Charity starts at CareZone
It is doubtful many consumers in the Emirates have heard of CareZone, but the mobile app service has already accumulated more than 200 friends on Facebook plus another 300 followers on Twitter.
And it hasn't even launched yet.
In fact, CareZone, which will help shoppers donate a portion of how much they have accumulated when they visit or spend money at partner retailers, is not set to go live until next month. It released its official website to the public only last week. Before that, a simple teaser page was all visitors could see for the past three months.
"We're trying to generate curiosity," says Ritesh Tilani, the managing director of Innoventa, the company based in Dubai behind CareZone.
"We are trying to generate as much buzz as possible by speaking on the radio, giving demos at DemoCamp and GeekFest [in Dubai] and talking to a number of publications. What we wanted to make sure was that we're actually ready before we went out to the public closer to launch."
Building excitement before formally launching is a strategy that experts say more start-ups should implement in the region. While luxury hotels and restaurants often have a "soft" launch to iron out wrinkles over the course of three to six months, before later throwing a glitzy grand opening event, smaller ventures often want to start out with a bang - especially in the tech sector.
"I think a lot of companies that are internet-based are trying to build an identity quickly, so people see something tangible," says Sana Bagersh, the chief executive of BrandMoxie, a marketing consultancy based in Abu Dhabi.
"In [CareZone's] case, they're trying to build a broad audience. This is very, very smart, because something like this only works when you have a critical mass. It's the kind of the marketing that drives businesses of this kind."
Timing plays a key factor when implementing this kind of a strategy. Companies that start drumming up support too close to launch might risk looking too small, particularly if they depend on numbers from social media networks, while those that begin too early may run into other issues.
"If I had talked to people in November, people would have gotten bored by now," says Mr Tilani. Of course, businesses will also want to make sure their service or product is polished enough that it doesn't fall to pieces the moment a broad audience jumps on board to try it out.
But creating anticipation over a new concept in the marketplace works only if it resonates with consumers, experts say.
When it comes to CareZone, says Mr Tilani, the service is targeting the growing number of consumers who want a say in how their money gets spent via corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes. Unlike most CSR programmes, where companies decide how their donations will be spent, CareZone aims to personalise the giving experience by allowing shoppers the choice of which local or international charity they'd like to donate to.
Those who download the CareZone app will earn small amounts of virtual coins whenever they visit a partner retailer, which comes out of advertising revenue that the company receives from its affiliate network of stores.
The money donated to charity, however, will come directly from retailers once a shopper decides how, exactly, they want it spent. CareZone also receives a commission of what the retailer earns from consumers in any transactions it helps drive.
To continue garnering interest once CareZone formally launches, the company plans to build social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter - which at the moment provide marketing support only in the form of "friends" and "followers" - right into the service itself.
"For example, when you give to charity you actually have the option of putting this up on your Facebook status or Twitter feed to share with friends and tell them about the good deed you did - and hopefully convince them to do the same," says Mr Tilani.