When Google hosted the 2016 CMO Academy in partnership with INSEAD in November, CMOs from the largest companies in MENA gathered together to discuss the marketing challenges they face going into 2017. Whether your company is new to online or already established in the digital space, here are the areas to prioritise in order to find success in the coming year.

In a difficult economic climate, technology can help

With the economy still in recession, technology is a powerful means for businesses to maximise cost efficiency and improve their return on investment. For example, many brands are discovering the power of YouTube in delivering big gains – a recent meta-analysis of 56 case studies showed YouTube delivered 77% higher ROI than TV.

Programmatic in particular poses another opportunity for businesses to allocate budget more effectively. McDonald’s UAE used a programmatic approach to derive data-driven insights about online and offline behaviour, and as a consequence decided to transition media budget from print to digital.

Augmenting offline retail activities with digital capabilities offers a way to drive new purchases. eXtra’s MEGA sale campaigns are a case in point: digital delivered incremental reach for the sale beyond the traditional in-store experience, helping the brand produce a 13-fold increase in online transactions.

Use a test-and-learn approach to create a content strategy

Understanding what content works best, what role influencers play and what’s likely to go viral requires a mix of art and science. The way to succeed is to experiment: let the clicks and engagement of audiences guide your business as you refine the content offering to the real needs and preferences of actual users.

Putting some budget behind experimentation paid off for Maybelline New York in MENA. After researching search trends, the brand launched a YouTube show in MENA featuring beauty tips and tutorials. The content found instant appeal among the target audience, with channel subscriptions increasing fourfold and brand searches growing by a factor of ten.

Consumers are increasingly looking for great content in every area – from the smallest purchases, like cosmetics, up to the very biggest, such as cars. A survey conducted by Google and market research firm TNS earlier this year found that Gulf residents have slashed the time they take to choose a new car by 50% to just 1.6 months by using their smartphones to research potential vehicles. An overwhelming percentage of survey respondents said they view online videos in making car-buying decisions. Smart automotive players are leveraging insights like these to come up with content that keeps pace with evolving consumer behaviour.

Defining benchmarks: key to measuring performance and success

In finding ways to flourish in economic difficulty and creating content that resonates with consumers, digital offers the means to measure, understand and optimise. An essential step in developing online campaigns is to ask, “How will we know if it has worked?” Establishing success benchmarks and ways to measure progress against those benchmarks should be a priority in every marketing initiative.

A study from Forrester Consulting argues that with so much customer data to consider, effective marketing measurement is more important than ever before. The research established that marketers who implement complete marketing analytics platforms see an increase in performance.

For an example of these best practices at work, look to Etisalat’s YouTube campaign during Ramadan. The mobile operator believed the platform could play a key role in achieving brand awareness. After running Google Preferred and Masthead ads, the results exceeded expectations in terms of reach, views, impressions and brand lift. Alongside great metrics, the insights can fuel the success of future marketing efforts.

To sum up, there are three things businesses in MENA can do to make their marketing go further in 2017: turn to technology to make the most of media budgets, use a test-and-learn approach in content development and put benchmarks in place to measure – and optimise – success.