In The Hot Seat – Daniel Cross

Daniel Cross, Head of Middle East at Local Measure tells TMN about his current role, user-generated content and what he thinks about the digital marketing industry in the region… 

Name: Daniel Cross

Age: 34

From: UK 

Current job title: Head of Middle East, Local Measure

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

May 2008

Where did you work prior?

Prior to joining Local Measure, I worked in the UAE with and most recently with TripAdvisor.

What were your first impressions of the digital marketing industry in the Middle East?

Honestly speaking, the first thing I noticed was the disparity in budget allocation between digital and traditional marketing avenues. Whilst the major brands in the UAE would happily plaster their messaging on a billboard for significant amounts of money, there wasn’t really much left in the pot for basic things like a solid mobile responsive website or campaigns to reach and engage the public. There were many fantastic marketing teams in the region and their creative ideas were sometimes let down by the lack of resources or importance placed what those teams do.

Has your opinion changed much?

Yes and no. Whilst there have obviously been huge strides forward, I think too many companies are on social media because it ‘ticks a box’, not because they fully understand the value behind social media (and digital in general) when it’s done right. That said, I’ve been really impressed with some of the campaigns I’ve seen more recently from smaller local companies like Bull & Roo and, Tom & Serg, their social media and quality of content is consistently good across all of their outlets. I also liked the Roast Vs. Ramen campaign they did over Ramadan. However, there are too many brands and agencies producing uninspiring content and getting away with it!

Tell us about your current role…

My role with Local Measure is simple, I’m helping major tourism attractions and hotel chains with their guest experience strategy through real-time social media intelligence. At the heart of our platform is user-generated content (UGC). It’s the perfect role for me, due to my background with TripAdvisor and knowledge of the hospitality industries pain points. Instead of digesting feedback data when the guest has left the location, what can we do with real-time insight to activate service recovery or enhance the experiences whilst the guest is still on site.

What challenges do you face?

For me personally, it’s about educating clients on why they can’t afford to see ‘online’ and ‘offline’ as two separate experiences. In my view, it’s all one single experience.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I get to work with CEOs and Senior Vice Presidents in some of the leading tourism and hospitality brands in the region. These are people with great visions and a willingness to try new technologies to improve the experiences they currently deliver to their customers.

Has user-generated content (UGC) taken over brand promotion and marketing campaigns in the UAE? How?

Definitely! User-generated content (UGC) is a huge part of the strategy discussions I have with my clients on a daily basis. For example, let’s take a theme park or shopping mall, every day there are hundreds of moments shared on social media of that attraction, which is essentially an endless flow of rich and engaging content. One of the hardest parts of the job for any social media executive is creating interesting and original content as well as stories about the same venue and outlets, 365 days a year. Even if you worked for one of the most exciting attractions in the world, your social media would still be repetitive on a long enough timeline. However, by utilising UGC, you can cherry pick amazing moments captured by real guests. Most importantly, UGC is much more credible then your traditional staged photoshoot. Ask yourself, why are review websites like TripAdvisor so popular? Well, in my opinion, it’s because potential guests want to read what other guests have to say about a hotel. Not what the hotel has to say about the hotel. So, the same thought process can also be applied to image and video content. People want to see real experiences of other people. It’s social proof in motion. Local Measure power thousands of UGC widgets embedded within our customers websites, the engagement and heat-map data is conclusive that UGC is what people want to digest. Aside from hospitality and tourism, most recently I’ve seen some great UGC from Puma on their Instagram and sponsored advertisements. Many other brands are latching on to this idea and it’s only going to get bigger.

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?

There have been quite a few memorable moments. Last year I presented a social media pitch to Prithvi Raj Singh (PRS) Oberoi, Chairman of Oberoi Group. It was an honour to meet such a well-known and loved figure within the industry. The pitch went very well, and we won the partnership with two of their properties.

What inspires you?

I think I’m inspired by the ability to create change. I’m lucky enough to work with some incredibly intelligent people, both within Local Measure and from partnerships we have established globally. I’m inspired by the weird and wonderful ideas we bounce around in meetings and conference calls. Working for a company like Local Measure, we all have genuine input on the features and functionality that gets added to the platform. Anyone who has worked with me will confirm, my contributions are sometimes both weird and wonderful in equal measure.

Describe yourself in five words…

Caught between optimistic and realistic

What’s your most overused saying?

It would probably be the ‘straight face emoji’ on whatsapp. Either that or asking someone to ‘do the needful’.

Five things you can’t live without?

Wifi, iPhone, Jeep, Netflix and my Nespresso machine.

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

I would probably be with some other kind of startup or SME. Any role where I can put my creativity and experience to good use.

What is your favourite form of media?

Social Media! Platform of choice would be Instagram.

How do you see the digital marketing industry changing in the Middle East in the coming years?

I think most of the change will be brought about by how the social media platforms evolve over the coming years. Each platform is fighting for our attention and content, this in turn will drive more creative products. As I mentioned before, the line between online and offline is becoming increasingly blurred. I think sponsored advertisements will become more location-based, delivering real-time pop up content as you cross into geo-fenced areas. However, the privacy laws that govern this type of engagement will also play a pivotal part in shaping how this actually works. There will be greater emphasis placed on digital experience of the guest or customer. Whilst digital marketing can influence the consumer to buy a ticket or go to a venue, it’s the actual experience that will turn this person into an advocate or repeat customer. I think that the Middle East in particular will continue to attract some of the most highly sought-after talent in the field, I just hope that they are given the freedom to take action for the strategic change they are brought onboard to do. On the subject of social Influencers, I think that ‘mega Influencers’ are becoming too expensive for SME’s to work with, especially with little guaranteed return. They will give way to what I call ‘everyday Influencers’ which are people with 5000 – 10,000 followers, more hobbyists than wannabe celebrities. Is it better to have one person with 300,000 followers, or thirty people with 10,000 followers? Well, that’s an interesting question…