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Critical Thought: How To Think About Digital Marketing

Many business managers already know what I am going to write here after analyzing tons of articles and data; they are smart. This article is not for them.

This article is dedicated to those who want to give a second thought to digital marketing’s effectiveness, open to critical thinking and who like to question things and see things from a different perspective.

Being a marketing enthusiast and a keen reader of new marketing tools and theories, I try to read almost anything interesting related to marketing both online and offline. Regardless of medium, the recent content is almost same: digital marketing is the next big thing and those who are not into it will be driven out of the market; which means If you don't adopt you will be an ‘outdated’ marketer or your company will go out of business!

It creates a strong fear and sends a shiver down my spine! To stay relevant and also in the market and to understand digital space I have been investing a significant amount of my time in reading, following and studying new digital trends which have helped me to develop some interesting insights that I intend to share here.

Digital Marketing 

“Achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies and media is called digital marketing.” This is probably the simplest definition of digital marketing by Dave Chaffey.

Digital marketing (social media marketing, blogging, email marketing, SEO, SEM, content marketing, e-commerce, m-commerce etc.) is the new buzzword in business and marketing industry. It attracts people like anything.

Spending in social media channels or writing funky designation explanations or descriptors such as digital strategist, digital geek, digital marketer, digital and social marketing evangelist etc. has become a trend. Doing either of the jobs marketers feel happy. The irony, though, is that most of us deem social media marketing is the digital marketing.

On the other hand, the reality is, according to a report by webbiquity.com, 83% of consumers reported that they have had a "bad experience with social media marketing."

To me and to some marketers, marketing has never changed. It always comes down to knowing your customers, finding and designing the right products for them - and then segmenting marketing channels to reach the right audience. It can be through digital marketing or direct marketing or using print or TV or it can be a combination of all.

Marketing budget should be prepared based on the objective and outcomes we want to achieve- NOT based on channel choice. Marketing is all about understanding that our business should be based on customer needs, not what is trendy!

For a decade or more, so-called industry analysts and gurus have been crying: “TV is dead!” If they were right “television was supposed to be dead by now”. Truth be told, changes in consumer behavior are overstated; TV is a major medium across regions and continents even these days.

According to Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey Q1 2015 versus Q1 2013, almost no change or 1% plus/minus change is observed in ads on TV, Print, and Magazine. Contrary to that, ads on online video channels, social networks, and mobile devices are slightly decreasing.

In Bangladesh, in a tea category consumer survey, we have found that 84% of the consumers are exposed to TV.  This disproves the growing misconception about the effectiveness of TV and other traditional mediums and channels. We should continue to spend money on ‘TV’ and other traditional media!

Decades back we saw a short-lived hype about PR. People were saying advertising would die and public relations would rise. Al Ries and Laura Ries tried to ride on the bandwagon and wrote a book titled ‘THE FALL OF ADVERTISING AND THE RISE OF PR’ in 2002. Where do we see it now? Is advertising dead yet?

Digital # Facebook

Facebook advertising in Bangladesh has become the digital marketing. We all have become more of Facebook marketers than digital marketers. We mostly focus on Facebook while thinking of digital; that is one the big mistakes we make daily. Facebook has also been manipulating the conversation with its different statistics.

In the Digital Marketing Summit 2016, Fergus O’Hare, Director of Facebook Creative Shop for APAC said Facebook is a video first company. While discussing the power of video, at Le Meridien Hotel in Dhaka, he mentioned a 60-second video is equal to 1.8 million words, a 3-second video is equal to 90 thousand words; a 3-second is equal to reading a book etc. In reality, Facebook is trying to sell its video ads platform because it wants a share of TV ad dollars.

Fergus O’Hare, interestingly, was urging use to unlearn 100 years of advertising lessons and inspiring us to learn new things; which is, probably, okay for many progressive marketing managers. At the same time, it is also true that the fundamentals of 100 years advertising have little been changed. The basics of advertising and marketing remain true to these days and I predict will be so in the coming years.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief of WPP, a British multinational advertising, and public relations company, has nullified Facebook’s claim, in October this year, mentioning Facebook’s effectiveness claim is erroneous and extravagant.

Digital marketing channels

The top three social networks used by B2B marketers are LinkedIn (91%); Twitter (85%); and Facebook (81%). However, according to CMO Council, 62% of marketers say that LinkedIn is effective, while 50% say the same for Twitter and only 30% of B2B marketers view Facebook as effective.

Critical Thought: How To Think About Digital Marketing
Digital Marketing Trifecta

Facebook rolled out its ad products in late 2007. The platform, in its initial years, was fairly open providing organic reach to its brand users but as the user-base became strong, Facebook tweaked its advertising and monetization strategy, tightening the rope around the organic reach of brand posts.

The Facebook experience

I have been trying to develop and manage two Facebook pages for last 6 months. Initially, I noticed Facebook seldom allow posts to reach a sizeable audience unless you pay them. Facebook hardly allows organic reach nowadays. On the other hand, Facebook video advertising and 3-second view count has been a debatable topic to the marketing fraternity around the world.

“The specific error Facebook made was in its ‘average duration of video viewed’ measure. Up until last month, Facebook calculated this number by dividing the total minutes a video had been watched by the total number of views.

The problem with the approach is that Facebook only counts a view when three seconds or more of time have elapsed – roughly the time period it would take to scroll through a video without actually processing it – but it was counting every single second of exposure from all users.

The millions of users who did not make it to the third second of the video weren’t included in the calculation, but their billions of scrolling seconds were. The end result was a metric that was overstated by up to 80% for the past two years,” said Mark Ritson.

Ideally, the expectation was that advertisers would be able to run a free Facebook page and their “fans” would just flock to it, share it with their friends, who would then share it with their friends in an outbreak of everyday viral serendipity. Instead, Facebook has turned into a traditional paid display advertising, big fat ads in the middle of the page. It’s not social media as we were led to believe social media would evolve into.

YouTube remains the world’s largest online video site, but its supremacy is under threat from numerous other sites, social networks, and publishers that are targeting a bigger share of the online video market.

Facebook’s focus on video marketing format is quite recent, but brand such as Samsung has published case studies on the Facebook for Business website reporting strong return on investment from Facebook videos, albeit bound up with responses from other ad formats on the social network. But a lot of other brands did not get expected return on advertising investment.

Graham Mudd, Facebook’s director of ad product marketing, suggests that social networking has increasingly become the forum for people to share and view video content. The company believes this trend, combined with its wealth of user data, makes it an increasingly attractive proposition to video advertisers.

Sir Martin Sorrell mentions in an interview that there is still a lot of work to be done before social catches up to the power of search. “Facebook can’t really claim that a three-second view when 50% of the time the sound is off, is the same as a 15-second, a 30-second, a 60-second TV ad or someone reading The Times for 40 minutes,” he said. He also said Facebook’s recent error in viewability stats is actually a “good” thing because it brings clients’, media buyers’ and the media’s attention on the issue.

A recent report in a UK publication Leonie Roderick wrote, P&G is shifting its marketing budget away from Facebook advertising that targets specific groups of consumers after finding out that it did not always lead to the expected sales boost.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, said the company took the strategy too far. He said: “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow. And now we’re looking at: What is the best way to get the most reach but also the right precision?” Important points here are reach and precision.

Having experienced annual sales dropped by 8% P&G is going back to basics. Chief executive David Taylor said that in order to “restart” revenue growth the company needs to “get back to making consumers aware of its products and communicating their benefits”. The P&G approach is refreshingly old school.

The plan is to reach broadly defined segments with the aim of boosting sales. For a mass market brand like P&G, getting in front of as many consumers as possible is the key. It needs to drive trial and consideration, so that when people are standing in a supermarket deciding on which toothpaste brand to buy, they pick a P&G brand, mentions in a report.

On the other hand, the adage.com reported, “Unilever Finds Social-Media Buzz Really Does Drive Sales.” Positive mentions in social media have been proved to drive sales for Unilever brands, according to Shawn O'Neal, VP-global people data and marketing analytics for the company. “That finding, delivered in a talk at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Measurement Conference in Miami, may seem unsurprising to many people. But it's a particularly interesting finding given some context.

Mr. O'Neal's boss is Stan Sthanunathan, senior VP of consumer and market insights at Unilever, who headed global market research at Coca-Cola in 2013 when a research team from that company reached a very different conclusion. Coke researchers discussed a study at the Advertising Research Foundation Re: Think Conference in 2013 finding online buzz had no measurable impact on short-term sales.” (Source: adage.com by Jack Neff. Published on September 18, 2015)

Local Perspective

Let us look at the local outlook too, sharing a recent experience from Bangladesh, last year we ran a TV commercial in April targeted to age group of 20-35 years old who are interested in tea and any form of teas, on Youtube and Facebook we got these results:

Critical Thought: How To Think About Digital Marketing 1

Source: Mediacom Limited

As a marketer should I be happy with these? Facebook is showing total view 1.7 million (as they count 3-second view as total view) where a full view of the TVC was only 16.20%. Or, Youtube’s total view was 0.939 million (as they count 30-second view is total view regardless of the length of video) whereas full view is only 2.10%? So, how effective are they? There is “a place” for online advertising, of course, “but we really don’t know what it is yet”,

Twitter as a social medium is not a mentionable tool in Bangladesh. In a recent report, we saw Twitter itself is suffering from its own business model and actively searching for buyers who can take over and help them!

Instagram is somehow manageable from Facebook account/adverts but not proven as an effective marketing platform. Comparatively, Youtube advertisements are popular and interesting. But how effective is a pre-roll advertisement? Are web surfers compelled to watch those? Or must watch those? I don’t think so!

According to aAdvertising veteran Bob Hoffman, Apple is a big spender on traditional advertising. “They do television commercials, they do billboards, they do magazines. It’s remarkable. Here is the most successful technology company in the world and for their advertising; they’re using almost exclusively traditional methods.”

Trendy Digital Marketing: Why and what to look at?

The delusions

Bob Hoffman, the author of a blog called the Ad Contrarian spent 41 years working in the US industry, and in the latter years, he participated in what he calls the ‘golden age of bullshit’. Since retiring, he has enlivened industry events by talking bluntly about the ‘delusions’ he says have afflicted his profession.

Brand Love, online advertising, social media were some of these delusions. He mentions, overconfidence, and sometimes blind faith, in the merits of online advertising is chief among these delusions.

No one really reads, they digitally skim

“You are probably skimming this article. I was once told, paper is for the heart, the screen is for the head. The way people consume information has evolved - folks want information quick and easy; infographics, videos, pictures, you name it.

Multimodality and omnichannel is the name of the game. People simply don’t have the time (or the desire) to consume information that requires a hefty time investment. Quick bursts that effectively summarize a topic get a message across far more effectively than a lengthy document,” Hank Ostholthoff, CEO, MABBLY mentions in his blog.

They say, in the western world content marketing is a hit and effective tool of digital marketing. But in Bangladesh does anybody read the content? Who does care to read lines and pages in fact?

Digital overload

In today’s digital world everyone suffers from attention overload, particularly when it comes to digital advertising. The average digital display ad is glanced at for just over 2 seconds, and the average online video is viewed for 12 seconds. And we cannot assume that digital marketing will have a positive effect on the brand.

Millward Brown’s Brand Lift Insight studies find that the best digital campaigns have a measurable and significant positive effect on brand equity but equally many have the opposite effect, undermining brand equity not building it. Poorly executed content, excess frequency, stalker-like retargeting and poor placement all jeopardize online effectiveness. (Source: millwardbrown.com)

The price of trust 

People tend to distrust online ads because everyone at some point in time at least once is or was bombarded with ‘click now’ ads; and experienced virus, explicit contents, malware etc. ‘Click now’ online ads are a descendant sorts of ‘what we used to call junk mail’. They attract, blink, wink, and results in nuisance and disappointment. Gradually, this trend is changing, still, people distrust a lot.

If I separate digital marketing into online marketing tools and social media marketing then it gives a better choice. Online marketing tools and channels apparently are more effective than social media marketing.

Because in social media people have their own agenda, they talk more and listen less. They are not even in a mood to engage. Those who are getting engaged with likes, comments, reviews and shares how effective and important are they?

The age of ad blocker 

Digital came to us ready, fragmented and it continues to splinter. Brands have responded by using ad networks, addressability and retargeting to pursue their consumer across the web. Content owners chasing revenue growth have added more ad space and offered more intrusive ad formats.

As a result, people are increasingly turning to ad blockers to clean up their digital experience. The ability to reach people with a predetermined message is being undermined.

The short-termism

Sir Martin Sorrell believes, “brands are becoming increasingly cautious and that a focus on costs is driving short-termism. He explained how the declining length of tenure of CEOs, CFOs and CMOs is a result of short-term thinking brought about by factors including tech disruption, zero-based budgeters, and activist investors.”

Sometimes CMOs want to create fancy ideas to show off and to prove how different they are! Once David Ogilvy said there are two kinds of enemies of a brand, one is a new CMO/Marketing Head and a new agency. Both want to put their mark! Digital marketing has fueled them this opportunity to be trendy, creative and ideabaaj (person with ideas). Some of them maybe try not to be ‘traditionalist’ only.

Building positioning requires time

In brand marketing metrics, brand awareness and associations are the core issues which usually are gauged over time to see deviations in brand equity over a period. To build ‘right’ positioning reach and frequency in right media is needed along with the right message.

Positioning helps build a distinctive brand over the time. It needs ‘consistency, consistency and consistency’ of powerful insights/differentiators and powerful mass media tools. Once positioning is built using TV and other media, Facebook and online advertising may suffice additionally.

5+ reach thoughts

Some FMCG brands plan to reach 5+ times, some Telco brands plan to reach 10+ times within a campaign period to convince the wider audience and try to persuade consumers to register brand names and memories so that in the moments of truth they can recall the brand easily.

These are actually done better through mass media, TV & Radio. It will not be applicable in the same way or in the same degree for everyone. For example, online e-commerce sites like pickaboo.com, bikroy.com, amazon.com; their major medium is online and it will remain so.

Opinions are aplenty; so do our choices

I am writing all these because reading articles and attending seminars and workshops I have found people are invariably positive about digital marketing where some of them rarely study further and develop them or complacently disregard any critical ideas.

I have tried to put together some different thoughts here so that you can challenge your own ideas and views before launching or pouring money into any digital plan.

Digital/Social Media is definitely a channel choice but it should not be taken without asking any question.

The key to a successful marketing campaign is to put the right message at the right time in the right channel, which is why insight and data is so important. Like all other channels we, as marketers, need to look at the return on investment and decide if Facebook is a good fit.”

Illusions and delusions

In marketing or any business field people often lean towards new happening or buzz ideas. Like many other fields currently marketing world’s new buzzwords/topics are: Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital Marketing, Big Data, Predictive Analytics, and Cloud Computing, Storytelling etc.

“If you go back to ten or twelve years, we were told that people would want to interact with advertising. This has turned out to be a complete fantasy,” Bob Hoffman notes. Social media marketing, too, has proven a festival of cringe, rooted in a “fantasy of brand love” in which consumers will jump to “join the conversation” about every two-bit product. But “no one in their right mind” wants to engage with advertising, he mentions these are delusions.

Digital space is always an illusion. Today something is very hot and tomorrow it has got no value at all. People tend to believe less in digital contents. Like human psychology, we are fickle-minded and so does our online activities. Digital impressions are very transient.

“A lost generation” of marketing leaders?

Recently in an internal study at Unilever Global found out 92% of marketing team members had taken training on digital marketing. Indicating this, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed, in the Festival of Marketing 2016, is urging “a lost generation” of marketing leaders to tool up for digital or risk getting left behind.

He mentioned “we have three versions of people. On one side we have the digital natives who have been born and brought up in a digital world. On the other side we have people like myself in my 50s who have children in their 20s and if I didn’t engage with them on digital platforms I wouldn’t have a relationship with my children. “In the middle, we have what I call the ‘lost generation’, people in their late 30s and early 40s who don’t yet have grown up children who are digital natives and aren't digital natives themselves. These are the very people who are leading so many of our brands and businesses, and they’re bluffing too much about digital!”

In order to take digital marketing mainstream, he suggested doing marketing in a digital world rather than doing digital marketing. He did not mention anything regarding digital marketing’s effectiveness. In global markets, digital marketing is still running like infant industry where people are learning things by doing every day.


Facebook ads are good for mass and precision targeting. In Bangladesh online literacy rate and consumer behavior is yet to be shaped. We shall experience a matured digital space over the next couple of years. The good thing is, digital marketing is growing fast and getting effective! At the same, we need to understand challenges and limitations of digital mediums.

For mass brands and FMCG products getting in front of as many consumers as possible is the key. So, mass advertising and mass media are appropriate. Kevin McNair, BritVic, GB Marketing Director, says that tight audience targeting is right for some brands but less so for FMCG companies.

Brands will ultimately have to find the right balance. Marketers need to consider platform, context, and content to successfully communicate to their desired audience. In that case, digital marketing is just a channel choice. That said, we can't afford to be conclusive about any medium or channel but we can always raise critical questions.

Update: This story has been updated for clarity.

S M Didarul Hasan is Deputy General Manager, Marketing at Ispahani Tea Limited and an MBA from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. He can be reached at didarulhasan@gmail.com.

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