something and harm the bank’s reputation. Again, consumers are talking about whether you have good services and products or not. Such clients need to understand that it is not the new guerilla in space that cannot be controlled, it is the rising need to let go of classic schools of marketing and prepare to enter this rewarding ambience by adopting rigid internal communications and crisis management programs. This requires a cultural shift.”

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NICOLAS GEAHCHAN. Executive creative director, JWT

WISAM SUHEIMAT. Managing director, Memac Advize

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DANA ADHAMI. Director digital, Mindshare

Ramzy Halaby, business development director and co-founder, The Online Project (a social network marketing company) “Towards the end of 2010, The Online Project noticed a more serious commitment from companies and brands to invest in social media ad spend and presence through engagement. We are currently working in partnership with Royal Jordanian, Zain, the Arab Bank and Mercedes on their social networking presence and channels. I find Jordan’s strength is in the talent it has – the advantage of its high quality talent at competitive rates. Jordan can be the region’s development and operation hub for digital companies and technology services companies. For us at The Online Project, we definitely see an advantage in building our operational hub in Jordan where capacity is scaled. We currently have a team of 40 in the Jordan office, such as community managers, content team, moderation team, developers and designers. Our Dubai and Riyadh offices are more business-development and client servicing focused.” Wisam Suheimat, managing director, Memac Advize “Jordan definitely has the infrastructure, the people, the desire. We just don't have the mega budgets that clients in the GCC might have. But a large number of very successful digital agencies and specialists have been serving the region for more than 15 years. The relative stability (social, political and economic) of Jordan has encouraged many companies to set up their regional headquarters in Jordan and this will go a long way to bolster the digital sector out of Jordan.” ON THE FUTURE OF ONLINE COMMUNICATION IN JORDAN Wael Barghouti, head of business development, Insight Group Jordan “I am confident that a number of projects will come to life within a few years. The potential of having

creative and sophisticated developers in town supported by creative and liberal culture, paves the way for Jordan to become one of the most promising digital hubs. The Web series Shankaboot winning the first International Digital Emmy Award for Lebanon for the category of digital program in fiction does not mean that Jordan cannot or does not compete in this area as well. There are a number of graduates from specialized film institutions that have embraced the Web series as part of their one-year program.” Ramzy Halaby, business development director and co-founder, The Online Project “We are expecting to have more than 100 million Arab users online by 2015. A third of the population in the Arab World is under 14, these guys are all going to consume digital content and use the Internet. These numbers are very strong indicators of where the digital industry is heading in the MENA region. ” Dana Adhami, director digital, Mindshare “I’m very curious to see what is going to happen following the revolutions in the region, what we call a ‘Tunisami’ effect, because it started in Tunis and acted as a tsunami. This all started with digital at its core. It’s still too early to tell; yes, the number of people going online is increasing, but how these people will interact with brands is still unclear. There will be a major change for sure, online users are going to get more involved, while up until now they mostly wanted to be entertained. Now they are learning to participate, so this will lead to more engagement and participation. This will be even stronger in Jordan because of its high student population. Every time we launch a digital campaign that includes Jordan, the highest response, the highest click rate already comes from there. At a 27 percent Internet penetration rate, Jordan still has not reached critical mass, but in a year’s time, it will probably be a huge player, as a content provider and as a technological provider.”

WAEL BARGHOUTI. Head of business development, Insight Group Jordan

RAMZY HALABY. Business development director and co-founder, The Online Project

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