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Five minutes with.. Centric founder and CEO Usman Khalid

Five minutes with.. Centric founder and CEO Usman Khalid

Khalid discusses the digital marketing industry and the company’s expansion plans

What is your outlook for digital marketing and advertising this year?

The outlook for digital marketing is bullish for the coming couple of years. The brands are more comfortable using it; consumers are already on it; tracking is very accurate and return on investment can be anticipated with greater accuracy. So in terms of technology, along with programmatic, native, social, search and display advertisements; the brands have diversified options of marketing. In addition, with strong analytics and the use of cookies, brands can track the customer and re-market to the interested audience which produces decent conversion rates.

The exclusive agreements between retail brands and local distributors induce complacency in the whole supply chain of the region including the marketing channels. We will see more distributors starting their e-commerce channels and encroaching territory in neighbouring markets which will be beneficial for the end consumer.

What are some of the key challenges digital marketers face?

We live in one of the most diverse regions of the world with an expat workforce that is quite mobile. Accurately predicting behaviours and sensitivities is a challenge. Secondly, the compensation model which is inherited from traditional marketing spend plus a percentage commission does not really work in digital media. If agencies spend more man-hours to optimise the spend and conversions on biddable media; the brands end up spending less on those channels and agencies by virtue of this model end up making less money. This eliminates the incentive for the agency to perform better. We work on success fee model as well as fixed price models which align agency and client goals in one direction.

Yes, we are seeing that impact the marketing budget growth in the region. The United Arab Emirates is expected to grow by 0.6 per cent while Saudi’s market spend is expected to decline by 3.5 per cent in 2016. Digital is still expected to see decent single digit growth as brands move budgets from traditional to digital mediums. Overall, the whole world is concerned about low oil prices as it is impacting the energy sector which contributes significantly to global GDP.

The largest spender in the GCC region is the government. In the absence of diversified revenue streams; governments are dependent on oil revenues and we will see lower spending.

How is the industry evolving?

The local digital industry is evolving quite rapidly and frankly the UAE is leading the path to innovation. There are more than 800 agencies in the UAE; and some of them are providing innovative strategies that have never been explored before.

Do you have any expansion plans?

We do. We are increasing our team strength in content marketing including comparatively lower priced animated video options. In addition, we are also building our core strength as a digital agency with a strong technical in-house team. We live up to the promises we make to our customers and and ensure that we control the quality of delivery. We already have a team in place in Qatar and we plan to expand it further. For Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; we are cautiously waiting on the sidelines as we want the regulatory framework to be further strengthened to protect foreign investments before we venture in.

We are also quite well placed in the market to secure more business this year as brands look towards optimising their spend and generating more value. Companies of our size with the right resource levels and flexibility are uniquely positioned to benefit from this changing market.

Are you hiring?

Yes, we are. We plan to expand our current strength by the end of the third quarter this year. We will be hiring search engine optimisation specialists, copy writers, programmers, office manager and client servicing people. As a fast growing company we are always in need of creative heads and can potentially consider hiring in other verticals if the candidates are good.

What is your leadership style?

Innovate and own. I firmly believe that it is important to innovate. Unless we break out from a set framework, we will never be able to experiment new things. Hence, break the rules when required; and don’t just stick to traditional norms as this will make you just another ordinary person. Own the consequences, own the deliverables, own your actions.

In my spare time I like to…

Hangout with friends and indulge in adventure sports and travel.

In addition, I really like spending ‘me’ time. This enables me to understand myself; collect my thoughts; accept my weaknesses and rationalise my strategy.

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