February 5 2024  |  Retailers

Dubai Duty Free’s social media mastery enhances customer engagement

By Wendy Morley

Colm McLoughlin and his team have found social media offers a great opportunity to engage with Dubai Duty Free's audience, and that audience has grown considerably in all social media channels

In this comprehensive interview, Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, offers insightful details about the company’s social media strategies and their impact on customer engagement and sales.

Social media platforms serve as dynamic tools for enhancing a brand’s image and nurturing customer loyalty by facilitating direct, transparent, and engaging interactions between businesses and their audiences. “Social media gives us a great opportunity to engage with our audience,” says McLoughlin.

Regular interactions through comments, direct messages and polls help Dubai Duty Free build a great community and foster stronger connections. The company’s content marketing strategy is built around the Dubai Duty Free brand story, its values, and the people behind the scenes. This approach proved to be the right direction as the company has seen the audience response in continuously growing engagement rates and audience growth across all platforms.

Instagram Stories: a game changer

Dubai Duty Free started incorporating Instagram stories in 2019, making use of interactive tools and functionality. This boosted fan engagement rate by at least 40% in the first year, according to McLoughlin. This successful strategy was recognized by The Moodies 2020, where Dubai Duty Free won in the “Best Use of Social Platform — Instagram” category.

McLoughlin says the ‘stories’ format on social media, both Facebook and Instagram, is a key channel of communication in Dubai Duty Free’s social strategy. With 70% of Instagram users watching ‘stories’ daily, the company maintains its social presence on stories at least at 60% vs. in-feed presence.

Live sales events: a new era of engagement

Dubai Duty Free hosted several social media live sales on Facebook and Instagram in 2021 and 2022. The first live sales event generated sales of US$57,337 during the livestream from 8pm to midnight. Dubai Duty Free then repeated this on specific occasions including Singles Day on 11th November 2021 and Eid on 27th April 2022, with YouTube as an added platform.

With the successful first release of live sales events, Dubai Duty Free continues to explore possibilities to offer live formats to the social audience and work with suppliers on the product variety that will suit live shopping.

Dubai Duty Free's first live sales event was very successful, and the retailer has held such events several times now

KOL relationships

Collaborating with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is a pivotal element in crafting an effective social media strategy. These partnerships harness the credibility, influence, and extensive reach of industry-specific thought leaders to amplify brand messaging, enhance audience engagement, and drive strategic objectives.

Dubai Duty Free’s partnership with Noha Nabil, a high-profile Kuwaiti fashion blogger, proved successful from both a revenue and social media perspective, according to McLoughlin. The company offered an exclusive 10% discount for Noha’s fans at Dubai Duty Free during the collaboration period, and this drove gross sales of over Dhs523,000 (US$142,000). The collaboration campaign increased the fan base by 40%, with the average engagement rate hitting an impressive 349% during that period.

A new audience

For McLoughlin, news that the TikTok channel reached 1 billion active users in September 2021 was a clear indication that the channel was turning into one of the most influential social networks in marketing. With a simple strategy in place, the company focused on organic and inspirational content along with raising awareness of the Dubai Duty Free presence.

In addition to winning for its Instagram Stories, Dubai Duty Free has won a Moodie award for "Best Use of Tiktok"

40th anniversary celebrations

Dubai Duty Free marked its 40th anniversary with an extraordinary skydive event, part of a broader digital campaign that ignited considerable excitement on social media platforms. The initiative, celebrated for its innovation, garnered over 400,000 views across Facebook and YouTube, highlighting the campaign’s wide reach and appeal. McLoughlin expressed satisfaction with the initiative’s outcome, stating, “Indeed, it was a unique campaign, and we are happy we did it.” He added: “Though it may not have a measurable impact on sales, the brand awareness it has created among people who may or may not know that Dubai Duty Free has been in operation for four decades is immeasurable.”

Dubai Duty Free kicked off its 40th anniversary celebration with an extraordinary skydive event

The anniversary campaign kicked off in mid-November with a dynamic social media countdown, effectively engaging a wide audience and generating anticipation. The strategy was to leverage digital platforms comprehensively, including online channels, social media, and email marketing, to disseminate the celebratory message. The aim was to foster engagement, stimulate real-time interactions, and cater to specific audience segments with tailored promotions for the anniversary sales event. Embracing digital media in this way enabled Dubai Duty Free to craft campaigns that not only captured the audience’s attention but also made a lasting impact in the digital era.

Capitalizing on feedback and data

McLoughlin emphasizes the importance of learning from social media interactions. He and his Marketing team understand that leveraging the lessons learned from social media activities is crucial for business, and thus they continuously enhance social media strategies to achieve better results. This principle is at the core of Dubai Duty Free’s approach of employing comprehensive analysis to ensure its social media efforts are effective and efficient.

In 2022 alone, Dubai Duty Free’s social media fan base across all channels, which includes Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok, LinkedIn, WeChat, and Weibo, grew from 440,000 to 750,000, representing an impressive 71% increase over a one-year period. Total social media reach increased by 272%, and total engagements increased by 112%

The strategy involves a robust framework for assessment and improvement, with a benchmarking social strategy including post-campaign analysis with KPI evaluation, review of audience insights, content evaluation based on these insights, iterative improvements, and more. This methodical evaluation enables the company to distill and apply the lessons learned to future initiatives, with the goal of enhancing social media marketing endeavors to better engage their audience.

The company is dedicated to integrating customer feedback across all facets of the business, media monitoring and listening across all channels to help effectively incorporate feedback and comments into various aspects of business. Dubai Duty Free actively encourages audience feedback through comments, surveys, polls, and direct messages.

This strategy extends beyond mere data collection, as the operational synergy that supports this initiative to use social channels as a real-time customer service platform. The social team is in constant communication with the customer service team, working closely to enhance the customer experience and customer service strategies. Through this integrated approach, Dubai Duty Free ensures that customer insights directly inform and improve their service delivery.

Social and traditional marketing

Dubai Duty Free balances traditional and digital marketing strategies to create a comprehensive and effective marketing mix maximizing reach, engagement and conversion opportunities. This balance is critical in staying relevant and appealing to all segments of their audience, which includes both travelers and non-travelers alike. To achieve this, the team analyzes the customer journey and identify touchpoints where traditional and digital channels can complement each other.

Dubai Duty Free’s 40th Anniversary Sale is a prime example of this strategy in action, with an advertising campaign including a mix of social, online, search, radio, and print advertising as well as in-store advertising on digital screens on the sales day. This integrated approach is important in creating a cohesive customer experience, that guides customers through the awareness, consideration and conversion phases.

Social media’s role

Dubai Duty Free identifies the integral role of social platforms and underlines the significance of social media in not just attracting customers but also in guiding them through their purchase journey. Social media plays a multifaceted role for the operation. Its importance extends across various stages of the customer journey, making it a crucial component of the Dubai Duty Free digital marketing strategy.

On the practical applications of this strategy, social platforms are powerful channels to increase brand awareness and visibility. Through consistent and engaging content, the retailer reaches a larger audience, raises brand awareness and builds brand image. With a successful social media strategy in place, Dubai Duty Free’s social audience become “brand advocates, sharing their positive experiences and contributing to Dubai Duty Free’s brand’s reputation.”

Social media as a whole functions as a support channel to connect with the company’s audience and showcase products, promotions and sales offers. As a dynamic and interactive platform, social media helps to increase visibility and exposure and lead to potential sales opportunities.

The company’s targeted approach means that in paid media, advertising content is tailored to specific audience segments (travelers), delivering personalized messages that resonate with potential customers and increase the likelihood of conversion. This strategy reflects a keen understanding of the platform's strengths in reaching and engaging customers effectively.

Growing globally

Looking into the next few years, Dubai Duty Free will explore some innovative approaches to enhance its social media presence and engage with an audience on a global level, according to McLoughlin.

“Our strategy is to stay ahead and embrace new technologies, trends, and strategies,” he says. “It’s essential for us to stay agile, monitor travel industry developments, and be open to experimenting with new strategies and technologies, including interactive and immersive content, personalized AI-driven experiences, and user-generated virtual engagements, to name a few.”

With a clear vision for the future and an unwavering commitment to innovation, Dubai Duty Free is poised to redefine the intersection of retail and digital engagement, charting a course toward a more connected and technologically enriched consumer experience.

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