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Google, YouTube, Samsung are world’s top brands, but how do they do in Middle East?

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Despite a number of challenges over the past year, digital and tech companies dominate this year’s YouGov BrandIndex, an annual list that ranks the health of global brands across 26 different countries.

Based on more than six million interviews over the 12 months to the end of June 2018, rankings for individual countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, were published alongside global results.

Scores take the average number attributed to brands by consumers across six different indices: impression, quality, value, satisfaction, recommend, and reputation. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.

In the Middle East, more than 1,300 brands are tracked every single day, Scott Booth, head of data products at YouGov Middle East and Africa region, tells ZDNet.

“Achieving high performance is an indication of the overall health of a given brand in the marketplace,” he says.

Here are the key findings from the research.

Top brands in Egypt

As with the global rankings, Egypt‘s top six places are occupied by tech companies. However, there are some key differences. Although Facebook fell two places this year to be ranked fifth globally, the social network leads the pack in Egypt.

Facebook’s score of 58.8 puts it comfortably ahead of Google’s 52.4 and WhatsApp’s 51.8.

Egypt is home to an estimated 35 million Facebook users, roughly 35 percent of the population. Facebook accounts for nearly 60 percent of page views in Egypt to social-networking sites.

In a separate index, led by regional and international food brands, YouTube was the only tech and telecoms company in a top 10 of companies recording the largest improvements to their score.

Facebook’s score of 58.8 puts it comfortably ahead of Google’s 52.4 and WhatsApp’s 51.8.


Image: YouGov

Top brands in Saudi Arabia

Tech and telecoms companies have once again performed well in Saudi Arabia, with six spots in the Top 10.

But, in contrast to Egypt, the top spots are held by the dairy company Almarai, and Al Baik, a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants. Almarai has topped the Saudi charts four years in a row.

The biggest tech winners are YouTube, WhatsApp and Google. YouTube, more popular in Saudi Arabia than anywhere else in the world based on viewing minutes per capita, rose four spots to third. WhatsApp remains steady in fourth place, and Google is up three spots to fifth. The biggest losers are Apple’s iPhone, down two to seventh, and Samsung, which dropped three spots to ninth.

SEE: Special report: Tech budgets 2018: A CXO’s guide (free PDF)

Of greater interest, perhaps, is the Index Improvers chart, which features four tech and IT-related companies in the top 10. Of these, Saudi Telecom, Huawei, and the Saudi Payments Network, known as mada, are ranked in the top four.

It will be interesting to see if these brands, along with Western Union in sixth place and Google in ninth, can maintain this momentum in the coming year.

Mada, a central payment service that links all ATMs and POS terminals throughout the country, is a key component in KSA’s fintech plans.

Meanwhile, “Huawei, while still a secondary player in the market, has grown steadily in the past 18 to 24 months, particularly in Saudi Arabia”, notes Booth.

yougovb.jpg

Saudi Telecom, Huawei, and the Saudi Payments Network, known as mada, are ranked in the top four.


Image: YouGov

Top brands in UAE

In UAE, YouGov captured the performance of 550 brands, compared with 500 in Saudi Arabia and 290 in Egypt, allowing for the breakdown of a number of verticals including Internet & Social Media, as well as Telecoms & Handset Providers and Consumer Electronics & Appliances.

“In terms of handsets, iPhone firmly dominates Saudi Arabia and Egypt in terms of consumer perception,” observes Booth.

“In the UAE, the competition is much tighter, with Samsung Galaxy actually showing higher index scores than iPhone from March to July of this year,” he says.

“Our takeaway would be that Samsung’s marketing efforts have been stronger and more successful in the UAE than elsewhere in the region,” he tells ZDNet, “while iPhone has managed to maintain some positive traction in other markets. Scores for iPhone are slightly lower in Saudi and Egypt compared with the UAE, while Samsung’s numbers are substantially lower outside the UAE.”

Although the iPhone is UAE’s highest ranked brand in the Telecoms & Handset Providers indices for the whole year, Samsung pips Apple to the post to top the rankings in the field of Consumer Electronics & Appliances.

As Booth notes, it may not be “particularly surprising, but Samsung has continued to recover from the 2016 Note 7 debacle with strong releases now two years running”.

electronics-uae.jpg

Samsung pips Apple to the post to top the rankings.


Image: YouGov

Elsewhere, Instagram makes an appearance at number five in the rankings for Internet & Social Media, and UAE’s Top Ten features prominent rankings for Google in second place, WhatsApp in third, YouTube fourth, Samsung fifth, Apple sixth, Facebook eighth, and the iPhone ninth.

The only non-tech brands in the top overall brand rankings are Emirates Airlines occupying top spot, Almarai at seventh, and the hypermarket chain Carrefour at tenth.

With Carrefour dropping three spots in the past year, it’s worth noting that the Retailers enjoying the biggest change in their brand score tend to have a strong digital focus.

Possibly indicating a greater acceptance of e-commerce and the potential for online shopping, Souq.com, Amazon, the online grocery store Choithrams, and the new portal Noon.com all see an improvement in the perception of their brands this year.

top-improvers-saudi.jpg

Souq.com, Amazon, the online grocery store Choithrams, and the new portal Noon.com all see improvements.


Image: YouGov

Looking at tech and telecoms, Booth notes that since YouGov started tracking these fields in 2010, “the most significant changes are the rise of Samsung and the fall of players like Nokia and Blackberry in the handset space”.

“The iPhone has been relatively steady, ranking in the top five every year, while Samsung Galaxy has featured in the top five since 2012 with the introduction of the Galaxy S3,” he says.

However, Nokia, which once ranked at or above iPhone levels, has spent the period from 2013 to present well outside of the top ranks.

SEE: Executive’s guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook)

“Only now, with the new line of Nokia handsets from HMD Global, are we seeing Nokia’s numbers recover slightly,” he says.

“Blackberry, meanwhile, has experienced a steady decline since 2013 without a marked recovery.”

In a landscape overwhelmingly dominated at a top level by the popularity of international brands, these insights may help local and regional business to narrow the perception gap between their own brand and those of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players.

However, the popularity of airlines like Emirates, Saudia, and Almarai also demonstrate that it’s also possible for national and regional brands to sit alongside the global titans.

Learning from these local brands, as well as exploiting sentiment analysis and other insight tools, should be at the heart of any brand’s strategy to grow their impact and further improve consumer opinion of their products and services.

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Geek+ raises another $100M for its warehouse robots – TechCrunch

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Two things are for certain: 1) There continues to be a lot of excitement around warehouse robotics and 2) Geek+ is extremely good at raising money based on that fact. The Beijing-based warehouse robotics firm just raised another $100 million in funding, labeled a “Series E1,” with participation from Intel Capital, Vertex Growth and Qingyue Capital Investment.

The last time we wrote about the company was still fairly early on in the pandemic — June 2020 — when it had just raised a $200 million Series C. Meantime, the company raised an undisclosed Series D last year. Certainly there’s no lack of investor interest in the firm at the moment, with this most recent round valuing Geek+ at somewhere around $2 billion.

I’d say it’s probably a good idea to get funding while the funding’s good. While the space will almost certainly continue to grow, there’s likely to be a bit of a correction here, as investments respond to broader market trends. Meanwhile, Geek+ is posting impressive numbers, including $150 million in revenue last year, coupled with $300 million in orders. As pandemic waves continue to result in shutdowns in China and elsewhere, it’s easy to see why companies continue investing in these technologies.

Geek+ mentions “global expansion” as one of the primary motivators for its seeking additional funding. Notably, fellow Beijing-based firm, ForwardX Robotics expanded into the U.S. earlier this month, on the heels of its own Series C. In July, Geek+ announced deployments in both North and South America. The firm also has multiple partner deals in Europe.

“With the first-mover advantage, Geek+ has already developed a solid competitive advantage in global markets, bringing in a constant driving force for business development,” Geek+ founder and CEO Yong Zheng said in a release. “This, coupled with our three technology pillars of robotics, systems, and algorithms, has not only allowed Geek+ to develop a full product line, but also improve R&D efficiency while reducing R&D costs.”

Of course, stateside expansion finds the companies competing with an already crowded market of domestic warehouse robotics firms that offer a variety of both greenfield and brownfield solutions for automating the warehouse space. Geek+ produces a variety of different robotics systems, though at its core, the company offers a Kiva-style wheeled robot designed to cart around inventory shelves.

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WhatsApp is adding new privacy options, including screenshot blocking and a stealth mode – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is introducing a small flurry of privacy-minded tweaks into the messaging app, the company announced on Tuesday. The Meta-owned globally ubiquitous messaging service says the changes aim to give users more control over their experience while introducing “added layers” to protect their private communications.

WhatsApp will introduce an option for users to privately use the app without being visibly online, something it calls “online presence control.” The feature, which rolls out to everyone this month, will let WhatsApp users curate which contacts can see their online status while hiding it from others. The list of contacts who can view your online status doesn’t have a cap and you can swap people in and out at any time. The company says that the update will come to both its desktop and mobile app offerings.

The company is also testing screenshot blocking for “view once” messages, which disappear after being opened a single time. WhatsApp introduced a disappearing media option a year ago, reminding users at the time that they wouldn’t be able to know if the recipient was saving any shared photos and videos as screenshots. The feature is in testing for now but the company hopes to get it out to users broadly “soon.” (It’s worth remembering that anyone can still take a photo of their screen with a different device, which should make you think twice about getting too comfy on apps with disappearing messaging.)

The last change is another small quality of life update, but a notable enough one. This month, WhatsApp will allow users to leave groups privately without sending out a mass notification that they bailed. Group admins will still get notified, but generally this change should make moving through groups on the app more fluid and less awkward. This change will also roll out to both the desktop and mobile version of the app.

WhatsApp Head of Product Ami Vora described the additions as a boost to the app’s “interlocking layers of protection,” which aim to bolster its status as a prominent encrypted messaging option.

The company has made other efforts over the years. Last fall, it closed one possible weak spot in its encrypted messaging service, adding end-to-end encryption for backups stored in the cloud.

“We’ll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversation,” Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the new features.

The company’s own messaging isn’t always as tight though: A confusing privacy policy update in early 2021 prompted a backlash, sending users to rival apps. That same update is still reverberating more than a year later, and the European Commission launched a formal investigation into its concerns about the app’s consumer protections earlier this year.

 

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Big funds ‘screwing with Series A market but not seed market’ says veteran VC Mike Hirshland – TechCrunch

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Mike Hirshland is enjoying 2022. Despite the market’s zigs and zags, he has spent much of his time this past summer in Rhode Island, where relatives from afar have gathered on and off for an extended family reunion. He and partner Raanan Bar-Cohen were also able to close their fifth fund with $150 million in capital commitments at winter’s end —  ahead of the stock market collapse that would follow. Indeed, the two now have around $375 million in assets under management at their 11-year-old venture firm, Resolute Ventures.

Yet another reason to feel cheery is what’s happening at their stage of the market, where after a rapid run-up, valuations are slowly but surely coming back down to earth, suggests Hirshland. He says that while Resolute’s pace has been “remarkably consistent,” leading to roughly 10 investments each year that draw initial checks from the firm in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, the “biggest departure” in its history was last year. It was then that both round sizes and valuations ballooned, prompting the firm to write bigger checks while also forcing it to walk away from “really big, really pricey seed rounds” with valuations so lofty that Hirshland feared their next round would be problematic.

That’s not to say it’s all been a walk in the park. Some of Resolute’s best-performing portfolio companies, including Opendoor and Bark & Co., have had their struggles since going public through tie-ups with special purpose acquisition companies.

Another of Resolute’s bets, Clutter — which is also backed by Sequoia Capital and SoftBank — has also found it harder to grow its business than it might have imagined earlier. The outfit merged with a rival in February to bolster its odds of succeeding, but Hirshland, who remains “quite bullish” on Clutter, admits that it isn’t always easy to profitably “move atoms.”

What is not a concern for Hirshland, he insists, is competition. He says Resolute backs founders based largely on their vision and the firm’s belief that the team can build something compelling. (“I’m essentially indifferent if it’s day 1 or day 365, when they can show me some code,” he says.) He argues that other firms, no matter their public messaging, aren’t quite as open-minded, especially not right now.

In fact, asked about later-stage firms like Tiger Global and Insight Partners that have been shifting more of their attention to younger startups, Hirshland, talking with TechCrunch over Zoom, shrugs his shoulders. “Big funds are really screwing with the Series A market,” he says, “but in the seed market, we’re not seeing these guys come that far down.”

Even if they did, adds Hirshland, it wouldn’t last long. “You always see firms announce these big seed initiatives because when things get competitive, people move earlier. But when the shit hits the fan, they go back to focusing on their bread and butter and the cycle just continues.”

Resolute has so far invested roughly $10 million in initial checks from its newest fund. Some of its more recent investments include Signl, a startup that sells business intelligence tools to investors and whose founders sold an earlier company, Bitium, to Google in 2017.

Resolute also recently invested in Nobl9, a so-called service level objective platform whose founders also sold a previous company (Orbitera) to Google.

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