A tad sleepy and mind-aflutter with sensory input from a whole other world (quite literally), my recent trip to Dubai was a wonderful experience....
What I was reminded of: Unless we make the effort to get to know more about other cultures and traditions by visiting or at least studying up on foreign lands, we will find ourselves guilty of ugly American sin #1, in terms of marketing and otherwise: making assumptions.
What we normally see and read of the women in the Middle East is really just the political and war-related side of life, isn't it? Photos/video coverage from Iraq, for example. If Muslim women are depicted at all, the coverage consists of Burkah-shrouded mothers and wives in agony over children or husbands lost to suicide bombings and the like.
We in the U.S. don't hear or read stories of women in their daily lives in almost any country besides our own. We perhaps assume that the majority of women from the many countries in that region have no choice and are forced to adhere to the religous rules of dress, when that may well not be the case (as evidenced by this 2001 petition submitted by Muslim women to CNN).
I am no expert in this, of course, but the experience has opened my brain for learning more.
My conversations this past week with marketing-related professional women and men from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, among others, felt very similar to those I have with businesspeople here. I saw much evidence of cutting-edge marketing work and much greater strides in higher education for women than I could ever have expected. It made me realize that what I preach about marketing to women in general (don't make assumptions and the market you serve is not all women everywhere, but a very specific narrow segment) holds very true across international boundaries.
It is exciting to witness the changes, no matter how much they may seem like baby-steps to us, occurring in that part of the world. The audience members (maybe 60/40 male to female ratio) at this Gulf Marketing Review conference were very engaged and asked incredibly good questions.
Several men in the audience seemed to quickly pick up on the idea that these higher standards for reaching women weren't only going to be effective with women. Anthony Rischard, Managing Partner of Catch Interactive in Dubai, was one attendee who articulated that in an email he sent yesterday: "...transparently marketing to EVERYONE is an approach that is in synch with an ever more discerning and sophisticated consumer."
And, an ever more discerning and sophisticated consumer, male and female, is what the Middle East region has to a large degree.
P.S. If a general primer on the religious/cultural traditions for Middle Eastern women is of interest, I found Geraldine Brooks' book, Nine Parts of Desire (Bantam Doubleday, 1995) to be very helpful.
This post is getting long, so I'll write more of my conference/Middle East debrief in a future post or two. And, I've created a photo album of my Dubai experience as well. (I am trying to get the captions to show up, but have not succeeded yet.)
Take the first step (it's free).
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