MediaME Forum 2012: The Levant Digital Media Event: Opening Ceremony

DAY 1 – DECEMBER 3RD, 2012
9:45 – 10:45 Opening Ceremony

  • Organizer welcoming words by Zeid Nasser – Founder of mediaME.com
  • Analysis of MENA Digital Audiences: Welcome to the New Normal by Mohammed Minawi – Ipsos
  • The Future’s Bright by Yousef Tuqan – Flip Media

I entered the great hall and took my seat, the room was vast and arranged impeccably; each table had three chairs. Perfectly spaced so you will have company but not suffocate in the process.

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After arranging my things, I got a closer look at everything, I was in the western side of the hall, closer to the doors, on the eastern side laid all the cameras and technical equipment from lights to mikes.

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Right in the middle stood the stage and speakers platform, on either side were two huge white screens that played the sponsors logos, they showed two other things on them later on, people tweets and the speakers presentations, the first two rows were left for speakers and sponsors.

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The hall started filling up nicely, people left their cups of coffee and tea outside heading to their seats, I was looking forward to see if I could keep up with what would be said, luckily I got it all, I was ready like water for chocolate, after all the research and hours of working at Kayan, I was more than ready… maybe I could be one of the speakers next year, who knows?

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The opening ceremony started with Zeid Nasser taking up the stage. I met him briefly but I could say that I know why all those people attend the forum, it’s because of this enigmatic guy. He is full of life, energy and good humor.

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Zeid thanked us for attending, promised a good day filled with good information and told us to enjoy our time and meet new people. He introduced the first speaker Mohammed Minawi, Mohammed from Ipsos gave us a full presentation about the digital audiences in MENA with a 40 slide show. Mohammed started his presentation at 9:53. I realized I know Ipsos from the surveys that keeps popping up on my screen while I’m researching.

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Around 10:20 Zied introduced Yousef Tuqan from Flip Media; I was part of the audience and I knew that Yousef was a great speaker, he made the attendees laugh effortlessly, he knew how to hold their attention and deliver his information, his speech screamed “rhetoric”. I must say on a personal level I enjoyed his speech deeply that I have to share it here. I found it in his personal blog Yousef Tuqan Tuqan.

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“I am your typical 21st century Jordanian.

I was born in England.

My father is Palestinian.

My mother is Lebanese.

I was raised in Kuwait.

I went to school in Jordan.

I have a funny American accent.

I have an Australian wife. Who is originally from New Zealand. And Lebanon.

It’s so nice to be back in Amman. As many of you know, I grew up here. I have spent the weekend in Amman, taking my wife on a tour of my childhood – I took her to my school, to my old house, and to my old hangouts. And I cannot believe how much Amman has changed and how much it has developed.

I remember what it was like growing up in a city where you could not get a phone installed in your house for 2 years because the American Embassy took all the phones lines in Abdoun.

I remember how when I was growing up, the films and movies we saw were years behind the rest of the world.

Today, we are never more than 48 hours behind anything, because that’s how long it takes to get an Aramex Shop N Ship package sent here. I had my iPad less than 72 hours after they first one went on sale in the Apple Store in New York, and none of us are ever more than one week behind on our favorite American TV series, though we sometimes resort to slightly dodgy sources to download them.

Instead, today, Amman has become such a vibrant and amazing city, and the source of so much of the region’s most respected and successful talent in terms of media, technology and innovation.

And I love technology. I have spent the last sixteen years of my life doing nothing but working with technologies. From building websites in my bedroom to build brands online, my entire working life has had one thread that has run through it: the Internet.

I could tell you about how when I moved into my last apartment in the year 2000, I had an Internet speed of 64K. And when I moved out of that apartment ten years later, I had an Internet speed of 16 MB, coming out of that same hole in the wall.

I could tell you that by the year 2020, we will have 50 billion connected devices on the planet – six devices for every man, woman and child…

I could also tell you that with the advent of IPv6, we will have over 100 IP addresses available for every atom on the Earth’s surface…

I could throw out statistics like this all day, but these numbers simply don’t impress us anymore.

The reality today is that we are blessed with more technology, data and consumer insight than ever before. The old days of Mad Men sitting around smoking, drinking whisky and dreaming up what a housewife might be thinking has been replaced with Big Data. With marketing and targeting technologies that no longer just categorize consumers by their spending power or their gender, but by knowing everything about them – who they are, where they go, and what they do.

Sometimes, marketers have gotten so good that they can even know what you want before even you do.

In 2011, the very angry father of a 16-year-old girl stormed into a Target Department Store in Minnesota, and demanded to speak to the manager. “My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

You see, Target has developed their customer insights to an incredible degree. Every possible piece of data they gather about their customers is translated into insight – who they are, where they live, what they buy. For example, they know that if women suddenly starting buying from a selection of 25 specific products – lotions, cotton balls, magnesium and zinc supplements – they are most likely pregnant, and the algorithm then triggers promotional emails and coupons for pregnancy-related products. The algorithm even knows what stage of pregnancy you are at.

But of course, try to explain your algorithm to the angry father of a teenage girl who is receiving promotions for pregnant women… So the store manager apologized profusely, and set about removing the young lady from their marketing database. When the store manager called the girl’s father to update him a few days later, the father informed him that “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

You see, the question is not whether or not we have this knowledge and insight anymore, but what we can do with it.

The days of permission marketing, when consumers were very cautiously willing to give us their basic data if we promised to use it responsibly, are long over.

But we have never been more important to people’s lives. In a recent IBM study of 7,000 people, customers were more willing to give up family holidays, going out, newspapers and Pay Television than they were to give up their mobile phones. In fact, the only thing that they were not willing to give up instead of their mobile phones was their homes.

We find ourselves today sitting on the most golden opportunity any generation of marketers could dream of.

  • We are a young and vibrant economy that can make quick decisions and quickly adapt – we are not a legacy business.
  • We have a young and vibrant audience who will change the world in ways we cannot even imagine.
  • We stand on the edge of the most exciting times in the history of technology and communication and entertainment.

And here in the Levant, we have one of the most precious resources anyone could ask for.

  • I’m not talking about the oil that the countries of the Gulf have been blessed (or cursed) with.
  • I’m not talking about phosphates or minerals or land or access to the Ocean.
  • What I am talking about is what we have here in this room…

Our people.

Nowhere in the Arab world is anyone as blessed with a generation of creatives, or entrepreneurs and game-changers like we are here today.

Because of the obstacles that life has thrown in our way.

Because of the inefficiencies of our bureaucracy.

Because of war and turmoil and instability

Because nobody will give us anything.

Because we do not have oil, we have had to write our own futures.

And we have had to innovate.

Today, the sons and daughters of the Levant are the region’s leader in technology, marketing and communications.

I used to also be a cynic, and believe that we could not achieve anything, but look at what we have done today.

Look at Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury and what they have achieved with Maktoob.

Or Omar Koudsi and Leith Zreikat and what they have achieved with Jeeran.

Or Zafer Younis & Ramzi Halabi and their Online Project

Or Rabea Ataya and Bayt

Or Wael Attili and Kharabeesh

Or Randa Ayoubi and Rubicon

Jordan accounts for 2 percent of the Arab World’s population, and yet produces 75% of its Arabic-language Internet content.

It is Jordanian and Palestinians and Syrians and Lebanese who are defining the future of our industry, and our future looks bright.

However, in order to be the companies of the future, we must remember that although our Internet speeds and our mobile phones and our televisions might change, we as people do not.

The reality is that if you want to be the companies of the future, you have to write the future. You have to identify those trends, make those uncomfortable decisions, and not go to where the future is, but where it’s going to be. And you have to keep rewriting the script.

And there is no better way to do that than to tap into the rich resources you have around you today than by sharing, because in today’s media world, there is nothing more powerful.

Google today ranks pages not just on how many people link to them, but how often people share them.

The success of a Facebook page is no longer measured in how many people like you, but in how many people share it.

And the brands most relevant to people’s lives today are the ones that share with their customers – through co-creation, collaboration and opportunity.

So as we begin this wonderful conference today, let us remember to share, because nobody knows how to share quite like Arabs do.

Long before the era of Facebook, we were sharing on Forums. And long before, you could always get an Arab to share his opinion on anything, from politics to marriage to where the best shawerma can be found in Amman.

So please share your insights with us.

Share your questions and your fears.

Share your lessons learnt, be they good or bad.

Share your business cards.

And hopefully together, we can all share in the bright future that the MENA region holds for all of us.”

During the speech people twitted like crazy, one tweet stood out for me… I will share it here and I circled it with a red box. It was posted by Debbas.

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