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It's fairly well understood now that of the time people spend online, they're spending it on mobile and in just a handful of apps, including Facebook. What's remained top of mind for advertisers is how challenging it is for them to tell compelling brand and product stories on mobile in ways that are enjoyable for people and effective for their business.

Telecom Review sat down with Jane Schachtel, Facebook's Global Head of Technology and Telecom Strategy, and Terry Kane, Head of Auto, Finance, Telco and Travel for Facebook and Instagram, to chat about: the shift in mobile communications in the region; tech/telco companies in the region now recognizing the importance of reaching real people, on platforms that matter to them; and the latest product release, Canvas.

Can you start by telling me about the shift in mobile communications in the region and how the MENA audiences are over indexing in terms of Facebook and Instagram?
Jane: Globally, the shift to mobile isn't happening - it has happened. In many parts of the world, smartphone penetration is upwards of between 40% and 80% depending on where you are. And the rest of those people, many of them have feature phones. So, mobile connectivity is here and the shift to mobile is really no longer a shift to mobile. It's here. It's happening. I think that 4G, by 2020, over 50% of the entire world will be 4G and 4G LTE. So, that connectivity is here today and only going to get faster and better for people.

Terry: What we notice in this part of the world is that people like to share a lot more and talk a lot more and they like to engage a lot more than maybe the industry averages. It's fair to say the mobile communications and mobile phones per average person is again higher than the rest of the world, and we notice this in terms of the usage of Facebook and Instagram.

So what do you do differently in this region to maximize the opportunity?
T: Facebook's number one mission globally is to connect the world, so we obviously have a number of platforms to do that, the two most famous being Facebook and Instagram. What we do on those platforms is create the space and the environment for people to go on to share. The objective of Facebook is to connect to those family and friends, and brands and businesses that are meaningful to you; whereas, Instagram is a place of discovery where you can discover things and effectively find things which are not necessarily part of your day to day life. Particularly, having the Arabic language and being able to engage in the Arabic language is a key part of people's usage in the region.

How do you work with telco operators?
J: We really are living in a mobile world. It's the world that telecom operators created, so we work with them to reach people on the very devices that they put people on every day. What that means is helping them adapt to that mobile marketing type of work. Today, globally, the mobile marketing budgets are only about 10% of the total ad spend, according to IDC, but the opportunity is huge. So, while people are spending every hour but two of their waking hours on their phones, and mobile operators are only spending 10% of their total marketing budget, clearly there's a huge opportunity. What we do is sit down with them and talk about how they can adapt to this mobile behavior that they have created - that is different to what they're used to. We sit down with them to first understand how they can adapt to people and the things that they care about and talk about on Facebook. We know so much about people because they share their interests with their friends and they share them with us.

How easily do companies adapt to the change?
J: Telcos in general are in the midst of going through their own digital transformation and this means marketing as well. So, for the last five years at least we've been working with telcos around the world on adapting their marketing to digital and now mobile. What makes it challenging is that the creative that they're used to developing is one-minute television commercials, and what stops peoples' thumbs in news feeds is something shorter, more impactful and is very relevant and based on what you care about the most.

T: In terms of the transformation, we partner with key selected telecom providers, tech providers and other companies and other verticals and industries in the region. Whenever we partner with someone we provide real value added services such as training, education and access to our creative shop. This is a group of the world's best creative experts who look at business problems they might have such as brand awareness, brand differentiation, all the way through to how do they sell the latest upgrade to people who are reluctant to upgrade? We really break down those business challenges and then apply what we've got as in-house expertise to those business challenges.

What do you look for when selecting companies to partner with?
J: When it comes to working with telecom providers, first and foremost we want to work with them on business goals. We work together using the tools that Terry mentioned and it turns into a very strategic partnership because we're helping them achieve the types of business goals that marketing and a lot of the businesses are essentially reporting on, on a quarterly basis.

T: Particularly within the region, there's no difference in terms of the vertical; they have the same challenges regionally as they will globally. I think what's unique about this region is coming back to this penetration of feature phones. There are few places in the world where feature phones will dominate the smartphone and there are very few platforms like Facebook and Instagram that can take what telco providers and network providers are doing in terms of creative and naturally adapt it to the phone. Somebody sitting in North Africa with a feature phone will still be able to access Facebook and it will be rendered in the way that suits that phone the best, so that's a critical component.

Can you tell me more about Facebook's latest product, Canvas?
J: When you think about adapting to people and adapting to mobile and delivering long-term business value, telcos increasingly have a lot of different services that they want people to buy. Sometimes they're challenged because often they just communicate these only in terms of the price or the strength of their network. The ad network that we came out with recently called Canvas helps telecom operators take how they're enabling your entire digital life and showcase that in a creative way.

Canvas was built through the collaboration of the advertising community: Facebook engineers, designers and creative shop all working together in a constant feedback loop. Canvases load approximately 10 times faster than mobile web. The average mobile web page download is around eight seconds.

Virgin Mobile KSA partnered with leading digital performance agency, Netizency, to create an integrated strategy that would capture people's interest across different platforms and encourage them to visit the website, choose their new phone number and book it. Netizency used Facebook targeting to tailor Virgin Mobile's message to different audiences, allowing it to reconnect with people who had already shown interest in the brand, whilst also reaching new audiences who were likely to behave similarly to existing customers.

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