The marketing industry is one that both connects consumers and, if done well, goes largely unnoticed. At its best it taps into our lives and influences us in ways that we are unaware of—this is truer than ever in today’s hyper-connected era.
As the world embraces a period of digital transformation (one of the most undeniably hyped terms of recent years) marketers are now facing an opportunity unlike any other: constant connectivity with consumers, combined with the analytics to understand them better than ever before. At the crossroads of this junction is Mohamed Taher Kesseba, Marketing Director for the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Turkey at Qualcomm—one of the world’s biggest behind-the-scenes drivers of technological change.
“I love what marketing stands for, it’s a psychological game. It’s chess. It’s me, you and the competitors,” he says.
Established in 1985, Qualcomm has over three decades grown into a global semiconductor and digital communications giant. Number 238 on Forbes’ list of America’s 500 Largest Public Companies in 2017, its “Snapdragon” chipset technology today powers more than a billion smartphones worldwide, enabling wireless voice and data communications, networking, application processing, multimedia and GPS technology. According to Forbes, the company’s market cap was worth $83.2 billion in May 2017.
This success does not come without challenges. Qualcomm in recent months has faced some less-than-stellar publicity globally, such as the takeover bid by Broadcom earlier this year that was blocked by the U.S. government, putting the company’s future plans to test. However, stronger-than-expected results for 2018 so far could be a sign that a rocky year is about to come to an end—meaning Qualcomm can get back to focusing on what it does best: transforming lives through wireless technology.
“This thing controls us,” Kesseba says, pointing to his android phone. “And Qualcomm is behind it. We’re a company of innovation. We’re a company of inventions. That’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen the companies I’ve worked for. For each of them there was a promise, it was about me being interested in how this company might change the way people live.”
The companies Kesseba has chosen to work for over his 20-year career as a self-proclaimed “hardcore marketer” include some of the world’s most established brands. Kesseba finished his bachelor’s degree in Cairo, Egypt, before studying his MBA at Paris ESLSCA Business School, and gaining Post Graduate Diplomas in digital business from Columbia Business School and MIT. He has since also studied at the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the UK and is today one of only around 3,000 Chartered Marketers worldwide. Kesseba has moved around the globe in roles for Vodafone, MTN, Zain, Du and the Americana Group. Since 2012, he has been based in Dubai leading marketing and communications for Qualcomm, where his assignments have spanned across the Middle East, Africa, south east Asia and Turkey as Qualcomm continues to expand its business and transform digital communications.
And development on the next stage of its life-altering technology is underway, with Qualcomm pioneering the imminent introduction of 5G, hailing a new world of connectivity. One that, together with Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things, will enable an era of machine-to-machine communication that will disrupt our lives in almost unimaginable ways.
Akshay Lamba, Partner & Chief Information Officer at Deloitte Middle East, foresees 5G as forming the backbone for a number of key industries, as it is able to virtually segregate its network into distinct virtual networks. This means that vertical industries, such as healthcare, home security or autonomous vehicles can all use the network in a way that meets the parameters of their own specific operating requirements.
“5G’s capabilities will deliver the backbone for machine-to-machine communication and learning, driving IoT penetration and usage, which in-turn will lead to the cost of end-user IoT devices going down,” says Lamba. “Most households will evolve from just internet-based content consumers to content generators for their own private consumption.” This will have a revolutionary effect on the professional marketer, as customers become savvier, more demanding and less loyal, and companies are forced to change to address their needs.
“It is not about ‘doing digital’, it’s about adapting to the digital world,” says Kesseba. “Marketers who recognize the need to transform their models and structures without losing their creativity and intuition will be the ones to make it. It is not about new tools and pieces of technology, but about being inquisitive and exploring how these tools will impact customer behaviors and attitudes.”
This is key to being a strong marketer in a time of transformation. Understanding that it’s not about sales; it’s about putting the consumer at the beginning of the process. Sales-orientated marketing stops when the consumer buys the product; for a true marketer that’s where the journey starts.
Having worked for B2C (business-to-consumer) brands for most of his career, Kesseba had to tweak his approach at Qualcomm. An “ingredient brand”, Qualcomm—much like Intel—operates business-to-business-to-consumer. It provides the supporting tech to the companies that sell to the consumers. This means that Qualcomm does not have direct access to consumers themselves; it must work in harmony with its partners. In this region that includes major carriers, OEMs, governments and retail chains, as well as software and application developers. Qualcomm focuses on helping the entire ecosystem innovate, working with carriers to pave the road to 5G, with retailers to enable their digital transformation and with governments to make smart cities a reality.
“The whole idea is you want to build a wide base of ambassadors, whether that be sales guys, or the buyer themselves, to understand who’s the alpha-user, the influencer and so on,” says Kesseba.
For Qualcomm that means building a connection with end-users in a smart way—one that means they recognize the tech, not necessarily the company. “The moment of truth won’t be ‘I’m going to buy a Samsung because that’s a Snapdragon device’”, admits Kesseba. “But if you’re holding two devices and you’re uncertain which to choose and you see the Snapdragon logo and know that means quality, that’s what I want to achieve. I want to become part of the decision process. That’s when you are not just a product, that’s when you become a brand.”
To achieve this Qualcomm’s marketing team uses a wide range of strategies. They are responsible for more than just driving the brand and achieving “likes”—they are responsible for generating real business. The good news is that a huge budget isn’t necessary, the key is to take an innovative approach.
Kesseba showcased this in a campaign last year, where the aim was to position Qualcomm as more than a chip maker by encouraging consumers to think instead about the role the chips play in their lives. He invited four travel bloggers from South Africa, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to Dubai for three days. Upon arrival they handed over their mobile phones—they were to spend two whole days without them in a city they had never previously been to. Instead, Qualcomm gave each of the bloggers a bag containing a compass, a map, an old camera, a notebook and pen, and a basic phone from which they could make calls only—all services provided by a smartphone. With these they were tasked with discovering the gems of Dubai. On the third day they were given a Snapdragon-enabled smartphone.
It was a simple but successful idea. The bloggers returned home with a great story for their platforms, and Qualcomm got airtime with thousands of young smartphone-using consumers for minimal cost.
“That’s the beauty of digital marketing,” Kesseba explains. “People are using it wrong because they’re like let’s do a social media campaign, an activation campaign, let’s go on Twitter, FB, YouTube—let’s be everywhere. You don’t need to be everywhere, you need to understand your segment.”
Understanding your segment and entire stakeholder map means different things in different markets. In a technologically-advanced country like Hong Kong, where a large percentage of the population is on 4G already, the conversation Kesseba wants to initiate through digital marketing is about the benefits of moving to 5G and how a Snapdragon-enabled phone can help you get there. This is a similar story in the U.A.E. and KSA, where a tech-savvy youth are fast-moving onto the next technology.
For these markets, Kesseba is already using AI and tools such as Google analytics to understand what an individual is doing online, and whether they are an alpha-user or an opinion leader. If so, strategies such as seeding are used—provide them with a device, ask them to use it for a month. When they tell their network their thoughts, the network follows.
In Africa however, it’s a different ballgame. In an environment where 2G and 3G are still widely used, it’s face-to-face activations, such as experiential pop-ups in malls, that are a key way of generating awareness. For example, putting on a virtual reality show in a busy shopping center will attract interest from hundreds of users. Using that push Kesseba can go to Qualcomm’s carrier partners to show them that their consumers want and need 4G. He can then go to the government to ask them to support the carriers. “That’s the beauty of where Qualcomm sits because you’re not selling something directly, you’re enabling the entire ecosystem to advance itself,” he says.
The key benefit of an advanced ecosystem and an advanced consumer is an advanced world. As people adjust and come to understand what 5G could mean for them personally, Qualcomm is already preparing to launch—its latest chipset is ready to go now, before the network is up and running. And it’s promising mind-blowing capability. With an inbuilt AI component, the chip is becoming more like a human brain. It is able to think on its own, as well as save battery life and improve efficiency.
“With AI algorithms getting embedded into the chipset the implications are substantial as the technology will be used by other end-user devices like security cameras, health monitoring devices and even autonomous vehicles,” says Lamba. “Embedded AI makes machine learning easier, cheaper and faster, which can increase the intensity with which it is used by enterprises and consumers.”
It’s the kind of evolutionary technology that has the power to take the world into another era, one beyond digital, where connectivity is not a consideration, it’s a given. It’s also an opportunity for a hardcore marketer like Kesseba to delve into the human psyche once again as he connects his users to the brave new world.
“I love to understand things, I love to understand other people. Marketing is fascinating. It is so close to human psychology,” he says. “At the heart of what we’re doing, we’re in it to change people’s lives.”