Interview With Hala Deals Marketing Director, Mohamad Kaloub

When I look back at Egypt’s group buying site reviews that i did in last August, I figured out that a lot has changed in the group buying market since then. There is no question that Hala Deals is the fastest growing group buying site in Egypt in terms of its fan base, Hala Deals fans based has dramatically expanded from 2,000 fans in mid August to almost half a million fans on Facebook now!

The success secrets are revealed in today’s interview with Mohamad Kaloub the Marketing Director of Hala Deals.

Mohamad Kaloub, Marketing DIrector, Hala Deals

­­Tell us about your journey to becoming the Marketing Director at Hala Deals?

My journey started in Canada when I was in my first year of university studying Business at the University of Toronto. A good friend and fellow business major approached me with a business idea that I could not turn down; an event management agency that catered to the student population. We registered our business, incorporated the mother company as First Ad Solutions Inc., and named our first brand “X Productions”. After a few months, we decided to shift gears and venture off into Direct Mail. We created our second Brand called Consumer’s First. It was a digest that catered to local businesses who wanted to increase their awareness using a cost effective approach. After two years we realized that the print industry has become very saturated with many competitors offering similar, if not the same services. We conducted a market analyses and found that the print industry was in a decline, so we decided to diversify into the realm of Digital Media.

I have to say, the transition was not easy, but the potential reward ignited our drive. Three years later, I received an offer to join the board of Directors at Hala Deals. I was excited about the opportunity, yet skeptical of the challenges that we would be facing. This was a very difficult decision to make for the reason that First Ad Solutions was on its way to breaking record profits. However, I studied my options very closely and accepted the offer. In North America, I have seen businesses under this model fail miserably, and others rise above the crowd so I began strategizing an approach that would take Hala Deals from being a small start up to now one of the leading Group Buying sites in the region. Ever since I came to Cairo, I never once looked back.

Although you launched after other group buying sites you managed to have around half a million facebook fans in a few months, how did you manage to do that?

In today’s competitive business environment, no company can survive without a strong Social Media presence and we know that fact very well. It was integrated into the Marketing Strategy from day one and I am well aware of the return it has to offer. As this industry is constantly changing, it is crucial that we adapt with it, and the key here is to take the consumer along for the ride. Before Facebook came into existence, companies had it easy. They propagated their messages to the market in a one way stream with no care in the world for what the consumer had to say about their product or service. Little did many of them know, word of mouth; the most primitive yet most powerful form of advertising, would be the missing link. Now that these online social platforms have flourished, they will be neglected no more.

You can’t play a poor football game in a full stadium, but you also can’t play a great game in an empty stadium, you have to find the equilibrium and generate attractive content to your fans.

We were very keen on directing our message through a well established Facebook Fan Page, and this is where we allocated a chunk of our marketing budget towards. We launch various online marketing campaigns including Facebook Paid Advertisements and a QR integrated print campaign to enhance accessibility. This however is not the complete answer you are looking for, and this is why I want to top it off with a key point… content. We as human beings react to different things in many different ways, so the point here is to keep our fans happy with up to date content that’s fun, informative and interactive. Here is an analogy that sums this up: You can’t play a poor football game in a full stadium, but you also can’t play a great game in an empty stadium, you have to find the equilibrium and generate attractive content to your fans.

How is HalaDeal differentiating itself in the local market?

It would be a fat lie for me to say that we are doing something that no one else has done before. We are a clone of Groupon’s business model and that’s that, but it’s what we do within our organization that sets us apart from the competition. We are disciplined and creative in the marketing efforts that we run. We are establishing a network of businesses that would benefit from our services and vice versa. Unfortunately I can’t give you too much information on this topic, because if I did, we would be different no more.

What’s your value proposition for local businesses in Egypt who want to offer deals on HalaDeals.com?

Our value proposition is very simple; Brand Awareness through mass marketing. We are an online Marketing Solution that caters to local businesses who need their names heard. We feature their product or service on the website and allow our online and offline marketing tools to do the work. Our weekly campaigns receive over two million impressions and these figures are constantly increasing. When we inform our prospects that this can all be done with minimal if not zero cost associated, it’s a done deal. The key is to focus on long term gain as opposed to short term reward. It’s not about the profit that you will acquire through the deal, but the long-term client that will feed your bank account for years to come. It’s the power of customer retention that needs to be highlighted in every sales pitch. We have found that the Egyptian Merchant does not want to be sold on ANYTHING; they require an emotional engagement first and foremost. They need to trust you, and we build that trust through friendly consulting and honest business; we strive to find the needs of every business and tailor a package that works for them.

It’s the power of customer retention that needs to be highlighted in every sales pitch. We have found that the Egyptian Merchant does not want to be sold on ANYTHING; they require an emotional engagement first and foremost.

How do you guarantee customer satisfaction and that vendors honor their commitments towards the customer?

To get businesses to honor their commitments towards the customer, they first need to be convinced with the package that they are offering, and that is why we work very closely with each merchant to ensure their satisfaction. As I always say, a happy business owner equals happy customers. Having said that, you can never guarantee customer satisfaction and whoever tells you otherwise is naive. Every customer is different and that’s how God made them. Some will be satisfied with a refund along with a sincere apology, and some may ask for a Ferrari to make up for a hair strand on their plate, and I wouldn’t blame the latter, I like my food hairless.

Some will be satisfied with a refund along with a sincere apology, and some may ask for a Ferrari to make up for a hair strand on their plate, and I wouldn’t blame the latter, I like my food hairless.

The point I’m trying to make is that a company can do everything in its power to keep their customers happy but for some, this may not be enough, and that’s why it is our absolute top priority to minimize dissatisfaction amongst our customers. They pay our salaries and cover our overhead, and with the popularity of social media, we cannot afford to receive any negative feedback. We strive to ensure that our Customer Care Team is well equipped and trained to resolve any conflicts that may arise. As a new business concept in a fresh market, we will encounter many questions, but it is always a pleasure to walk the customers through the steps and ensure that their experience is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

What are your target demographics (age-gender-interests)?

Our consumer base varies, but our marketing campaigns target mainly internet users aged between 18 to 35 years old. Many of our buyers are females but we do our best to offer deals that cater to both genders.

What are you expansion plans locally and regionally?

The great thing about this business model is that it is easily duplicated once you have set a strong foundation.  We have been working very hard to build a framework that we can expand around and believe that this has been accomplished. We have expansion plans that we are going to execute in the near future, but due to confidentiality reasons, we cannot disclose when and where exactly.

What are the new things that you are introducing to HalaDeals in 2012?

Very sensitive questions, so I’ll be very brief. Our goal is to be different, but still offer our fans a great service, so we will be introducing a new addition to our business model that will allow customers to enjoy a bigger bang for their buck (More Value). We call it G2.

What are your different CSR activities?

We blocked our website for two days during the violent protests near the end of November. This was to show our respects to all that have been killed during the crises. Profit isn’t everything, we have a conscience and we truly did feel for Egypt.

Hala Deals prides itself in its efforts to support non-profit organizations in various fields and has been very active in doing so. Diversity is the key to a stable and strong line of networks. It is important not to conflict with the relationships that we have established. We are proud sponsors of organizations that promote causes such as fitness, health, education, entrepreneurship and will continue to venture out into different sectors to ensure strong brand presence. Our partners include such organizations as EMSA, IFMSA, Under-ground Bands, ITLC, Cycle Egypt and AWTAD. EMSA stands for “The Egyptian Medical Students’ Association”. They are a non-profit organization that raise awareness on wide spread diseases and illnesses to the general public. They are also involved with educating parents about the prevention of pneumonia with learning aids such as coloring books for the children. IFMSA, also known as “The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association” is responsible for organizing and funding events that support causes for different types of disabilities.

Our involvement with underground artists comes from our core motivation to support up and coming creative talent that are primarily driven by the need to perfect their art. We strongly believe that these activities will promote positive messages to the always evolving Egyptian youth. The “International Transport & Logistics Club” is a university run organization that aids students in discovering their hidden talents with many options offered to help them find jobs in the field of business. Cycle Egypt is an organization that welcomes bikers who want to pursue an active lifestyle by hosting weekly events where a group of participants ride their bikes through a predetermined rout.  AWTAD is the newest addition to our network of partners and it is a privilege to be involved in an organization with a very clear mission; to mentor young entrepreneurs and provide them with a support system that will help them in reaching their goals to becoming a successful business man or woman.

I would also like to mention our two day Website Block during the violent protests near the end of November. This was to show our respects to all that have been killed during the crises. We did not stop operation within the company; we just didn’t sell. Profit isn’t everything, we have a conscience and we truly did feel for Egypt. Hala Deals’ CSR goals have not yet been achieved, but we have a division that specializes in these efforts and we will continue to offer our love and support to the community.

Get in touch with Mohamed Kaloub through linkedin

Visit website

Or visit hala deals facebook fans page at: www.facebook.com/haladeals

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Egypt Yellow Pages Ecosystem

There is no question that local search is now one of the core services of many web and mobile applications offered today. Think about the big market players such as Google and Facebook, both of them offer “places”. Social media check-in apps such as Foursquare, verticals like hotel review sites (Tripadvisor),  restaurant reviews sites, food delivery sites, map providers such as Navteq, or even directory assistance services offered by mobile operators, all their services are based on a venue database. If they don’t get it right there is very little point in offering their services.

Think about the effort and cost needed to maintain your own database. Thousands of businesses open, close, or relocate every month. This is the opportunity where what is offered by Yellow Pages is exactly the need of all these applications and services.

Egypt Yellow Pages is no exception, the integration between Egypt Yellow Pages database and their partners is becoming a key strength for many of these applications making use of the most complete business database in Egypt covering over 220,000 listings and 170,000 map locations.

Here is the ECO-SYSTEM of Egypt Yellow Pages

Egypt Yellow Pages ECHO-SYSTEM

I’ll go through the details of each of these systems and partnerships in future posts.

6.5 Million Egyptians on Facebook

I keep hearing lots of numbers of Facebook users statistics in Egypt, the total number as of today (17 March, 2011) is

6,393,080 people

How did i know these stats? There is a very simple trick to know this number yourself… Go to the advertising link at the bottom of the FB page, click on create ad button, then you will get a page at which you can specify your targeting options…

Make sure to select the date Any-to-Any and the country Egypt, which should be selected by default if you live there. Wait for a few seconds and then you will see on the right side of the page the up to date total number of Facebook users in Egypt. The total number of users is now:

Facebook users in Egypt in March 2011

Egypt Yellow Pages Partners Day

I’m a little late to talk about this one, but last Sunday, January 16th 2011, was Egypt Yellow Pages first event for 2011, the best thing we thought we would do this year with, is to honor our partners and give them a big thank you for being so awesome through 2010… Our event title is Enhancing Local Search And Location-Based Services With Key Strategic Partnerships

Hosted in the Four Seasons Nile Plaza in garden city, more than 40 communications media specialists, editors and journalists covered the event that was attended by Egypt Yellow Pages strategic partners: Ministry of state of administrative development – e-Government, Nokia/Navteq, Al Masry Al Youm and Akhbarak.net

The event started with the keynote from Marc Lambert, managing director of Egypt Yellow Pages. The speech was so insightful, Marc explained how our strategic partners will help us enhance the local search services on more platforms by making it available through our partners sites and in the same time focusing on offering location based services which is the future of the local search…

 

Marc Lambert giving his keynote in the event

Marc Lambert giving his keynote in the event

I had the opportunity then to present some figures and insights about our achievements in 2010, which ended up with us having more than 175,000 business listing in our database out of which 115,000 are geocoded. At the time i am writing this blog post, we have about 180,000 listings and approaching 120,000 geocoded listings… 2010 was also a year that witnesses tripling our website traffic from 400,000 visits per month to over 1.2 million visits, a truly new milestone for local search in Egypt.

 

 

Mohamed Salah, Director Digital Media, Egypt Yellow Pages presentation about insights and search trends in Egypt for 2010

Mohamed Salah, Director Digital Media, Egypt Yellow Pages presentation about insights and search trends in Egypt for 2010

Our partners were the ones who presented our strategic partnership details to the media, the following were representatives of  our partners:

Mathia Nalappan, General Manager – North Africa, Nokia
Phil McKinnon, Head Of Marketing – North Africa, Nokia
Mohamed Abd El-Jalil, Head Of Solutions Sales – North Africa, Nokia
Sahar Afia, Project Manager – Government Services Development Program, Ministry Of State For Administrative Development
Kismet EL-Sayed, Shareholder / Business Development Director, Al-Masry Al-Youm
Osman Ahmed Osman, Founder, Akhbarak.Net

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Turkey Yellow Pages Partners with Navteq and Nokia

Turkey Yellow Pages Partners with Navteq and Nokia

Turkey Yellow Pages Partners with Navteq and Nokia

Turkey Yellow Pages signed a 5 year strategic deal to supply business listing information to NAVTEQ and Nokia global mapping platforms. This is the kind of partnerships that the giant mapping provider Navteq and Nokia are looking for. In these days, the mapping technologies have reached a new level, GPS became a major component in any mobile phone, not less important than a camera. Most new cars are already equipped with in-car navigation systems. Detailed maps are now available for almost anywhere in the planet. Without a detailed map a GPS would be useless.

So the equation that stood for some time was:

GPS + Detailed Maps = Know your way

Now this equation has totally changed, having access to hundreds of thousands of locations for hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, hospitals, …. definitely means much more. It means you do not need to worry any more about finding a place you want to go to.. All what you need is to decide what you want to do, and the where or how is not a problem anymore.

The new equations is

GPS + Detailed Maps + Business Listing Locations = Find your destination

It is so exciting now that Turkey Yellow Pages data will power up Nokia OviMaps which were offered for free a few days ago.  Nokia OviMaps is now one of the most convenient mobile maps that you could use, not only because it is free now, it’s technology has changed from raster images into vector maps so the application can be downloaded locally to your mobile from Ovi App Store, and it’s size is no more than 8 MB. This includes all the maps installed on your local mobile, no need to keep downloading images from the internet.

Nokia Mobile Search

Back in late 2006, when we developed our Nokia Mobile Search plug-in for Egypt, UAE and KSA Yellow Pages we were so delighted about it, it was a breakthrough for the use of the mobiles in our daily life to find a restaurant or a hotel on the move. One and half years later Nokia decided to drop support for their Mobile Search applications. Their insights were toward mobile maps. Now here comes OviMaps, the new amazing free Nokia mobile mapping platform and again powered by Yellow Pages, the most trusted local search provider as always.

So stay tuned for the upcoming updates from OviMaps which Turkey Yellow Pages will power up its data soon…

Egypt Yellow Pages: Year 2009 Wrap-up

Another year has come and gone, i’m taking a moment here to look back at what happened in 2009, what people want in Egypt, what they are looking for and interested in.

Saying goodbye to 2009 and welcome to 2010, this is what people are interested in

Top 10 searches in http://www.yellow.com.eg during 2009

Hotels remain in number 1 like 2008, Restaurants jump from 4th position to second position, Schools comes in the third place while Banks drop 2 places to be in the 4th place.

Cars move out from the top 10 and Pharmacies enter in the 10th position.

Most popular businesses in http://www.yellow.com.eg during 2009

As for the businesses, HP retains its first place for the second year, DHL and Western Union comes in second and third places. Followed by Telco companies Vodafone and Raya, as for banks CIB jumps this year above HSBC, and finally cafes and fast food restaurants appear for the first time in the top 10 list: Cilantro, KFC followed by Pizza Hut in the 10th place.

Prefered visitor language for http://www.yellow.com.eg in 2009

One more interesting fact is that Arabic version of www.yellow.com.eg is getting more attention, usage has increased from 40% in 2008 to 45.8% in 2009 almost reaching the English. This is a direct result of enhancing the arabic search logic which now produces better and much more relevant results.

2009 was just a great year for Egypt Yellow Pages. 2010 will hopefully be even better, we will keep doing our best to serve our visitors and enhance their experience.

Merry Xmas and Happy new year to everyone 🙂

Google Real-Time Search: Relevance, Relevance, Relevance

Google announced today the launch of the real-time search feature as an integral part of their search engine. This means that now when you search for Copenhagen climate conference you will know what people are posting about this event on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, blogs, microblogs, news, …

This probably explains why Eric Shmidt joined Twitter yesterday. It was actually an unexpected move from Google for me, at least the speed they have completed this. Shmidt said about one month ago that the social media is still a grey area for Google, and that the content on facebook is mostly private content that they can’t use. It seems that a strategic decision has been made after this that they should avail this real-time feature right away for one reason or another.

Moving away from politics 🙂  back to the real-time feature. It is very cool, the thing that makes it useful it that you are actually seeing very relevant content to what you are looking for… Google are the masters of delivering relevant content. Below is what you get when you search Copenhagen climate conference

Read more about this from Google official blog