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Last week new research from Dubai-based PR agency BPG Cohn & Wolfe showed that 71 per cent of UAE residents aged 18-40 are happy to take advice online before purchasing. The growing power of social media influencers and bloggers on the decision making process is clear.

infographic-EnglishYet it’s astonishing to see the amount of money that’s still being poured into direct mailing by both B2B and B2C marketers. Direct mail spending has been falling since 2007. This year it will decline again by 4.5 percent globally, from $7.4 billion to $7 billion, according to Borrell’s latest local ad spending forecast.

With print magazines folding and major publishing houses in the Middle East investing time and money in the development of their online platforms, it’s clear they recognize the shift in consumer attention from print to online. However for brands the process has been slow to reallocate funds to new channels, because many brands simply don’t know where to spend their dollars and dirhams in such a rapidly changing environment. It’s safe to take refuge and continue whatever traditional print medium that is still giving somewhat of a return—especially in the tough economic times we are currently experiencing in the country and region.

What I find unique about the United Arab Emirates is that while the level of technology adoption and desire for the latest app or gadget amongst consumers is typically high, SME’s and marketing professionals can be slow to adjust their communications to the medium their audiences attention has shifted to. So where should brands shift their marketing spend to now?

With people spending more time online, sharing content on social platforms and accessing information through their smartphones, shrewd brands will aim to attract influencers in the digital space to promote and recommend their products and services. However, a serious barrier to capitalizing on this opportunity is that it requires a different attitude to the traditional “interruption advertising” mentality, a mindset some traditional marketers find hard to change. Today’s consumers like stimulating, educational, contextual content, recommendations and reviews when they’re seeking to buy something—and they can find all that desired information by searching online. This where brands need to focus their marketing efforts. According to the BPG Cohn & Wolfe survey, reviews & listings on Zomato – the restaurant and food finder application – play a major role when it comes to making decisions on what is the hottest new restaurant or dish to try.

Fouz-Alfahad

Fouz Alfahad

Fashion and beauty social media influencers like Fouz Al Fahad and Samira Olfat are popular with their audiences because of their personal style, make-up tutorials and their ability to inspire other’s fashion and beauty choices. Their popularity on the likes of Instagram and Snapchat can be attributed to their ability to use visually appealing online mediums that allow them generate, at scale, targeted, contextual influential content which their audience can relate to.

As the competition for ad dollars rises, and the costs of paper, design, printing and mailing increase, it won’t be too long before direct mail goes the way of the dinosaur. Emirates Post has been hiking its rates for years, and the shift in culture means snail mail is less important than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. However, bloggers and social media influencers can serve as a viable alternatives. Established bloggers and influencers on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, concentrate on being transparent and giving value to their audiences, and this is where today’s consumer attention is.

By developing relationships with key influencers, who hold the attention of a specific audience and create content strategically, these influencers facilitate a shift to online “advertorial” content such as videos, captioned images or graphics rather than advertising pitches. This realization can help companies avoid wasting precious marketing budgets, and begin allocating their spend more efficiently and effectively.

Direct mail still has some life left, so this transition isn’t going to happen overnight. But trust me—it’s only a matter of time. Astute brands are already moving in the direction of emotionally connected content, social sharing and relationship building… and are seeing quantifiable results.