Experiential technology festival STEP Conference returned for the seventh year in a row in Dubai Internet City on February 13 and 14, across a multitude of stages, such as STEP Start, STEP Digital, STEP X, and STEP Money.
Here are our 5 takeaways from the two-day festival:
1. STEP is expanding
The two-day festival is now expanding to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, announced co-founder Ray Dargham, with the first edition being held in Riyadh next month.
2. The first blockchain phone comes to Dubai
This year saw product analyst Kester Wong taking the stage and introducing the first blockchain phone, the XPhone by Pundi X, which aims to bring its payment ecosystem – the XPOS, XWallet, and XPASS – to consumers and businesses globally. In Dubai, Pundi X has partnered with Ebooc to build the next blockchain-based digital payment ecosystem for the emirate, which enables tuition fees, retail purchases, and utility bills to be paid digitally.
3. Technology gets personal
While a lot of the talks and panels centered around the growth of technology, a clear trend was that of using technology to better the consumer experience. Mindshare’s TJ Lightwala spoke on a panel about the best ways to reach customers using tailored messaging and how data and psychographics be helpful, and when are they considered over-used while Majid Al Futtaim’s Maria Gideon, said, “Everything we do has to be seamless, sensorial and unforgettable – we are becoming consumer-obsessed. We’re working with more analysts to put consumer-centricity at the heart of what we do.”
4. The impact of economic challenges
The geopolitical and economic conditions in the region continue to be a challenge affecting the dynamics of the marketing industry. Still, despite the challenges, “Digital is an opportunity and we as an industry are investing in technologies that yield better results in terms of relevance and reach,” said MMP Worldwide deputy GM Nader Bitar.
Saleh Ghazal, GM of OMD UAE, added that the geopolitical and political situation in the region is a factor that has influenced the focus on performance marketing as it puts a lot of pressure to deliver the bottom line.
5. Brand takeover
This year, once again, saw some interesting brand activations by sponsors including the Volkswagen Mobility Challenge Pitch competition, which brought together young entrepreneurs within the mobility industry in the UAE for a public pitch; the Microsoft Technology Centre, which showcased how the company is building and using AI to transform different industries; and the Pepsi activation area, which featured everything from talks and workshops to yoga sessions.
“STEP Conference has hosted over 1,000 startups since its inception. Many of those startups went on to build scale, outstanding products, and raise large sums of investment. We’ve witnessed and played a big role in the creation of an entire ecosystem in a very turbulent region. This ecosystem has created hope, ambition, and jobs across the entire Middle East,” says Ray Dargham, CEO of STEP. “I’m really grateful to our great community and all the love they’ve given us over the years – as well as the significant support from our partners who we couldn’t have done this without.”