An Interview With Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham, FVP and Head of Communications and Branding, Dhaka Bank

An Interview With Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham, FVP and Head of Communications and Branding, Dhaka Bank

FVP and Head of Communications and Branding of Dhaka Bank Limited, Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham, reflects on his diverse career in advertising and banking industry, why dynamism of marketing discipline is the best part of it, how brand marketing works at Dhaka Bank, his take on marketing and changing landscape of marketing and advertising industry in Bangladesh, why understanding your customers better is the first and the most important part of designing an effective communication strategy and how hard work, dedication, and passion often outperform talent.

Future Startup

We want to start at the beginning of your story. Tell us about yourself and your background.

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

I was born in Kishoreganj but brought up in Chittagong with my Family. I spent a significant part of my early life in Chittagong because my Father was stationed there. He used to work for Eastern Refinery Limited, the only oil refining company in Bangladesh.

I came to Dhaka in mid-2004. I went to AIUB, did my BBA from there and started working right after my BBA. I did my internship at Berger Paints Bangladesh Limited but I was more interested in brand marketing and so I joined an advertising agency namely, Unitrend Limited in December as a Trainee Media Planner. I loved that job.

The core job of a media planner is to decide on channels and mediums where brands should spend in order to get the maximum result. I worked with brands like Nestle, BSRM, Coca-Cola, AMEX, Perfetti, Intel and many other leading brands. While I was working on media planning, I was also looking for more responsibilities. After much hustle, I got a part of the client servicing as well.

During that time, we launched The City Bank American Express Card in Bangladesh. Considering the volume of activities and tasks, usual project length should have been at least six months to prepare for a grand launch program but we did it within three months for The City Bank. We worked day and night and delivered the project. You might remember, City Bank was the first Bank to introduce newspaper Jacket in Bangladesh. We bought the cover page (full four pages) of the Daily Star and Prothom Alo. It was a brilliant work and I had the chance to work directly in the project. That was my first induction to Bank.

I used to do part-time consulting work back then besides my full-time work with the Unitrend but I had always been very careful about not doing anything that conflicts with my work at Unitrend.

In one of my consulting projects with TBWA\Benchmark, I had the chance to work on Unilever AOR pitch, Telenor AOR Pitch, Grameen Danone Media Pitch, etc. and these were incredible experiences. I learned so much about how global brands like Unilever, Telenor, etc. works.

After working for an agency and with brands from different industries for a while, I wanted to go for the other end of the aisle which was the client end. The major distinction between working at an agency and working for a brand is that at agency your ownership is limited, you manage brands for others but when you are the brand manager, it is your brand and you have a certain level of ownership and control over your work.

In 2010 I got an offer from United Commercial Bank (UCB), gave the interview and got selected. By then I had already worked for over three and a half years for Unitrend. At UCB, I had the opportunity to work with great bosses, took a lot of new initiatives and learned a lot. We launched Burberry checks for the first time in order to make a material differentiation with other banks with similar brand color. We also developed a complete brand book followed by two very successful television commercials.

Then we changed our slogan to “Happy Banking”. UCB went back to its old slogan now which is ‘United we achieve’ but that slogan was doing very good. I left UCB after one and a half years. When I was at UCB, our target was to get noticed which we did quite successfully. Wherever I went on to working, I always focused on cost-cutting and optimization and generating the optimal result.

When I left UCB, my previous boss at Unitrend heard about it and asked me to rejoin there. He said we would give you a strategic business unit, you would look after it and earn your own salary. Then I rejoined Unitrend. After rejoining, I managed the launching of Jibon Pani by City Group. I again worked with Coca-Cola and a few other brands.

But this time it was different. When you move from a structured environment to an unstructured environment you feel a kind of discomfort. It was hard for me to adjust to an agency life after working for a while in Bank. There was pressure as well from home. My parents and wife were like “people don’t get a bank job, and here you are leaving one and doing this!”

Agency life is different. As long as your business is okay, you don’t have to even go to the office. If I had a meeting at 11:00 am in the morning, I used to wake up at 10 and attend the meeting and then return home. My parents and wife were like ‘what’s happening here’. After a while, I thought okay enough of this. In the meantime, I got a call from Bank Asia, after the interview, I got selected.

We did some really innovative work at Bank Asia. We rebranded Islamic Banking Business of the Bank. The launching campaign for Islamic Banking division was clutter-breaking. The campaign was widely successful and yielded significant growth for the division, after the campaign it grew by over 300% in less than 10 months time.

Future Startup

When did you join Dhaka Bank?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

I joined Dhaka Bank on 13th January 2014 as the Head of Communications & Branding. CSR is one of my additional responsibilities. I was not responsible for PR at Bank Asia, I used to look after Brand Communication and events. I was the Head of Corporate Affairs & Branding (Current Charge) at Bank Asia and was there for two and a half years.

Your talent and degrees matter little in real life. In my short career I have seen people with superior talent and degrees from prestigious institutions and still fail just because they did not put in much hard work, show passion and dedication. Talent is important but passion, dedication, hard work, and honesty these things are way more important than talent.

Future Startup

Have you always been passionate about marketing and branding?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

I did my Bachelor’s and Masters both in Marketing. To me, marketing is not like all other professions. It is an ever-changing field, you get to work in diverse areas and experience new trends and technologies, which is not the case for many other fields. I enjoy this dynamic nature of the discipline.

At the same time, you get the chance to influence people for the good. I enjoy the feeling that as a marketer I influence the decisions of people. You are like a catalyst. Convincing people to buy your product over other products is what you do as a marketer. This gives me an immense pleasure to think that I have some sort of capacity to influence people’s decision, what people consume and how they do it.

When I was a media planner, I used to enjoy the feeling that I ultimately make the decision where to spend the marketing budget. As a marketer, you feel the connection with your customers. You understand them better than anyone else and you have a hand in their decision-making process. That makes it very interesting and a compelling field to work in.

Future Startup

You have more than a decade of experience in managing and helping brands to grow. What are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

The knowledge gap is a common thing. You couldn’t, wouldn’t know everything. That’s given. But the point is, you must have the passion for learning. If you don’t have the passion for learning, no matter who you are you will not worth much at the end of the day.

Your talent and degrees matter little in real life. In my short career I have seen people with superior talent and degrees from prestigious institutions and still fail just because they did not put in much hard work, show passion and dedication.

Talent is important but passion, dedication, hard work and honesty these things are way more important than talent. You have to be honest with yourself. My parents used to tell me when I was a kid, “when you are not studying you are not cheating with us, you are cheating yourself.” I think that is a very important principal.

You have to be proactive. If you wait for your boss to assign you work to do, you will never be able to grow. You have to seek work. If you don’t work hard, just take your work casually, you might be having fun, for now, you might be enjoying free time but you will be a loser in the long run. For instance, my ex-colleague from Unitrend Mr. Didar, who is now a Senior Brand Manager at Ispahani, he was an extremely hard working person and today, he has achieved way more than many of his contemporaries.

This sounds cliché but continuous learning is the key. If you want to excel in the profession of marketing, this is a must. You have to be aware of changes in the market, new technologies, and trends. There is no other way.

When I started doing PR, I knew nothing about PR but now I’m handling it quite well. I think it all boils down to your willingness to take challenges and working hard.

Finally, language is very important. If you want to move ahead you have to know business communication. You have to know how to say no.

Future Startup

You have experience of working in diverse industries and with diverse brands. How do you connect these diverse experiences?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

The spending pattern of Nestle and BSRM are completely different. The channels that are critical for Nestle is not equally important for BSRM. For instance, TV is an important medium for Nestle because one of their major customer segment is the mothers and mothers watch television. But for BSRM, newspaper is much more important than TV.

That said, there are always connections between all these things. At the end of the day, branding boils down to a couple of things that applies to every brand. You have to start with understanding your customers.

You have to find a connection between what your customers want and love and what you are offering as a brand. While doing so you have to maintain consistency, you can’t change your promises often or slogan often and all that. Most importantly, it takes a long time to build a brand, you can’t do it overnight. You can’t have it as you want.

Future Startup

How does marketing work in Dhaka Bank? How do people work in your division?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

The way we work is a little different. In Bank, we have marketing people almost in every business units/divisions. For instance, SME division has people who look after their marketing and retail division has too. We are basically the communication unit of the bank. We make things more visible, more appealing and more desirable to the stakeholders.

As an organization, we are trying to approach our work a little differently. We are identifying new areas and ideas that we can easily be addressed but we are not doing so. We are trying to find those overlooked areas and problems and designing solutions for them.

For instance, we launched a service called Antorik recently, it is a service for senior citizens, pregnant women, physically disable people and for the people who need a little extra flavor or care. Under Antorik service, these people would not have to wait in our cash queue anymore. Our every branch would have an Antorik desk, people would go there and get the service.

This idea came very unexpectedly. A couple of months ago, I was walking with my two years old son. Suddenly, I noticed a pregnant woman waiting in a line. I immediately took a snap and sent to my CEO. He asked me what’s the point. I explained that we could launch a service that gives privilege to people who need it most and if we do so we would be the first bank to do so. He said ‘okay’. This was back in October and we then did some homework and decided to launch it on a special occasion. New year seemed a perfect time to introduce the service. So far it has received quite a bit of attention.

We are working on futuristic things. We are now working on a mobile app, agent banking and tech-driven products that would make banking simple and easy for our users.

You have to find a connection between what your customers want and love and what you are offering as a brand. While doing so you have to maintain consistency, you can’t change your promises often or slogan often and all that. Most importantly, it takes a long time to build a brand, you can’t do it overnight. You can’t have it as you want.

Future Startup

How do you work? How do you collaborate with your team and other departments?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

It is quite simple. For instance, when we launch a new product, the first thing the respective department does is preparing a PPG [product process guideline]. They prepare it and then gets approval from the Management Committee and sometimes from the Board.

Once that is done, they come to us and tell us about what they want to do. Then we sit with the concerned department, discuss different aspects of the product, the status of the competitors, product USP, etc. We also do the brainstorming with the concerned division/unit for a better understanding of the product and its potential. Based on the understanding, we prepare the strategy papers for the product promotion. Sometimes, it requires us to sit several times for discussions. The idea is to make the promotional message clear and to the point. We also take help from our creative partners (advertising agencies), brief them our goals along with necessary data and research outcomes. Agency takes the brief from us and develops the creative along with related promotional materials. The designs are then reviewed by my division. If we find the creative as per our expectation and/or brief, we place that to the higher Management for final approval. That’s more or less how it works.

Then there are existing products. We look at things and come up with changes time to time and there are respective departments who also come up with changes where we support them to execute.

Sometimes we do tri-party meetings, my team, the respective department and our creative agency. We are not only talking about ads here, we do activation, events, and we do many different types of communication. And we decide based on the nature of the product and service.

We also have an R&D department who gives us inputs about what’s happening in the market every couple of months. And also gives ideas/suggestions to make improvements.

Future Startup

What are the channels and mediums you using now to reach out to your customers?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

We do press ads and use other conventional channels but we are investing heavily on Social Media these days. There is not much to do in the digital space in Bangladesh right now.

I personally don’t like push ads that much. People don’t like ads and in some context, it does more harm than good. Moreover, ads are self-serving but if you tell stories or stand for a cause people can connect with that easily. We are focusing heavily on email marketing, SMS, and also spending more time in FB content development.

That said, instead of talking about our product or how great we are, we are trying to improve the user experience. We are currently working on simplifying the process i.e. account opening, loan application, card application, transactions, etc.

Our core strategy is to make the lives of our customers easier by simplifying the process, in other words, giving more attention to details.

I think digital is the next big thing. Digital is no more a mere channel it is becoming a part of our everyday lifestyle and as a brand, you have to fit into this lifestyle. If you look at Uber or other services, these are becoming part of our lifestyle.I think digital is the next big thing. Digital is no more a mere channel it is becoming a part of our everyday lifestyle and as a brand, you have to fit into this lifestyle. If you look at Uber or other services, these are becoming part of our lifestyle.

Future Startup

That’s a great strategy. Can you give us an idea about the distribution of your marketing budget?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

Let me try. 15-20% of our entire budget go to press/media. We spend a very insignificant amount in TV, probably less than 5% and that’s through program or section branding. Not directly through tv commercials.

The outdoor budget has dramatically reduced because billboards are now off in major metropolitan cities. In fact, we are looking for alternative avenues in this regard.

Our corporate gift items and promotional items also take a significant percentage of our marketing budget.

We plan to invest more in digital platforms in the coming days but for now, we spend around 2% of our budget. We work with a digital agency who looks after our website, Facebook and other digital channels. It is really hard to find other avenues where you can spend in Bangladesh, particularly in Digital. There are not that many prominent websites where you can spend.

We also spend a significant portion of our budget in Cultural and Sports events. We found a positive and lasting impact from these sponsorships. Folk Fest, Chobi Mela, Weavers Fest, etc. are some of the few names where we have sponsored.

Moreover, as I said earlier, people don’t want to see ads, usage of ad blockers is on the rise. In such an environment it is very difficult to make a quick decision and it is very risky too.

We are learning every day about digital platforms and trying to understand how these things work. We have decided to go slow and see and learn and then make a decision in the coming years.

Future Startup

What are challenges you face professionally?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

In Bangladesh, two things almost every person knows: one is doctor/physician, we are all doctors and another is marketing or advertising whatever it is.

If you say that I’ve got a headache, then almost everyone would suggest you a medicine. And then people would often give you marketing ideas.

This is a huge problem for us. When people without proper understanding or domain knowledge interferes with your work, it is really a challenge. That is sort of a cultural problem we face. This is not just for our industry, it is common in almost all industries.

I think we should listen to experts, at least after consultation and debate and feedback, an expert should make the final call but often that is not the case. This is a huge challenge for us.

In marketing, it is often hard to tell whether you have done the right job. It is mostly subjective. Everybody is not going to love your communication. Some people would love it some would not. That’s the reality.

In 2015, we did a calendar, the theme was learning the habit of saving from nature. We used habit of bees and other species as examples of saving. Some people loved it so much that they thanked me personally and some people hated it so much that they did not even try to hide their disgust. It is impossible to make everyone happy.

Often we run against time. We often have to do things on very tight deadlines. It is not a problem that we have to work on a tight deadline but the real challenge is maintaining the quality while also meeting the deadline.

If you were the customer of your product what would you expect? Figure that out and do that. The most important thing is to spend time with your users, customers. You get to know them better and understand them better and then deliver them a better product than anyone else in the market, that’s where marketing begins.

Future Startup

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?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

If you talk budget wise: 40% of your marketing budget still goes to ATL, mediums such as TV, press, and others, 30% goes to activation and from rest 30%, I don’t see there are much channels or opportunities where you can use more than 10% in digital. That said, digital is going to be way more effective than other mediums. TV is good but I don’t think you can get to a large number of the audience through TV nowadays.

I think digital is the next big thing. Digital is no more a mere channel it is becoming a part of our everyday lifestyle and as a brand, you have to fit into this lifestyle. If you look at Uber or other services, these are becoming part of our lifestyle.

I think this is going to be the case for banks and other organizations as well.

For activation, I don’t see a replacement. However, these changes will take some time to take place because people usually don’t take change enthusiastically. People would know nobody watches television but still they would give ads on TV. That’s not gonna change soon.

On the other end, I see a lot of personalization in communication and service delivery. Brands will be matching their services and communications with customers which will be very important. Personalization is going to be a big thing.

Future Startup

How do you design an effective communication strategy from ground up?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

The answer to this question is very short. If you were the customer of your product what would you expect? Figure that out and do that.

The most important thing is to spend time with your users, customers. You get to know them better and understand them better and then deliver them a better product than anyone else in the market, that’s where marketing begins.

The communication part and channel choice and all those things come later. Once you understand your customers, you understand how to reach out to them better, rest of things become easy. I think people who are working on the product and dealing with the customers should also work and decide on the strategy.

In simple, designing a communication strategy begins with a great product, understanding your customers. Channels choice and other aspects of it are the easy part.

Never do anything for money alone, invest in doing good work and learning. If you know something, if your work is important, money would come today or tomorrow. Good work always gets noticed.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Khandaker Anwar Ehtesham

You have to be very passionate about your work. It is better to have a roadmap in mind where you want to go. This might change over the years but it still helps to have a focus and understand the journey and prepare yourself.

Never do anything for money alone, invest in doing good work and learning. If you know something, if your work is important, money would come today or tomorrow. Good work always gets noticed.

Finally, always do more, walk the extra mile. Do more than what is expected of you.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Nezam Uddin contributed to this interview. Image courtesy: Dhaka Bank

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