The State and Future of Digital Marketing In Bangladesh With S. M. Didarul Hasan, Senior Manager Marketing, M. M. Ispahani Limited

The State and Future of Digital Marketing In Bangladesh With S. M. Didarul Hasan, Senior Manager Marketing, M. M. Ispahani 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 Shah Mohammad Didarul Hasan, Senior Manager Marketing, M. M. Ispahani Limited to know more about his take on digital marketing in the context of Bangladesh. You may read our long-form interview with Mr. Hasan from past year here.

We discussed a wide range of topics ranging from how he thinks about digital marketing to how he and his team at M.M. Ispahani approach digital marketing, Ispahani’s investment in digital in 2017, his prediction for the industry in 2018 and how to master the medium to get the better result. I hope you enjoy the read. – Ruhul.

This story is made possible in part by our friends at Thinkpool, whose generosity enables us to publish premium stories online at no cost to our readers. Thinkpool helps brands to maintain seamless digital presence, please go to Thinkpool to know more.

Future Startup

First off, how do you think about digital marketing? I mean, there are a lot of definitions out there, but how do you see it yourself?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

First off, I don’t see a point in treating digital marketing as something independent of mainstream marketing except for the fact that it requires certain channel understanding in order to be effective in these platforms which also requires for other mediums such as print or TV. To me, it’s a channel choice and bringing in more media options to the media mix.

Digital, which is the result of the increasingly mobile nature of our lives, does offer new opportunities and challenges which demand that we pay attention to the intricacies of these platforms so that we can use them effectively.

Roughly, there are around six different types of screens which are available to marketers to reach their target customers. It is often said that if at least, three of these screens–which can be said, for example, TV, smartphone, large LED screen–are covered, it is expected that you’ve reached out to most of your customers.

Digital, which was not that important a part of marketing mix just a few years ago, has become one in the past few years. The rise of platforms like Smartphones, Facebook and companies like Google has significantly changed how we communicate, shop and consume entertainment. As a marketer, we are in the business of buying attention. We do TV ads to get the attention of our consumers to our products and offerings.

Now since people are paying more attention and spending more time on these digital platforms, we are essentially using these platforms. The challenge now is that people don’t use their smartphones or Facebook or Google the way they consume TV or Radio or Print media. The psychology and everything about these new mediums are different from old mediums. That’s where the importance of digital lies.

Having said that, my contention is that the basic principles of marketing i.e. understanding your customers, offering them things that they want etc., apply to these platforms too; and the knowledge of fundamental marketing theories and practices does serve us well in doing digital marketing well.

Our understanding is that to successfully market our products to our varying target groups, we need to converge our traditional and digital marketing in an effective manner. We always try to do that. It is not about using a channel for the sake of the channel rather understanding the mediums where our customers spend time on and then doing relevant activities on those platforms so that our customers notice us.

Future Startup

How do you approach digital marketing at Ispahani Mirzapore Tea? What are the things you are doing in digital space?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

Being in the FMCG or CPG business, our market is big, virtually everyone who drinks tea is our customer, which means objective of any communication that we do automatically become about reaching the maximum number of people. The reality often pushes us to seek opportunities where we could make the maximum impact through our communication.

To that end, both our internal research and external studies suggest that television, by far, remains the most effective tool to reach out to a huge audience for us, as more than 84% of our target audience is exposed to it in Bangladesh. This reality may change in the future but that is the reality at least for now.

Having said that, our spending in digital has been growing consistently over the past few years. We design our digital marketing plans in line with our advertising campaigns for TV and we maintain consistency in all these channels so that people can recognize us across channels.

In putting digital marketing plans into action, we collaborate with third-party partners including agencies and other service providers apart from our in-house initiatives. Channel wise, we are on Facebook and YouTube and Google in the form of SEO and search and we also use G&R, ESKIMI, local web portals and GDN for the digital banners, interstitial etc.

We have our own platforms as well including our websites which is updated on a daily basis. We are also working on building a few more platforms related to our niche.

When it comes to digital platforms, our aim is to engage with the young people, who we are referring to as Generation Y and Generation Z or GenZ, who are basically the major consumer segment for digital marketing.

Our understanding is that to successfully market our products to our varying target groups, we need to converge our traditional and digital marketing in an effective manner. We always try to do that. It is not about using a channel for the sake of the channel rather understanding the mediums where our customers spend time on and then doing relevant activities on those platforms so that our customers notice us.

The rise of platforms like Smartphones, Facebook and companies like Google has significantly changed how we communicate, shop and consume entertainment. As a marketer, we are in the business of buying attention. We do TV ads to get the attention of our consumers to our products and offerings. Now since people are paying more attention and spending more time on these digital platforms, we are essentially using these platforms. The challenge now is that people don’t use their smartphones or Facebook or Google the way they consume TV or Radio or Print media. The psychology and everything about these new mediums are different from old mediums. That’s where the importance of digital lies.

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?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

As I mentioned earlier, given the nature of our product, it demands a comprehensive marketing strategy through which we could reach out to the maximum number of audience. Hence, a significant percentage of our marketing budget now goes to above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) marketing.

Currently, our digital marketing budget is around 2.5% of our entire marketing budget and it is growing consistently.

Future Startup

The most important thing about digital, it seems to me, that needs to be understood is that it is a mindset not only a medium because it changes how we do things. We do same things pretty differently when we are on digital platforms because it allows certain liberty and freedom that traditional mediums such as TV can’t offer. In case of a TVC, for example, the expectation is that the audience will seat through the video which is played at intervals of a drama that they can’t watch if they miss it during a particular airing time thus people often watch an ad for the sake of watching the drama. However, digital offers a very different reality. We consume YouTube differently, Facebook is all about instant gratification and live, Netflix does not run any add and allows you to binge-watch an entire drama one season at once and so on. These behaviors are now moving to the real world from digital such as our attention span continues to dwindle; we dislike ads and want more freedom in how we consume entertainment and another thing for that matter. What are some of the biggest challenges that you face when it comes to digital?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

You’ve rightly brought up an important matter facing today’s marketers. The nature of digital space is quite different than that of any other medium.

People go online for different reasons while the way people consume TV is almost always same which is when they are in a leisure mode and have some time to kill. This also makes it easy to make the ads go through and when you are in a leisurely mode you are more receptive towards messages that are not entirely outside of your point of view.

While digital offers certain challenges, it also offers certain opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere such as targeting – you can specifically target your audience.

On the freedom part, it does offer more choices to customers and unlike traditional medium consumers do have the power to decide which content they want to consume. This, in a way, is a good thing if you can design good content. I think marketers who want to succeed in digital should focus more on designing brilliant content that their audience loves.

I think marketers need to be more humane and compassionate towards their audience on social media communication because that would allow you to better understand your audience and understand their pain points and go accordingly.

Future Startup

You’ve mentioned a very important point what we’ve been trying to say at FS as well is that advertising, in the past, was solely meant to sell products to the intended customers. Then, you just needed to produce a TVC to promote your product and run it on television and radio. But what happened due to the emergence of the Internet and digital platforms is that advertising itself has become a product. It’s like if you run a TVC it needs to be something inherently valuable so that people consume it, watch it. My question to you is that, how do you ensure this value in your advertising?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

As I mentioned earlier, content becomes the most important unit in an advertisement. When the distribution has become relatively less challenging, it is very important to create good content to take advantage of that distribution.

To that end, we have to invest ourselves in understanding our consumers and see things from their point of view and then make sure that we are offering value and benefits to our customers through our contents while also establishing the relevance of our brands. This is indeed a challenging job to make sure that you communicate your message through contents that your customers seek.

I think marketers need to be more humane and compassionate towards their audience on social media communication because that would allow you to better understand your audience and understand their pain points and go accordingly.

Future Startup

In Bangladesh, digital marketing has been largely focused on Facebook, most companies allocate lion’s share of their marketing budget on Facebook promotion. But what happened over the time is that Facebook has turned out to be expensive and if you don’t pay, your organic reach will be quite nominal. What is your take on this? Do you think organic reach, as we know it, is dead?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

Facebook has certainly become rather frigid and unreliable in the recent times. It wasn’t like this even a few years back. We could, in the past, reach a fair amount of people organically. Now, we may say that organic reach is dead, so to speak.

But I’ve also noticed that popularity for certain things or people on Facebook hasn’t stopped growing.

A case in point: a Facebook-based TV channel, which I was also a part of, has attained great audience reach recently, most of which can be designated as organic, by spending a meager sum. This page was registered as a media which indicates a greater preference of people for entertainment.

Despite the challenge with organic reach, Facebook remains an important channel because it has a humongous audience base and people do spend a huge amount of time on Facebook.

Future Startup

In their last earnings Calls with Wall Street Journal, Facebook announced that they will reduce the number of News Feed ad. They are now experimenting with a new feature called Explore Feed where all brand updates will go to a different page than the News Feed. People will not see ads from now on unless they intentionally visit the Explore Feed which means that organic reach will receive a serious blow.

As I mentioned earlier, content becomes the most important unit in an advertisement. When the distribution has become relatively less challenging, it is very important to create good content to take advantage of that distribution. To that end, we have to invest ourselves in understanding our consumers and see things from their point of view and then make sure that we are offering value and benefits to our customers through our contents while also establishing the relevance of our brands. This is indeed a challenging job to make sure that you communicate your message through contents that your customers seek.

Future Startup

Do you think that due to the new streaming technologies like Netflix, iflix, Bongo BD, Bioscope, we will see a decline in TV ad market over the years in Bangladesh?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

TV as an advertising platform has various limitations of its own. In the middle of a 30-minute show, TVCs take up minimum 8 minutes. And sometimes it is 12 minutes which seems downright ineffective. For this reason and several other reasons, new streaming media like the ones you’ve mentioned are becoming increasingly popular among viewers.

People are leaning towards these mediums because of the availability of a large array of content and their less-interrupting nature. And at the end of the day, ad budget will go to mediums where there is an audience and I do think TV is in the declining mode in our country.

Future Startup

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

S. M. Didarul Hasan

While video has become a commonplace thing, I think video content will become even more important, given the fact that Facebook and other platforms are pushing video hard.

Similarly, people’s consumption of entertainment and news will further change and digital will take a larger share of our time. I do see TV and other traditional mediums to further lose audience to these new platforms.

Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Big Data – these new technologies are changing almost every aspect of how we do business.

‘The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data’ says Economist. Some of the big companies are taking benefits out of it. Google can see what people search for, Facebook can see what people share and Amazon can see what people buy! Big companies with data-management capability can reach, offer and tailor products and messages accurately and repetitively through specific targeting. This truly falls in the opportunity side. But these are challenges too.

This is a challenge for, particularly, small companies because they do not have access to that data and hence it is hard for them to compete with these giants. Like that economic theory, a company is poor because it is poor. The bigger gets bigger and the poor get poorer. The big companies are consolidating more assets, power and getting super-powerful faster. This is a real business challenge.

Future Startup

The way people consume video is different than the way they consume, say, textual content. In case of a text, you can skim, pick up important points. But, when watching a video you need to sit through the whole thing meaning that videos need some sort of commitment on the viewer’s part. So, as brands are pushing more and more videos, do you think this is a challenge, the way video is consumed?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

There are both advantages and disadvantages of the video advertisement. It, for example, enables brands to communicate to their customers a lot of information in a few seconds.

But, as you’ve mentioned, videos need the commitment to watch. If we can ensure that through offering great content, videos can a powerful marketing tool.

Future Startup

Can you please tell us about your Banglabid Program? What’s your plan for the program this year?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

When we came up with this idea in December 2016, our aim was to reach the Gen Z.

The urban segment of the tea market is quite saturated. To fuel our growth, we are now building a closer relationship with young people who are our future consumers. After much thought, we came up with a value-driven project called Banglabid which emphasizes on the revival of Bangla as a language. The project was conceptualized in-house at Ispahani where our core idea was to inspire more young people to own Bangla as a language and feel proud of the language while also building a relationship of spirit with the young generation.

We’ve got a rich heritage of struggle and dedication surrounding our mother tongue, but it seems to be fading away. Bangla is also being gradually replaced in the official communication. But we know that any nation that emphasizes on its mother tongue, like Japan, China, prospers in the long run.

Our plan with Banglabid is to revive the practice of Bangla over the next few years by rewarding young entrepreneurs who are working in this particular field.

On the other hand, one shouldn’t do digital marketing, just because s/he wants to. Lack of powerful content means a sure death in this space. If one can come up with engaging content, then your audience will do the marketing for your brand. In digital, content is the king and your audience has all the power to do the both, help grow your brand as well as pull it down. So you better be mindful of that reality as well.

Future Startup

What tips would you give to brand managers and CMOs on digital marketing?

S. M. Didarul Hasan

Instead of giving tips, let me share my experience regarding digital marketing. As the digital media marketing space grows every day, our local brands need to embrace its potential. True, it can be quite challenging, but shying away from it because of the competition will not bring any good in the future.

When anything new comes along, our natural tendency is that we tend to dismiss it as a fad or not that an important a trend. This has been proved a mistake historically. I think this is also true for digital marketing – we should embrace, understand and learn to better use it because this is here to stay.

On the other hand, one shouldn’t do digital marketing, just because s/he wants to. Lack of powerful content means a sure death in this space. If one can come up with engaging content, then your audience will do the marketing for your brand.

In digital, content is the king and your audience has all the power to do the both, help grow your brand as well as pull it down. So you better be mindful of that reality as well.

This story is made possible in part by our friends at Thinkpool, whose generosity enables us to publish premium stories online at no cost to our readers. Thinkpool helps brands to maintain seamless digital presence, please go to Thinkpool to know more.


Notes:

1. Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Shiekh Rahatil Ashekan

2. Further reading on Mr. S.M. Didarul Hasan including a previous interview here.

3. Read more interviews in our on-going series the Future of Communication here.

4. Part of the introduction is reproduced from here.

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