An Interview With Jane Alam Romel, Group Chief Marketing Officer, IDLC

An Interview With Jane Alam Romel, Group Chief Marketing Officer, IDLC

Boomerang Digital Identity logoGroup Chief Marketing Officer Of IDLC, Jane Alam Romel, reflects on how his years at North South University shaped his life, what initially drew him to marketing after studying Finance and HR, his experience of working in diverse industries and how life’s challenges make us who we are, his take on marketing and changing landscape of marketing technology in Bangladesh, what it takes to design a great communication effort, and the most important lessons for aspiring marketers.

Future Startup: I want to start at the beginning of your story. Where did you grow up? What are you passionate about?

Jane Alam Romel: I grew up in Jessore. I completed my SSC and HSC from Shaheen School and College, Jessore. I came to Dhaka in 2000 and got into North South University to study BBA.

NSU was the new thing in the city at that time. But the culture was different and most of the students were from English medium. Coming from a suburban city, it was quite challenging for me to get used to that new culture. It was intimidating sometimes, but it pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and get better. I had to work harder to adapt but it helped me to grow.

I majored in Finance and Human Resources (HR). I wanted to go for majoring in Marketing, but later decided otherwise considering that probably studying Finance and HR would ensure a better value for money for me. I thought it would better prepare me for the real world and I would get a solid education. I chose HR on the side because it was newly introduced and demand was high in the job market.

After my graduation, I did an internship at the HR department of Lafarge Cement. After my internship, I got an offer from MGH Group in 2005 and joined there as a Management Trainee in the Group Marketing and Planning Department. This was where I fell in love with marketing and also learned basics of marketing.

It was a formative experience for me. I eventually started to grow a passion for marketing. I worked there for around 8 to 9 months and then moved to Singapore Airlines as a Marketing Executive.

Working at Singapore Airlines gave me an incredible learning opportunity. It is a great brand, one of the most admired companies in the world. After working for 4 years, I became the Head of Sales and Marketing for the Bangladesh market.

Then, I moved to IDLC Finance. The re-branding of IDLC Finance that you see now was done under my supervision. I worked at IDLC for 4 years, before moving to RANGS Industries LTD in 2015. They were the distributor of Toshiba, Samsung home appliances and their own product Toshin in Bangladesh. I enjoyed my time at RANGS overseeing the retail chain development and marketing.

Now I’m back again at IDLC. I love this place a lot. IDLC is a wonderful place to work. You see very few financial brands are as serious about their communication as IDLC which makes it unique and set it up for a long-term win.

Then and again, there are underlying connections as well. The advantage of working in diverse industries is that you can connect distinct ideas and generate new ones. You can apply cross-industry solutions. You could see things below and above the line that most people would miss.

FS: You started your career at an FMCG brand, then you worked for an Airline, a financial brand, an FMCG brand again and now again a financial brand. Tell me about your experience in all these different industries and how much it has contributed to becoming who you are now?

Romel: Every industry is different and unique with its own dynamics. Singapore Airlines and IDLC are different on so many different levels. SA is an established brand, everyone knows it. But the scenario was quite the opposite for IDLC when I joined first time here. Many people didn’t know much about IDLC.

For SA, the challenge was to maintain their market positioning as a premium brand. For IDLC, on the other hand, the challenge was creating a long-lasting positioning as a financial brand. It was and still is about reaching out to more relevant people, spreading the message of the brand. At the same time, it is also about promoting its products. So you can see that the challenges are different. Most importantly, customers’ expectations are different.

Then and again, there are underlying connections as well. The advantage of working in diverse industries is that you can connect distinct ideas and generate new ones. You can apply cross-industry solutions. You could see things below and above the line that most people would miss.

I tend to sink in the industry I work in. When I worked for Singapore Airlines, all I thought about was how to persuade people to take premium, business, and first class to travel across continents. Then, when I was working at RANGS, I used to wonder whether people were buying Samsung, Toshiba and Toshin home appliances from RANGS stores.

I have always tried to adapt to the changing nature of an industry, prepare myself, learn things and play the game according to the rules of that industry. And it has been rewarding so far.

The thing about experience is that you need to live it. I have always remained vigilant and tried to educate myself and learn things. I have always tried to find out what makes companies succeed.

If I talk about IDLC, it’s a policy-driven company. People here feel empowered. It has got a culture of empowerment. Look at our brand new campaign,”ShombhabonarShopno” to inspire the youth. So what happened, in this case, is that we pitched the idea to the management committee and they gave us absolute freedom when we were able to convince them.

The idea is very innovative. I mean if you look around you’ll see nobody is doing something similar in the banking sector. IDLC’s CEO & MD, Mr. Arif Khan, supported me throughout the project. It means, we are open to new ideas here and we love to try and go the extra mile.

At IDLC, we recruit the best people and then give them freedom to work. And the company’s business is substantially growing. The thing I love most about IDLC is the transparency it maintains with its customers and all the stakeholders. The corporate governance is very strong here. Everyone has a say. It’s a great training house.

I think every experience we live, adds something to what we become as a person. There is something good to take away from every experience. There is something bad as well. It depends on what we want. I think we become what we want to become and places where we work probably influences this ‘what’ and shape us over the years.

FS: You wrote in your LinkedIn profile that you believe in great marketing communication efforts to communicate with the audience. Tell us why it is important to design great marketing communication efforts.

Romel: I’m a believer of great communication, great brand, and great business, sort of in that sequence. If you look into the stories of the big brands, you’ll find this truth. If a brand is losing money, it is no longer a great brand.

If you go back to the Fortune 100 companies in the 1960s, you’ll see that many of them have still managed to stay and thrive. These brands were and are still doing great business. One of the reasons, probably, is that these companies are great in communication and their brand equity is up there opposed to those who failed to survive. That’s why I believe in great marketing communications effort. Great communication means you stay closer to your customers.

My philosophy is that: a brand should touch life; a brand should inspire people. If you follow this path, you won’t have to go door to door and convince everyone to buy your product. People would come to you. And this is not a job of marketing department alone. It is about a company. We are talking about a company/brand that inspires people. And for doing so, you get to connect things that don’t seem apparently homogeneous.

I think every experience we live, adds something to what we become as a person. There is something good to take away from every experience. There is something bad as well. It depends on what we want. I think we become what we want to become and places where we work probably influences this ‘what’ and shape us over the years.

FS: How do you design a great communication strategy? What is the recipe?

Romel: First of all, we need to understand the basic elements: who are our customers and stakeholders. Secondly, I try to answer these questions: how do I properly connect with them? I also ask myself whether the strategy is unique. Will this be able to connect to a larger audience? At the end of the day, where will this communication effort take this company?

I don’t think brands do well when they are imposed. I believe they become a success when a story is created around. The more you push your brand on people, the more it backfires. My philosophy is: think from your customers point of view.

Once a campaign is done I try to get feedback from people on different levels. I try to measure. I call them up and ask them how they feel about this new promo or that new campaign. It helps you a lot to understand whether your campaign is working and making any impact and also prepare you for the next big thing.

FS: How marketing works at IDLC?

Romel: At IDLC, marketing department is one of the core functions of the company. Our management considers it of great importance. They provide us with ample time and thoughts. They engage with us regularly.

We discuss, we debate, present counter-arguments. They have given us enough space to work freely and they never meddle too much. And when you have such patronage and support from the top, you can execute any plan and make it a success.

I would say how we work here is interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature. The team is the thing.

FS: What are the strategies and mediums you use to reach out to your customers?

Romel: Strategies and mediums change all the time. Nothing stays constant, you see. It depends on a host of issues. With our home loan, we did a TV commercial. We knew that we had to tap a larger segment of customers. IDLC now has 35 branches across the country. We are expanding at a rate of 5 new branches every year. And home loan is sort of a product that requires maximum attention. So, you have to go above the line and you need to reach the maximum audience. TV, of course, is a major vehicle for doing so. We have billboards in major cities, mainly with the intention to create some sort of brand awareness.

We have always tried to explore new ideas and platforms, like what we do on Facebook is different. The content you see on our Facebook page is one of its kind.

Different products/campaigns call for different types of strategy and medium. You won’t put the same content on social media that you put on TV because the demography and customer segment vary widely. We meticulously assess our product or campaign and choose the best vehicle to market it.

Our present campaign is largely social media dominant. Because the youths are the major participants and they live on social media platforms. Home loans, on the other hand, are promoted mainly via TVCs and radio shows because target customers for the product are more in the middle-age group.

It depends on many things. But, going forward, our key focus will be digital platforms.

I don’t think brands do well when they are imposed. I believe they become a success when a story is created around. The more you push your brand on people, the more it backfires. My philosophy is: think from your customers point of view.

FS: What metrics are important to you as a CMO? How do you ensure that you achieve those metrics?

Romel: First of all, when we come up with a campaign, we set objectives: revenue objectives for products and engagement objectives for brand promotions. We work with some of the best advertising agencies in Bangladesh.

We set criteria according to the vehicle through which we are promoting. There are certain KPIs fixed for social media. But I personally care about whether people are talking about us and sharing the stories.

But for radio shows, it’s different. Because you can’t know how many people are actually listening. One thing we do in this case is that we ask people. As for TV, they have TRP data which allows us to know our reach.

We also have our own ways to understand customer engagement. Our colleagues interact with the customers and get their feedback. We gather both quantitative and qualitative data to understand the impact of a campaign.

Whatever we do we try to find the underlying KPIs. But we try to avoid making it too complicated because that would lead us nowhere. We set the basic criteria and ruthlessly prioritize them.

We have entered into digital marketing arena very recently. So, in the coming days, more of our budget will go into digital marketing.

FS: Tell us a bit about your marketing investment in areas like digital and mainstream Media like TV, newspaper, and other mediums.

Romel: We try to maintain a balance among the channels, but imbalance happens often. For instance, for the ongoing campaign, our main focus is on the digital platforms followed by radio and billboards. But for some other campaign, mix probably would not be the same.

We have entered into digital marketing arena very recently. So, in the coming days, more of our budget will go into digital marketing.

FS: How do you measure ROI for these mediums where data is hard to come by?

Romel: In the digital platform it’s quite easy to calculate ROI provided that the data is available. In the case of TV, you have TRP. But you have to do polls also. As for billboards, we don’t have any kind of data.

We try to maintain a process when it comes to choosing a channel over others. We first ask ourselves: are our customers in the digital spaces? Or how much time they spend on TV? When do they watch it? What programs do they watch? If we are talking about the billboard, then which location in a big city will be perfect to reach out to our customer base? This process of selection is very extensive.

We can’t get quantitative data from billboard ads, but we can surely get qualitative ones. Like, people come to us nowadays and tell us that they miss our innovative billboards around Dhaka. Those are the indicators, some are qualitative and others are quantitative, that work as cues.

FS: In the past, getting the attention of your customers was quite easy given that there were only a handful of communication channels. But, now we have innumerable channels of communication. It is hard to get attention. Moreover, the market has grown extremely noisy with people having a disdain for intrusive advertisements. Which means it is becoming increasingly challenging to reach out to your customers. How do you think about and deal with this problem?

Romel: I see this as more of an opportunity than a challenge. Because these platforms are giving you the opportunity to directly engage with your customers which was not possible before. The challenge actually comes from your end if you don’t have a great product or an idea, perhaps.

I think digital platforms help us to precisely target and reach to our customers. At the same time, customers can now talk back to brands. It’s no more a one-way vehicle which poses some management challenges but I think the advantages easily outweigh the challenges.

I think, first of all, you need to connect with your customer through great content. Sometimes they criticize us. But this can be a great opportunity to correct our mistakes.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but I think those who see these social platforms as obstacles are really failing to deliver good content. But for me, I’m eager to connect with my customer through great ideas.

Social media has given us the opportunity to find out who has an interest in what. When you properly target your customer base, your idea or product achieves acceptance. So, it actually depends on you whether you want your promotional activities to be intrusive or not.

I think digital platforms help us to precisely target and reach to our customers. At the same time, customers can now talk back to brands. It’s no more a one-way vehicle which poses some management challenges but I think the advantages easily outweigh the challenges.

FS: The field of marketing has been going through a rapid change in the recent years. Digital marketing, content, and increasing use of technology have become dominant trends in the space globally. In Bangladesh, though, we are just starting to see the surface of these major trends. How do you think this space is going to change down the line in 3-5 years?

Romel: I think digital will grow in the coming days. Digital media expenditure has increased considerably in recent years. But, of course, there is still a lot of room for growth. We are just getting started.

As I said earlier, branding is about understanding what, where and whom to say. We are a little behind at generating great marketing contents, but I think we’ll soon overcome this.

FS: What challenges do you anticipate for marketers in this changing landscape?

Romel: I think it is finding new ways to connect with their customers. You got to have a basis, a reason to get an idea across your customer segment, right?

The idea should be interesting and relatable to the customer. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. If you look at some big names in the business, you’ll see how some big brands are leveraging the digital platforms to reach out to their customers through great content.

What we need to achieve at present is not creative excellence but content excellence.

I think digital will grow in the coming days. Digital media expenditure has increased considerably in recent years. But, of course, there is still a lot of room for growth. We are just getting started.

FS: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken so far?

Romel: It’s a difficult question. I’ve taken a fair share of risk in my career. I think, the rapid shifting from one industry to another was the biggest. I joined at an FMCG company first. Then I moved to an airline. From there I shifted to a finance company. Then, I left that company again for an electronics company. At last, I have now re-shifted to finance and thinking of dropping the anchor here.

That was quite a risk because most people change companies within the industry. But I have tried to come out of my comfort zone. Every industry has its own lessons. And the beauty is when you bring experience from one industry to another and mix it properly, it can create magic.

The journey has been painful in many ways, but it has eventually paid off.

FS: Could you please share with us some of the lessons you have learned from your journey?

Romel: One thing that I have learned from my hardship over the years is that if you have passion and a positive attitude toward life nothing can stop you. Just be honest in whatever you do, and be honest to yourself and to others.

You need to give your 100% and sometimes more than that. You need to be thorough in your activities and ruthlessly prioritize things. As a professional, you have to understand your customers and manage the stakeholders and your colleagues. You need to truly focus and try to simplify things. And last but not the least, never give up.

FS: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field of marketing?

Romel: Learn from your environment, follow big brands. And never stop asking questions. Why are big brands doing what they are doing? Try to learn from whoever you can. Throughout my journey, I have learned from managers, colleagues, my friends in different industries and everyone in between.

You also need to be aware of the rapid changes in global marketing scenario. Marketing is a very dynamic field. It is changing every day. You need to know those changes. If you don’t learn every day you will become obsolete.Boomerang Digital Text banner

One thing that I have learned from my hardship over the years is that if you have passion and a positive attitude toward life nothing can stop you. Just be honest in whatever you do, and be honest to yourself and to others. You need to give your 100% and sometimes more than that. You need to be thorough in your activities and ruthlessly prioritize things.

Interview by Ruhul Kader | Transcription by Rahatil Rahat | Image courtesy: IDLC

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