In an exclusive interview with MarTech Vibe, Michele Lozzo speaks at length about marketing technology in the Middle East, the importance of data privacy, and the spread of e-commerce in the region. Excerpts from the email interaction:
What have been Criteo’s big wins and noteworthy campaigns so far? How do you plan to take that further?
Criteo has positioned itself as the leading advertising platform for the open Internet, developing the landscape of digital advertising and e-Commerce around the world. In the Middle East, e-Commerce is on the rise, encouraged by digital transformation and the Millennials and Gen Z that make up a majority of the population.
Our campaigns and research are tailored to address the challenges faced by Middle Eastern brands and help them take the right approach to meet the expectations of their customers.
Most recently, our Ramadan research identified consumers’ online spending behaviours during the holy month by analysing over 9.4 million retail shopping transactions, and over 22.3 million travel bookings across desktop, smartphones, and tablets from 197 significant advertisers in the Middle East.
The research revealed that shoppers in the Middle East typically shop early into the season and slow down closer to Eid al-Fitr to focus on the celebrations.
The findings also highlighted that mobile presence is integral for retail sales and travel bookings during Ramadan, with mobile and in-app sales and travel bookings increasing significantly in the holy month.
We leverage our data and insights to advice marketers and advertisers on the best timings and relevant messaging to reach out to customers so that shoppers remember their brands during decision-making hour. We also share market studies to keep customers updated with new advancements and trends and supply them with tips and guidelines.
What are the key MarTech adoption trends in the Middle East?
The Middle East MarTech landscape has been changing rapidly, and we expect to see many advancements in the coming years as artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots, data collaboration and voice searches continue to gain importance.
Video is still winning the race of the most successful medium of marketing in 2019, and this is set to continue, while AR and VR tools will become more prominent in brand awareness, as well as in selling individual products.
In this context, responsible and transparent data handling will be even more decisive for marketing success than it was in the past.
Speaking of data transparency, do you think data privacy and how brands use customer data is a contentious issue?
There is no doubt that data is gold for advertisers and retailers that want to reach out to their customers effectively. Customer-related data, including purchase histories and preferences, is an auspicious opportunity.
If you can learn more about your customers, you can customise their experiences, offer more of the products they want the most, and improve customer loyalty tremendously.
However, to do this successfully, you’ll also need to think about data privacy. Data privacy and data security are critical to earning trust and remain compliant with local and international regulations.
After a series of data protection incidents, major technology companies have come under scrutiny for the way they procure, protect and use data.
Therefore, the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon are expected to introduce new data sharing and privacy policies.
Retail customers do care about their data privacy and security, so brands need to do a thorough review of their security measures, and make sure customers understand data privacy policies and have options to choose about what information they provide.
You have previously mentioned that brands aren’t using data effectively. Could you elaborate on how data should be leveraged for effective customer targeting?
According to Criteo’s ‘State of Ad Tech 2019’ Report, nearly half (40 per cent) of the marketers struggle to find data on the online/offline shopper connection.
This negatively impacts brand conversion, given the prevalence of omni shopping. Besides, fragmented data makes it difficult for marketers to gain a true understanding of customers and to optimise future campaigns.
To reduce dependency on Amazon, Facebook, and Google, brands and retailers have to work together to find ways to maintain control of the customer relationship – and the data that comes with it.
Many companies are looking to expand their omnichannel capabilities through cooperation and effective data usage. One way retailers can do this is by sharing their real-time POS and inventory data with brands. Both sides will have access to analytics and insights to better plan and efficiently implement promotions.
Another big trend here is Retail Media, where retailers become publishers for big brands. This new type of advertising outside the traditional channels enables brands to target better relevant users based on real-time commerce data, while retailers unlock additional revenue streams while driving sales.
How can a brand leverage SEO and retargeting to its full potential?
SEO helps drive organic search traffic to a brand’s site via listing clicks on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
It is an important tool for retailers who want to increase the number of shoppers who come in from search engines. Brands that want to leverage SEO need to tick the following on their checklist:
- Identify your keywords. Aim to strike a balance between keyword relevancy, search volume, intent, and competition.
- Carry out on-site optimisation: Address the five must-haves (secure, mobile-friendly, fast, simple, and unique), and add keywords to the six main elements of your category and product pages.
- If you have a physical store, don’t forget the local SEO. Claim your Google My Business Listing and build citations on the top online directories.
- Optimise your link profile. Enhance your internal links and build external links from other high-quality sites.
New technologies and solutions, changes in Google algorithm mean marketing and tech teams are playing catch-up. How can they maintain a robust system and stay ahead?
Tech giants have been facing scrutiny over their use of consumer data and their operational policies in 2019. Retailers and brands must look for ways to collaborate and develop growth opportunities outside of walled gardens while having greater control of their customer data.
By using machine learning and predictive analytics, marketers can connect with their shoppers in new and meaningful ways, improving conversion rates while reducing cart abandonment and ad-fraud.
Despite strong internet penetration, only 15 per cent of businesses in the Middle East have an e-commerce presence, and only 2 per cent of retail purchases are made online. How can this change?
E-commerce is the fastest-growing segment of retail, but while shoppers appreciate the convenience of purchasing online, they still love the in-store experience. What is changing is the role and expectation of what happens in-store.
The data from stores, including point-of-sale systems, has the opportunity to be a great equaliser. The retailers and brands that link their store experience to the web and mobile will win the hearts and minds of their shoppers.
By mastering the effective collection, integration, and usage of offline data with online data, they will be able to leverage the offline advantage.
Furthermore, local and international e-Commerce platforms like Amazon and Noon.com that now have a strong market presence across the region, as well as the local governments’ commitment to digital transformation will change the landscape of e-commerce in the Middle East.
What do you think are the three big marketing trends of 2019?
AI is gaining wider adoption, as it enables marketers to better understand their audiences and deliver highly relevant and personalised messaging — a trend that will drive more advertising budget online in 2019.
Many digital marketing companies are investing in AI to develop solutions offering advanced personalisation and better user engagement through machine learning.
Another key trend is the use of visual and voice (grouped under sensory) tech. With voice search, engagement becomes even more convenient and meaningful for both marketers and consumers across each stage of the purchase journey.
According to Gartner, brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search and provide more interactive and engaging experiences will see up to a 30 per cent rise in digital commerce revenues by 2021.
Data sharing is another major trend, as brands and retailers look for opportunities outside of walled gardens and marketplaces.
Many are developing their omnichannel capabilities through collaboration and data sharing. This could look like retailers sharing real-time POS and inventory data with brands, giving both companies access to system insights to better plan for promotions and operational efficiency.
Is there a piece of key advice you wish to share with CEOs and CMOs of the region?
Optimise your data strategy to deliver memorable customer experiences, and personalise your offerings to connect with your shoppers in more meaningful ways.
Video and voice ads are primed to drive even better results for your campaigns
Michele Iozzo is Managing Director Middle East & Africa at Criteo.
He joined the company in 2011 as Business Development Manager in Germany, and rose through the ranks, first as Head of Strategic Partnerships and Data – Germany, then as Commercial Director – MEA, and now as the Managing Director. Michele has more than 10 years of e-Commerce experience, among others at Yahoo!.