Why more Middle East businesses need to communicate in Arabic

Companies that are looking to grow and expand in the region and targeting Arabs have to speak to their audience’s language

Middle Eastern businessman working in office as designer on computer

Arabic is one of the 15 languages spoken by half of the world's population, according to the World Economic Forum. It's the official language of over 20 countries, and has around 300 million native speakers. It also ranks in the top five on the Power Language Index.

As we celebrate Arabic Language Day on Friday, it is more important now than ever for businesses that want to appeal to the Arab target audience to communicate in Arabic with their customers. A growing body of research provides credence to the fact that language is closely linked with consumer behaviours.

Online shoppers prefer businesses that speak their language. According to a 2018 study by Rbbi, the Middle East's first data-driven agency, 88 per cent of online shoppers prefer to buy products using their native language.

Search engines are a key source of information about businesses. With Google dominating 97 per cent of market share in Arab countries, and with Arabic being the fourth-most used language online, it is imperative that businesses optimise their websites in Arabic for potential customers looking for information about or related to it.

Moreover, countries in the Middle East and North African region such as the UAE are regional hubs for media, trade, medical tourism, entrepreneurship and innovation. In addition, the people of the region also have a large purchasing power, which appeals to global brands and businesses. A study by discount site Picodi.com revealed that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the world's cosmetic capitals, with women from these countries topping global spending charts for cosmetic and beauty products.

On the technology front, e-commerce penetration rates continue to grow in the region, with the Covid-19 crisis fueling its growth. The Mena e-commerce market is worth $8.3 billion according to a report by Google and Bain & Company published last year. Egypt and the GCC region have been growing at an annual rate of 30 per cent, surpassing the global average, according to the report, and with Arabic as the main language users communicate in. The State of Social Media 2019 report by Crowd Analyzer, a Dubai-based data intelligence provider and social media monitoring platform, derived data from over 180 million users across the Mena region, and found that 90 per cent of social media posts by users were in Arabic, and only 10 per cent in English.

Companies that are looking to grow and expand in the region and targeting Arabs have to speak to their audience’s language. It is not a matter of just translating content to Arabic, but they need to onboard Arabic-speaking staff who understand their customers’ culture and can deliver the message in an effective way without losing vital information in translation.

A good way to start is by having an Arabic version of a website, and optimising it for search engines. A social media presence in Arabic is vital, with accounts managed by an Arabic speaker as that’s one of the first places potential customers would approach. Last but not least, it’s important for businesses to ensure that their customer and sales representatives are Arabic speakers.

By ensuring that a business speaks their customers’ language, they can gain a competitive edge, have a better understanding of their customers’ needs, and can serve them better. As e-commerce, mobile, and social media penetration continues to grow, and the world is interwoven, there’s no time like the present to ensure that your business embraces Arabic.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.

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