Abu Dhabi – Sleeping Giant In Startup Ecosystem: Phil Wride


When Phil Wride came to visit his father who works with Etihad, little did he know that the tech explosion and digital opportunities in the Middle East wouldn’t let him go back to UK. Like many eager entrepreneurs, Mr Wride sought to capitalize on his ideas and experience. After developing ideas through education, networking and pure grit, Mr Wride decided it was time to be his own boss. He launched ‘Cheesecake Digital’ – a digital marketing and marketing technology startup in Abu Dhabi. “For the past few years I’ve been working in the marketing technology space and that is one of the things I’m looking to bring to the Middle East – that experience of working across ecommerce, CRM, mobile app development, email marketing and several other areas. Marketing technology is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, you can often see how it should look from the picture on the box but actually getting there can be a minefield, especially if you are missing one or two pieces of that puzzle,” commented Mr Wride in a conversation with The Arabian Marketer.

While many chose Dubai over Abu Dhabi for startups, Mr Wride chose to launch his agency in Abu Dhabi,As the capital of the UAE it made a lot of sense plus there are ties to Etihad Airways. In the region Qatar (Doha) and Dubai have been making the biggest splash in recent years but I believe Abu Dhabi is a sleeping giant and I know there are some exciting things happening in the startup ecosystem that I’m looking to get involved in.”

The Middle East region poses as many challenges as opportunities. For a startup digital agency, there is big competition to carve a niche. “Competition is always a double-edged sword – it challenges you to be different but it can also impact growth. In terms of standing out, what we are offering as a business helps differentiate us – while we can come in and be a traditional agency who executes ‘X’ we prefer to help solve the technical challenges being faced. I also think the name and associated imagery will help us stand out from the crowd,” commented Mr Wride.

Five questions to Phil Wride on digital marketing and marketing technology in Middle East

What are the trends that you are seeing in ecommerce in the Middle East?
I’m noticing a big difference in the markets. Ecommerce in the Middle East seems to be a few years behind the rest of the world (yes there are exceptions). The Middle East has one of the highest penetrations of mobile devices in the world yet there seems to be a mindset that ecommerce won’t work and so brands aren’t willing to invest. To me, this seems a little naive, especially in somewhere like the UAE, where the majority of the population are expats who may well be used to shopping online and having deliveries for anything from groceries to holiday currency. There is a big opportunity for places such as the malls to embrace ecommerce on behalf of their tenant stores and provide ecommerce platforms with sub-sections per tenant and then offer click-and-collect services. Malls are a big part of the culture here from what I’ve seen so far but in my four months in the UAE, I don’t think I’ve seen a day where the majority of the stores don’t have a sale on – if there is a need for this type of promotion to attract customers then the question has to be asked – where are they going instead? If it is to international ecommerce sites with international shipping then local establishments are missing out in a big way.

With recent stats showing one in three online transactions are taking place through a mobile device, how do you think mcommerce will shape up in the near future?
This is directly tied to the above – mcommerce will likely be the way that ecommerce as a whole becomes more widely adopted in the Middle East because everyone has a mobile device (or two) in their pocket. I might sit in a mall at a Starbucks or a Costa Coffee while waiting for a meeting but that doesn’t mean I want to trek around the mall to find the items I want to buy. I want it to be quick and easy and accessible – on my mobile device while I’m sipping a latte. Brands need to think about the customer experience and more importantly the shopping experience and how the two are aligned – the customer experience in store may be fantastic but if you have nobody actually coming to your store and buying elsewhere, then your shopping experience is lacking. In the West we now have situations where shoppers will walk in to a store and physically stand there searching on their mobile device to find the item they’ve just tried on – and see if they can find it cheaper. This sort of scenario has drastically changed the way brands think about the shopping experience.

Do you think email marketing is an important and cost-effective marketing strategy that marketers should focus on?
For a long time email marketing has been the mainstay of communication because it has been easy to send in bulk and to largely unknown audiences. From a cost perspective, it is cost-effective but in terms of importance – that depends on whether you know your target audience. Since being in the UAE I haven’t had that many marketing/promotion related emails, instead I’m getting spam SMS. The challenge with this method is that an SMS is often deemed more personal, your phone may vibrate and you believe it is something important, which can frustrate recipients. For me email marketing is still a valid and important communication method while the strategy aspect is based upon what you are looking to achieve – do the recipients know you or are you spamming them?

Other markets appear transparent with effective data collection but Middle East is often seen as a complex market…
I’m still getting my head around it, and how it compares to the markets I’m used to where things like single and double opt-in are normal practice, the ability to unsubscribe, requests for information and the recently introduced ‘right to be forgotten’. One thing that would help is a GCC-wide committee and policy that takes into account the local cultures while drawing from other recognized policies – this would make it a lot easier for new businesses to enter the region and leverage practices they already have in place.

How important is data for marketers to provide the right experience to your consumers?
Data is becoming hugely important to marketers as it enables them to do exactly that – analyze what is happening to understand the anonymous mass and at the same time the named individual. This becomes extremely powerful in crafting bespoke and personalized experiences to drive engagement and conversion. The challenge for marketers however is two-fold – collecting the right data to analyze and knowing how to analyze and why. We can easily collect too much data and analyze it to present a picture that takes us down the wrong path. 

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