Digital platforms level the playing field to empower the region’s small and medium businesses
Mita Srinivasan
10x Industry

Digital platforms level the playing field to empower the region’s small and medium businesses

From reaching a wider audience to fostering meaningful customer engagements, digital platforms are proving to be a game-changer for SMBs, enabling them to level the playing field and thrive in the dynamic GCC market. Lisa Friedrich, Head of SMB, EMEA - TikTok, shares her views on how these platforms are empowering SMBs with real example.

In the highly competitive business landscape of the GCC region, local small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often face significant challenges when vying for market share, compared to larger, more established players. They are also often hampered by their own specific challenges, such as limited resources and budget constraints. But the rise of digital platforms has opened up a world of opportunities for local SMBs.

From reaching a wider audience to fostering meaningful customer engagements, digital platforms are proving to be a game-changer for SMBs, enabling them to level the playing field and thrive in the dynamic GCC market. According to Digital Sentiment Survey by McKinsey & Company, the Middle East has among the highest consumer digital engagement in the world, and the level of digital penetration among local consumers places the region in line with leading European and North American countries. Moreover, five MENA nations have made it to the top 10 list for take-up of social networks, and the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar have the highest levels of adoption vs. total population in the world, according to findings published by DataReportal.

The data provided by IPSOS shows that as digital penetration grows, marketers in MENA increase the budgets spent on online advertising. Most advertisers have moved their budgets to digital, including small businesses which find it far more affordable.

Tapping into the most extensive and diverse user base, digital platforms such as TikTok are offering local SMBs previously unimaginable access to potential customers. By leveraging the power of digital platforms, SMBs can reach beyond traditional geographic boundaries, connecting with consumers across borders.

Sharing valuable content, engaging with followers and showcasing the company’s products and services, SMBs are able to use digital platforms as a powerful tool to build brand awareness and establish trust with a wider audience. They can create an authentic brand identity that resonates with customers. Digital platforms are not just a content portal: they can make the user's path to online purchases more simple and convenient, as well as help drive traffic to the brand's website and stimulate the brand's app downloads.

A vital element in the relationship between SMBs and digital platforms lies in the latter’s role as a potential cost-effective marketing alternative, allowing businesses to spread their message without breaking the bank. On TikTok, for instance, businesses have all the opportunities to start winning the love of the platform's community by setting up a brand account with entertaining organic content that helps them deliver the right key messages, drive conversations with the target audience and demonstrate their product offer. And this does not require high budget spend or professional equipment. If you have a smartphone, a pinch of creativity and willingness to experiment with trends and creative approaches, you are on the right way to finding the brand's individual voice on the platform.

Targeted advertising formats on digital platforms can make a perfect match with SMBs' marketing budgets too if chosen according to individual needs and financial capabilities of the company.

A prime example of how digital platforms empower local SMBs in the GCC region to take their marketing to a new level is the Halaw Kakaw success story. The small family-run Kuwait confectionery business chose TikTok as a primary advertising platform and was able to drive reach to their TikTok account by a balanced combination of creative organic content and Spark Ads. As a result, they also experienced a remarkable boost in sales, customer base, and international interest. The Spark Ads format allows brands to create ads from existing TikToks while maintaining the native feel and functionality of organic posts, including comments, likes, shares and follows. Therefore, Halaw Kakaw was able to showcase itself in a more authentic way, which in turn drove more engagement and promoted the business. With Spark Ads, TikTok took Halaw Kakaw to a larger audience, as they followed relevant trends to engage the TikTok community effectively.

Through snackable and entertaining content — which literally looks good enough to eat, featuring colourful and creative visuals, food "challenges" and the element of gamification — the brand fostered customer loyalty and curiosity, resulting in an impressive 60-fold increase in daily orders and attracting 81,000 new customers in just 10 months. The brand also involves its TikTok audience by packing their online orders and recording the process as requested by viewers.

This has all led to unexpected global demand from other GCC countries and even France, increasing their daily sales to 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (US $3,250), and highlighting the potential for local SMBs to create opportunities for international growth. The brand's engaging content, diverse product offering, and visual appeal resonated with TikTok users, leading to increased customer loyalty and a successful expansion into new markets.

Ahmed Alsskaf, Co-Founder of Halaw Kakaw shared his positive feedback on h ow the campaign worked out, "I’ve tried working with many social media platforms, but, wow, Halaw Kakaw is in a different place after joining TikTok." 

It’s a sweet lesson for other local SMBs looking to engage in the strategic use of digital platforms. The sky's the limit for small businesses that seek to thrive in the dynamic digital age. By embracing the digital era and using their imagination, small and medium businesses can not only carve a niche for themselves in a competitive market but also make and leave a lasting impact in the business world.

About the author

Lisa Friedrich, Head of SMB, EMEA at TikTok, is a senior leader with marketing, sales and management experience fuelled by a passion for analytics. Proven results in building teams, refining operations, and driving revenue as well as architecting, managing, and tracking growth initiatives for Fortune 500 companies and startups of all sizes.