Before I speculate on 2017, it is important to take a look back on learnings from trends in 2016- it was an interesting year, to say the least. There were a lot of unexpected results around the globe politically, which I feel may have some dramatic consequences economically in the years to come. The UAE was resilient in 2016, in spite of what was going on around us with significant drop in value to the British pound post Brexit, the US presidential elections, Italy’s prime minister stepping down affecting the EU’s third largest economy’s stability, oil price drops and the stability of the EU in question.
Certainly, our products have performed surprisingly well over a year where regional players have taken a bigger chunk of the market from premium brands. Within Midcom Group we have experienced this across dairy, FMCG and the mobile phone industry. We believe consumers are becoming increasingly informed and really have a handle on what’s happening across the globe. Premium products will of course have a space of their own, but these increasingly savvy consumers are focusing more on features than brand and 2017 will continue this trend.
The last year saw three key areas of growth for our organization. Holistically, our consumer portfolio had to increase as we saw the value in diversifying our market offering. Risk mitigation was a key learning for us in 2016 as certain markets dropped as a result of oil prices and consumers began to cut back on luxury items, so we expanded both our product base and our geographic markets. This proved a highly successful decision, as our coverage and product portfolio grew, along with our top and bottom line.
The first was our move into the dairy business. Our consumer portfolio and geographic markets increased with LATO milk, now widely available across East Africa. FERO Mobile, our own brand of mobile handsets, positioned in the affordable space, was launched across 13 African markets. We also launched the College of Fashion & Design in Dubai in 2016. Intakes start in January and the team has worked extremely hard to become the UAE’s first dedicated fashion & design school accredited by the Ministry of Education.
The growth opportunities in 2017, as I see them, lie in brands really focusing on core strengths. Do things you are good at, and you will be successful. Businesses that realize their core strengths and focus on them are the ones that thrive in good times or bad and right now we cannot tell which way 2017 is likely to fall. The geo-political incidents mentioned will certainly have impact on business and organizations need to be agile enough to adapt to all changing market conditions, so diversification will again play a big role going in 2017.
With diversification, however, the key is management efficiency and agility to adapt to changing market scenarios. It’s not enough to simply launch a new product to protect yourself, as new products and services take investment of time and capital, so you must have first made a success of your core business. My main advice to small and medium sized businesses for 2017 is to focus on your existing product or service and allow yourself the opportunity for organic growth into a complementary field. Whether it involves accessories to your existing product or additional services relating to your existing offering, keep your eyes and ears open to what your customers are asking for and allow yourself the opportunity to expand. Should you have the capital to launch into a new market or offering entirely, ensure you have the right people around you to make it a success. This is one area you need to invest in prior to launching, you have one shot at a first impression and if you are expecting to simply find your way in a new space, you risk a far greater loss than it will be worth.
At Midcom, Q1 2017 will see the launch of a bigger portfolio. This will span new markets, industries and products. 2017 will see a rise in regional brands across industries, but specifically in technology spaces, such as consumer electronics and mobile phones. We have huge ambitions for our mobile phone brand across the GCC in 2017, and consumers will begin to see an increased range of FERO handset options available. The demand for affordable smartphones is massive, and again, consumers are realizing good quality products are available at much more competitive prices. The main driver of this is of course the expansion of online marketing opportunities, where small brands can appear as big as the established ones through great content and budget management. The Internet continuously allows brands access to more markets, and the expansion of online news and social media platforms has turned local into international.