The State and Future Of Digital Marketing In Bangladesh With Jane Alam Romel, Group Chief Marketing Officer, IDLC Finance Limited

The State and Future Of Digital Marketing In Bangladesh With Jane Alam Romel, Group Chief Marketing Officer, IDLC Finance Limited

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The advertising industry is going through a major shift globally. We are seeing, for the first time in decades, the great unbundling of TV, thanks to Netflix and relentless pursuit of TV ad dollars by major social media networks, slow death of advertising as we knew it, a handful of alternatives to banner ads and more.

The Bangladesh market is no different. Over the past several years, from almost oblivion, digital has gained significant prominence and become a mainstream phenomenon. An increasing number of brands are now investing in digital platforms ranging from Facebook, local ad networks to youtube to other platforms.

The internet offers new opportunities and challenges for consumers as well as for marketers. To users, it offers the freedom to choose which content they want to attend to, from an abundance of content, unlike TV world.

The central difference between internet and conventional media is in the mindset. The internet represents an abundance mentality and freedom whereas traditional media is about scarcity. This is the central reality of this new world that changes many rules. For instance, in digital audience decides what ads they want to attend to and when.

The way people consume entertainment and news has fundamentally changed. This calls for a deeper understanding of the medium not only to do well in digital but also to succeed in the conventional medium. Because the consumption habit of digital does influence the expectation from and consumption habit of traditional mediums.

We recently sat down with always thoughtful and wonderful Jane Alam Romel, Group Chief Marketing Officer of IDLC Finance Limited to know more about his take on digital marketing in the context of Bangladesh. You may read our long-form interview with Mr. Romel from past year here.

We discussed a wide range of topics ranging from how he thinks about digital marketing – “digital is a distinct platform with its characteristics and you have to prepare content keeping that in mind” – to how he and his team at IDLC approach digital marketing, IDLC’s investment in digital in 2017, his prediction for the industry in 2018 and how to master the medium to get the best result – “these are old tips and apply to medium. There is no alternative to understanding your audience. In order to communicate meaningfully with your customers, you need to understand them.” I hope you enjoy the read. – Ruhul.

Future Startup

How do you think about digital marketing in the context of Bangladesh?

Jane Alam Romel

The common misconception about digital marketing is that it is this distinct thing independent of everything else whereas, in reality, it is not. It is just another medium for communication with its distinct features.

Suppose, I want to sell a mutual fund to a specific target group. Now, there are several tools to connect and communicate with this specific target group. Traditional ATL and BTL mediums are there such as newspaper, TV, and there is digital. The way we should decide which medium to use should be based on our needs and objective for a particular campaign.

The determinants for choosing a medium are quite simple: relevance and objectives. Unfortunately, we miss this point. In many instances, the determining factor for choosing a medium becomes buzz or virality or what is trending.

Another aspect is that although digital offers this incredible opportunity to measure your result, we often overlook the importance of data. I think every campaign should be measured against objectives and the report should be verified. There should be an objective audit to measure the impact of a campaign.

We have conducted an internal survey of our customers to understand how they view and perceive social media communications. The finding is somewhat interesting.

We have found that while social media and digital marketing helps in building awareness, people essentially don’t believe these mediums. Many people still trust newspaper advertisements more than digital ads. They rely on newspapers more than they do on digital media outlets.

Digital poses a unique kind of challenge for brands. Almost everyone can afford it. An unknown brand has the same leverage as Coca-Cola. This is not the case when it comes to newspaper or TV. Coca-Cola can buy an ad in Time Magazine which many other smaller brands could not afford. That is where the trust issue comes in, as if, you can spend money on big platforms, it means you must be giving or having something of value. Brands that advertise on BBC or CNN do get our attention that brands that use a random channel don’t get. This is a challenge you get to deal with in digital.

Going back to my old point, when you are planning for digital, it should not get treated as something separate from your overall marketing mix. Of course, digital is a distinct platform with its characteristics and you have to prepare content keeping that in mind. You have to understand how your customers use a particular medium and prepare content accordingly. At the same time, this should be consistent with your overall communication strategy. Digital should not look isolated. It should give your audience the same feeling when they interact with your brand offline or any other channel.

Then while you are investing money in platforms like Facebook and others, you should also pay attention to your own assets such as your website. People ultimately go to your website to know more about you. And it needs to be polished and well organized so that it serves its purpose and offers your customers a reason to do business with you. If you spend hefty budget on digital marketing, but your website sucks, it is not going to work.

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The determinants for choosing a medium are quite simple: relevance and objectives. Unfortunately, we miss this point. In many instances, the determining factor for choosing a medium becomes buzz or virality or what is trending.

Future Startup

How do you approach digital marketing at IDLC? What are the things you are doing in digital space?

Jane Alam Romel

We have been consistently investing in digital for the past two years. In fact, in many instances, we did digital only campaigns as well.

We have learned a lot and gathered insights about our target customers as well as about how to best use these platforms to achieve our objectives as a brand.

Among many things that we did in 2017, we arranged a Shakrain celebration festival in Old Dhaka where we connected the digital with offline activation. Shakrain is a pretty popular occasion and is a part of our culture. We rented a space in Old Dhaka for a day and arranged catch a kite, food, music and other amenities for people. The entire event was organized through a customized campaign on Facebook for the occasion. The event was a huge hit on social media. We received incredible response.

Now apparently, it does not make sense for a financial brand to organize such an event. Hence, many deem it as unimportant work. But I believe great brands are all about life. You spend money in selling your product, that’s important. At the same, in order to sustain yourself as a brand in the long-run you should become something greater than your product, you should become part of the lives of your customers. Your customers should be able to relate your presence in their day to day lives.

We wanted to get out of our ‘Finance Only’ shell and be part of everyday life of our customers through doing things that are relevant to them. In our Shakrain event, we invited a lot of our customers from Old Dhaka part with whom we have been doing business for years. It was an instant connection. It allowed us to connect with our customers at a deeper level.

We launched a CSR campaign called Khushir Kheya this year where we tried to redefine how CSR is done conventionally. We launched a digital platform where anyone could participate in a host of our projects helping people in different parts of the country. We engaged students, youth organizations and we engaged our local branches in different parts of the country where we asked them to engage with local people and find a local problem to solve.

In 2017, we tried to stay close to our customers, do things that connect us with our customers in a meaningful way and add meaning to their lives. Finance is at the core of our life. It enables us to do other important things in our lives. We tried to come out of our shell and embrace our customers in a more profound way.

In order to achieve this ambition, we did many things and digital was a big part of it. Having said that, we have always been mindful of how we can best use a platform – understanding its nuances and creating contents that resonate with our audience on that particular platform.

Our motto at IDLC is Financing Happiness and through our communication, we try to establish that.

Digital is a different world, people will only attend to your communication if they find it interesting and relevant to them. That’s what we have tried in 2017.

Now apparently, it does not make sense for a financial brand to organize such an event. Hence, many deem it as unimportant work. But I believe great brands are all about life. You spend money on selling your product, that’s important. At the same time, in order to sustain yourself as a brand in the long-run, you should become something greater than your product, you should become part of the lives of your customers. Your customers should be able to relate your presence in their day to day lives.

Future Startup

What are the mediums and channels you are using for reaching out to your customers digitally?

Jane Alam Romel

Facebook is there. That’s true for almost everyone who is spending in digital. For us, Facebook does take a significant percentage of our digital efforts. Then we are using G&R, YouTube, and Google.

We have our websites as well where we produce our own contents. Previously, we had one website for 4 of our companies. In 2017, we launched separate websites for each of our brands. IDLC Finance, IDLC Securities, and IDLC Asset Management are up and running. We will launch IDLC Investment soon.

The logic behind designing separate websites is that we want to personalize communication with our customers according to their preferences and these preferences are different for different products. That’s where we believe separate websites will help us to build meaningful connections with our customers.

We have been putting a lot of importance on building our own platform lately. We understand that the final destination for our customers when it comes to digital is our website and we have to ensure that we take full advantage of that. We want our customers to ultimately land on our own platform and if our platform is subpar, the entire campaign would be futile.

Future Startup

What are the major challenges you face when it comes to digital marketing?

Jane Alam Romel

The first challenge is measuring ROI of a digital marketing effort, particularly conversion. How many sales a particular campaign generated? This is a very basic question and it is hard to measure for products that are non-digital in nature or not digitally distributed like ours.

This is not a digital-only challenge. It is even more difficult to measure when it comes to conventional mediums, but the problem with digital is that we expect that digital offers better measuring options. It promises that you can see the result whereas in reality, it is not the case.

Having said that, there are campaigns that do not require monetization as much as they require engagements and attachments. Despite that, it is critical that we take analytics seriously because at the end of the day it is all about the result.

Digital is not TV. The way people consume content and behave and engage on digital platforms is different than any other medium. Success on digital platforms, to a great degree, depends on great contents. This is one of the challenges we face when it comes to digital marketing. While we do collaborate with great people, we sometimes feel that we are not that good at creating content for digital platforms.

Future Startup

What does it take to design a successful digital marketing campaign?

Jane Alam Romel

There are two parts to this. First of all, digital is a relatively new medium for us and it requires a lot of experimentation and trial and error to get it right. There has to be a supportive environment within the company that allows you to experiment and learn and do that.

We have been lucky in that sense. I am grateful to my CEO, Mr. Arif Khan for that he has given me complete freedom to do my work. This is one of the reasons we could do too many wonderful digital campaigns such as ‘Shakrine’ and ‘Khushir Kheya. It would have been impossible to do these without the support of the company and team. That’s number one. You need support from within and a great team.

Secondly, great content. I already told you about the importance of content on digital. This is, I think, the single most important node when it comes to digital marketing. This is the beginning and the end. If you have great contents you can do a lot of other things. And if your content sucks, nothing will matter.

Now, creating great contents is not only about creativity, it is also about understanding your customers. We are a financial brand, it is important for us to understand what our customers expect from us and how we can add value to the lives of our customers that will also create value for us as a company. I would argue that you put your customers in front of every decision you make. Be empathetic to your customers. Seek to understand them and prepare content or campaign, it will go a long way. A great brand is all about life. It touches life of its customers above and beyond its commercial gains.

Finally, every step you take should have a purpose, a reason. This is a time for purposeful brands and your overall activities should contribute to that purpose. I think there needs to be a clarity of purpose and you should actively try to complement with that through your action.

Digital is not TV. The way people consume content and behave and engage on digital platforms is different than any other medium. Success on digital platforms, to a great degree, depends on great contents.

Future Startup

Can you please give us an idea about the distribution of your marketing budget, particularly what percentage of your total marketing budget goes to digital?

Jane Alam Romel

Currently, we are spending almost 20% of our total communication budget in digital. This includes everything from our websites to spend on different platforms. We did a lot of new things in digital and restructured a few of our own assets which pushed our spending a little higher.

Right strategy coupled with the right content, if you spend 15% of our budget in digital it should suffice. Our total communication budget is relatively smaller than banks. Resource constraint is almost always a good thing. It pushes you to innovate. That’s what we have been doing.

We want to inspire more people through our work and we want to do it by doing the works ourselves and engaging people with us. That is our marketing strategy irrespective of the digital or traditional.

Digital, up until now, is relatively less expensive than traditional mediums. That saves a little bit. We have been investing in video for a while which we plan to continue as we go. We are also paying attention to proper distribution. We spend a lot of time in targeting and reaching out to the right audience. We try to be meticulous about this.

We are also investing in R&D in order to understand the market better, what other financial brands are doing in the market, what are the new trends and upgrade ourselves accordingly. This is not only about our local markets, we are also trying to learn from best practices in other markets.

Future Startup

A couple of major digital marketing trends that you think will go big in 2018.

Jane Alam Romel

I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this question. However, since you asked, let me try.

The brands will start focusing on quality contents instead of trying to get attention for the sake of attention. Trivialities and mindless rush for virality for the sake of virality will plateau. We are already seeing a lot of good storytelling and I hope that the number will be much higher this year.

Building meaningful connections and truly engaging with customers will get priority. I hope brands will spend time in truly knowing their customers and then designing communications accordingly.

Personalization in communication is likely to grow because digital allows you to do that.

We will see things happening at the intersection of the online and offline world. Banglalink Next YouTuber is an example of that. Brands will seek closer and real connection with their customers.

Things will get real. For the past few years, people explored digital without much understanding as well as expectation. This year, I hope this will change. Management will ask for ROI from investments in digital. They would want to know in monetary terms how much the marketing department had been able to convert from the digital marketing works. Marketers and agencies should get ready for that.

Finally, marketing will be more value driven. Unlike past, brands will have to focus on adding value to the lives of customers in order get their attention instead of mere communication. The days of ads as mere ads are over.

Finally, ego is the enemy. You have to let go of your ego, have an open mind and try to learn from every opportunity that you get. When we free ourselves from prejudices and our mental limitations and when we stop labeling things and being judgemental, new doors of opportunities open up and we life becomes way more fascinating.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your Khushir Kheya project and your plan for the project going forward.

Jane Alam Romel

Khusir Kheya is a CSR program of IDLC. Conventionally, CSR is done in a way that does not make much impact in the society and often fails to serve the purpose. That’s where Khusir Kheya comes in. We have tried is to come up with a new model for corporations for doing good for the society.

We are calling Khushir Kheya the Happiness Marketplace. As the leading financial brand in Bangladesh, we do a lot of CSR activities and we will be doing a lot more in the future. Whereas our CSR activities are limited by our budget, our aspiration is not and we realized that we could do more through our CSR activities by simply switching the model. The idea of Khusir Kheya came because we wanted to do more and go beyond. We thought if we could engage young people, our employees in different branches as well as local people, it would help us to create incredible opportunities for people.

We spent a lot of time thinking about it and strategizing what to do to build a platform that would engage people. That’s how Khusir Kheya came to being. We have around 38 branches across Bangladesh and we felt that if we could engage people we could contribute to each of these locations. We asked our branches to engage with their local communities and find our problems that we could contribute to as a brand.

Eventually, we found Casper, Green Savers, Spreeha among others – these organizations of small teams have been doing great works in their fields and we enabled them on whatever small-scale possible to do more. We engage volunteers who want to contribute through our social media.

For example, we did a project in Mymensingh where we established a rooftop garden in a college in collaboration with Green Savers. We engaged local volunteers. We selected some ambassadors for each of the trees that we planted from the students who would take care of each of the trees.

In our medical camp in Bogra, many top doctors came and volunteered their time. In Mymensingh, the Mayor, himself came to the program and inspired all of us. The project has been able to generate a continuous response from the market.

We plan to scale this project further this year and do more. Particularly, we are looking at more collaboration opportunities.

The brands will start focusing on quality contents instead of trying to get attention for the sake of attention. Trivialities and mindless rush for virality for the sake of virality will plateau. We are already seeing a lot of good storytelling and I hope that the number will be much higher this year.

Future Startup

Your tips for marketers and brand managers on digital marketing.

Jane Alam Romel

These are old tips and apply to medium. There is no alternative to understanding your audience. In order to communicate meaningfully with your customers, you need to understand them. This applies to every platform. It is particularly important for digital marketers because otherwise, it would be impossible to engage your customers. So, first of all, try to understand how your customers use a particular platform, why they use it, what they want and what they do not want.

Number two, maintain consistency in all of your communication regardless of your medium. Digital media should not be treated differently or in an isolated manner, you should consider it to be a part of all your communication mix and be consistent on all the platforms. In short, your communication should be consistent regardless of media or platform.

Thirdly, we should use data and analytics more rigorously. Digital allows us to collect as well as analyze data which was and is not the case for many other mediums. I think we are not taking full advantage of this opportunity.

Fourthly, digital is a fast-paced world. Things are changing on a daily basis. Today’s hot trend becomes obsolete tomorrow. It is important that we invest in learning. There is no alternative to relentless learning.

Finally, ego is the enemy. You have to let go of your ego, have an open mind and try to learn from every opportunity that you get. When we free ourselves from prejudices and our mental limitations and when we stop labeling things and being judgemental, new doors of opportunities open up and we life becomes way more fascinating.

Correction: We mistakenly put Mr. Romel title as Chief Marketing Officer of IDLC Finance Limited. He is Group Chief Marketing Officer Of IDLC Finance Limited. It has been updated.

(Interview and edited by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Md. Tashnim)

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