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Power Essays 2022: Are you ready? – by Reprise’s Riddhi Dasgupta

When it comes to the latest thinking in marketing data science, the region is overtaking the rest of the world, writes, Riddhi Dasgupta, Data Science and Research Director, Reprise Digital

For a long time, the MENA region was somewhat overlooked and certainly overshadowed when it came to marketing for global brands – with most international agencies focusing their expansion on Asia (notably Japan, China and Singapore), as well as Europe and North America.

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However, there has been a significant shift in recent years as this is now one of the most online regions in the world, with internet users in Arabic-language countries estimated at 183 million in 2020. Indeed, analysts have forecast that digital marketing spend will grow sevenfold by 2025 compared with 2018.

Anyone who lives here knows that this social media usage, for example, is a way of life. How many times have you seen an Instagram post of a person in Dubai partying or exploring hidden (often luxurious) gems, which then leads to so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) among a massive online audience?

The huge overall rise in media usage in MENA has ushered in a growing accumulation of both structured and unstructured data from various formats, such as pictures, videos, sounds, text and geolocations. This growth opens up new potential for analysis and pattern discovery that can provide brands with insights into key challenges, trends, influences and market and social changes.

The potential is simply mind-boggling. That is why the number of marketing agencies in 2022 has increased by almost 10 times compared with 2018. Projects are pouring in and MENA is increasingly viewed as commercially relevant on a global scale. The situation has also been helped by the region weathering economic storms and crises such as Covid-19 much better than many of its international rivals.

All the above has led to a soaring demand for marketing data science.

Data science is a collective process that uses theoretical, mathematical, computational and practical methods such as algorithms and statistics to review, analyse and extract valuable information from raw data. It enables organisations to make data-driven decisions while reducing human bias and interventions, which may affect business.

Marketing data science is typically used for channel optimisation, customer segmentation, lead targeting and advanced lead scoring, and real-time interactions, by providing valuable insight into customer preferences and behaviours. Emerging data science methods – from micro-segmentation to natural language processing – are being applied to large data sets in real time to create a new marketing advantage.

But how does marketing data science really help brands? Put simply, it turns data  into actionable insights that can be leveraged into opportunities.

However, the complexity of performing data discovery, collection and preparation for analytics and predictive modelling often depends on the particular application domain, data source and format, methods and goals. Data science techniques such as big data analytics, data mining, machine learning and AI are widely used to this end.

For example, a marketing firm looking to identify patterns in customer behaviour to forecast future purchasing habits would need to use predictive analytics and modelling, including cluster models, regression analysis and cluster filtering, all of which are rooted in statistical and machine learning (ML) algorithms.

Similarly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn use ML, AI, and natural language processing (NLP) to personalise user experiences, parse massive volumes of data, recognise people in pictures and guide content development.

By using marketing data science, brands can really understand and determine customer behaviours, which helps in making data-driven business decisions and gaining analytics-based insight to accurately target the right customers and marketing campaigns, allowing them to further optimise their marketing and sales revenues.

It also contributes greatly to success at each stage of a customer’s retail journey – starting from acquisition and then moving to retention and through to remarketing.

Marketing analytics can sometimes seem like a world shrouded in mystery. There is so much data, from so many different sources, with so many options to filter and interpret different marketing metrics. But practised marketers know that the right combination of analytics, insight and action enables great marketing to stand out.

Running hand-in-hand with all this this is artificial intelligence (AI).

In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, governments and businesses across MENA understand the need to shift their focus to AI and advanced analytical solutions. It is estimated that AI could contribute a whopping $320bn to the Middle East economy alone in 2030, equivalent to 11 per cent of its GDP.

The sectors that can gain the most out of this technological advancement are retail, health and education, transport and logistics, and media and telecommunications.

The UAE’s determination to stay ahead of the technological curve is clear with its recruitment initiative of ‘One Million Arab Coders’ in partnership with Microsoft.

KSA’s clearest sign of its commitment is NEOM – a planned $500bn, 26,500 sq km megacity – part technology and R&D hub, part international trade centre, part business, and advanced manufacturing zone.

At this point, it’s not so much that this region has caught up with the rest of the world on the technology and marketing front; it appears to be leaving everyone else behind.