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UAE has huge digital growth opportunity

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Our Correspondent
EMIRATES BUSINESS

With his strong leadership skills, Usman Khalid, Founder and CEO, Centric, has been leading the Digital Marketing company since 2011. Today, he is one of the most recognized leaders in the Middle East and has brought Centric to the forefront in the digital media landscape with an aggregate yearly growth of over 400 percent.
Prior to this, he worked with some of the biggest names in the technology field including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle.
With over 10 years of experience across digital and IT, Usman has previously managed support teams and pre-sales teams covering the Gulf region and was responsible for more than USD 15 million businesses per year. Usman is passionate about technology and has successfully managed several projects across various sectors.
Being a massive fan of fast cars and an outdoor enthusiast, you will generally find him behind the steering wheel, skydiving or scuba diving in his spare time.
Excerpts from a conversation Emirates Business had with Usman Khalid.

How did your stint as an entrepreneur start? When and how did your journey start?
The entrepreneur stint started when I sold my dad’s magazines at the age of six. But for Centric, it started from a year of planning and testing the market in 2011. As they say all great companies are formed in a downturn; I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. So on New Year’s Eve of 2011/2012; I tendered in my resignation from a very lucrative job in Oracle to carve my own path and interestingly not with much money in my pocket.
We have gone through a lot of challenges that all high-paced and growth-oriented companies go through. Cash flow is one of the biggest challenges of this region; where larger companies do not pay on time and it hurts the growth of the smaller ones. With the initiative by UAE government to support entrepreneurs, it is ethically incumbent on all larger organizations to ensure on-time payments to smaller companies. We are doing our two cents by either pre-paying or on-time payments to all our suppliers. During the last four years, Centric has delivered over 800 projects with national and multi-national brands. We have over 95% retention rate which means we are delivering on our commitments. This also means that almost every working day; we deliver a project.

How important is digital
advertising in today’s time?
“Be where your customers are” is the cardinal rule of marketing. So if the customers are online; then the brand should connect on digital channels as well.
What is your business mantra?
Steady your reactions and stay involved in daily activities of the company. Do not expect your employees to work like you and be open with praise and recognition. Remember, they are spending more time with you than their families.

What is your outlook about the digital industry here in the UAE?
Very bullish. As per Ipsos, the daily reach of Internet and mobile in UAE is 46% and 41% respectively with only minimal budgets directed towards these mediums. So there is a massive gap and a big opportunity. This will drive continuous growth in digital advertising in the coming years irrespective of industry conditions.
YouTube is already a decent alternative for video ads and with NetFlix entering the region and OSN raising capital to invest in technology the future growth trajectory is very clear for this region. Targeting is another reason digital is going to see growth in the coming years. With tighter marketing budgets in the coming years, brands will be looking to spend their money efficiently. In terms of Out of Home (OOH) advertising, we will see more and more of them going digital. After all, reszearch proves that people are prone to different types of products at different times of day. Digital is clearly the way forward in 2016.

What are your future plans? Any piece of advice you would like to give to the new-age entrepreneurs?
We are looking at regional expansion. We already have a team placed in Qatar and plan to enhance our teams and introduce more new age services that justify the needs of the market.
I would suggest all the new-age entrepreneurs to follow the golden rules of the trade. Remember, no matter how much you have researched; you are right only if the customer pays for it. You would face challenges that you have not faced before in life. Keep your head straight, be gracious and figure out the solution.

Which sectors in your opinion need internet marketing?
All.Period. Whether you sell online or just capture leads to be converted in-person. It pays for itself.

How is data changing and influencing the internet
marketing?
When brands are paying either per impression or per click, they want the marketing to be done to their target market and at the right time. Data provides all of that, the more the data a publisher has on its traffic. More targeted is the audience and brands are willing to pay higher to reach the right audience. LinkedIn is an excellent example where you can target as per job roles, new changed jobs etc. Similarly, we have seen excellent conversion rates using re-marketing which targets ads to only those people that have engaged with your brand previously.
What makes Centric stand out from its competition?
We are extremely serious about retention. And we believe retention is possible only with great experiences. We have an award winning creative team and a very strong technical crew. Other agencies normally do not have technical teams in-house.

What digital trends do you predict will govern the UAE this year?
Very bullish on SEO and Content Marketing. Social and online videos will continue to see
further investments.

What are the major issues with internet advertising today? How can one raise the bar?
I believe one of the major concerns is Brand Safety Online. Ensuring the ads are not appearing either on copyright infringed material or negative news. Just think of an airline ad appearing on a news site next to airplane accident news. Technology allows monitoring and distributing ads in real time using programmatic buying. But the marketers controlling the platforms need to give enough time monitoring and maintaining black lists.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Energetic, Humble and Intelligent. Probably, a knack of
knowing what is coming ahead.

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