This article first appeared in the Media Buzz column, GULF NEWS, 23 December 2015.JW_gulfnews_dec2015_v2

Across the UAE, one in three people uses their smartphone to buy products and services. That’s more than in many other countries.

As readers of this business section, what are we doing with this information? Actually, we’re doing well, we’re bringing our products and services online, onto the mobile web and producing great apps from which we can purchase said products and services.

We know that our audiences research online and are starting to buy more and more regularly online.

The UAE business community is providing its online consumers with banking, grocery shopping, the latest fashions, perfumes and consumer electronics. And if these consumers look hard enough they can find plenty of local garden furniture, barbeques and gazebos too.

Local offerings, when really sought after, can be found online.

But before we pat ourselves on the back too enthusiastically, we need to take a step back and realise that we’re building these beautiful, functional castles in the desert without taking as much care and attention to building the roads and signposts needed to find these castles.

Build it and they will come?

The ‘build it and they will come’ approach doesn’t work in a competitive marketplace; there’s always local competition for those consumer dollars, even if it’s not online yet.

Locally, the current solution is all to often broadcast advertising and PR. And perhaps social media. These are vital if you don’t have access to any data.

But if you’re an online storeowner, you have access to lots of data.

Collecting data sounds boring, scary, difficult and “big” as in “big data”. But it need not be. All the data points tell stories. And it’ll be these stories that help transform the online business world.

thelongtail.com + JW quote
For more see thelongtail.com/about

As businesses transform they start to learn about the group of consumers who behave oddly online. The many little oddities can, of course, add up to a lot. This large group has been called ‘The Long Tail’ and when targeted correctly can be very lucrative as been well documented in the case of Amazon, Apple and others.

There are many examples of Long Tail successes. Both large and small, but growing. There’s a company based in Australia that has taken the world by storm.

Shoesofprey.com was a pet project of three friends who thought that women spend a lot of money on shoes and that’s something the digital world can tap into. Everyone told them that “hardly anyone buys shoes without trying them on first”.

They decided to target this small audience, which turned out to be, globally, quite large. And they adapted their conversations for the different audiences on their site, talking to them by emails, banners or via the local call centre.

If you want to design yourself a pair of shoes that are beautifully made and sent to your home or office, then check out their site and see how they make shopping a tailored experience.

Clever content is king

“Tailored” is how all online experiences should be; we now can start to create content for the aforementioned Long Tail. We can tailor content for different audiences – let’s call them audience segments.

But only if we have identified who these audience segments are and how to engage with them. It might take time, but it’s worth it.

If you run an online grocery, you probably want to listen to the complaints about under-ripe fruit being delivered, or worse, over-ripe. And now you can respond to all fruit buyers about the new, fresh fruit delivery policy. And let them become advocates on social media.

If you tell everyone about the fresh fruit policy, it’ll fall on deaf ears and the special few who care won’t feel special. Clever content is only king for the chosen few.

Very digitally focused

Sure, we’re all “very digitally focused” in the lead up to 2016. But we’re not all sure what that really means for our business; right now most of us are stepping into the digital realm as we might step into a dark room where our eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark.

But the great thing about digital is that it can be so transparent. To get more online sales or leads, you shouldn’t feel in the dark… and you shouldn’t be building castles without planning the route to get there.

Quite the opposite.

— The writer is Managing Director of Blue Logic, a Dubai-based digital media consultancy.