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Eskimi Bangladesh, Programmatic Advertising And The Future of Digital: An Interview With Lutfi Chowdhury, Regional Manager, South Asia, Eskimi Programmatic DSP

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Mar 20, 2018

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 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.

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.

In this fascinating interview, Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader sits down with Lutfi Chowdhury, Regional Manager, South Asia, Eskimi Programmatic DSP, to learn more about development at ESKIMI and its Bangladesh operation and to pick his brain about ESKIMI’s business in Dhaka, priorities, strategy, and plans for Bangladesh market, his take on digital advertising, programmatic buying, future of TV, major digital trends and the future of digital in the coming years.

Lutfi Chowdhury is a digital veteran. He started his digital journey at Clickbd.com, one of the earlier ecommerce companies in Dhaka, back in 2010. Then fast forward 2011, Lutfi started working at G&R Technologies, one of the earliest technology company and first local ad network in Bangladesh where he played a pivotal role in business and market development.

Since joining ESKIMI a year ago, he has been instrumental in growing its business in Dhaka and opening three other Asian markets for the company. ESKIMI operates in 20+ countries, mostly in African markets and the company has been eyeing an aggressive expansion in Asia and the Middle East.

Theoretically speaking, you can call us an aggregator. We aggregate inventories of Top Ad networks including Google and Facebook. which means you can run campaigns to millions of websites using our platform. On top of that, we use a database where all information about users is stored – called a Data Management Platform - which allows us to have a deeper understanding about our users including location, online behavior, and socio-economic class and deliver a better result to our advertising partners.

Future Startup

First off, briefly tell us about Eskimi, what are the services you offer and how does your platform work?

Lutfi Chowdhury

In simple, Eskimi is programmatic buying platform that allows brands and agencies to run performance-based or reach focused campaigns. We offer best technological solution available in the market for programmatic buying.

Theoretically speaking, you can call us an aggregator. We aggregate inventories of many Ad networks which means you can run campaigns to millions of websites using our platform. On top of that, we use a database where all information about users is stored – called a Data Management Platform - which allows us to have a deeper understanding about our users including location, online behavior, and socio-economic class and deliver a better result to our advertising partners.

So, we are a two-sided platform what we call DSP (Eskimi)- demand Side platform and SSP ( Google, OpenX, Facebook, etc) - supply-side platform. At the same time, as I mentioned, we are a DMP which is data management platform which means that we understand our users better and hence, can deliver a better result for campaigns.

Our system learns about users, their behavior, browsing patterns, device, locations and so on. This understanding allows us to better design campaigns for our brand partners helping them to reach the appropriate TG and ensuring a better result for their marketing spending.

Our mobile programmatic platform for agencies and brands called Eskimi DSP has more than 280M users on mobile. Eskimi Social, our social network, has over 20M engaged consumers in emerging markets.

There are a few challenges that local companies in Bangladesh face when it comes to using international advertising platforms. Payment remains a persistent challenge for marketers in Bangladesh. There is currency issues and other issues there.

Eskimi is a locally registered company. We can offer the same services that you would otherwise have to take with international currency in local currency. This has two upsides for brands and marketers, one - digital marketing get affordable for many brands who otherwise would not go for it and then you get better service. At the same time, the government gets the VAT.

Campaign performance is another big difference we offer. Performance is critical for every campaign you run. We have an experienced and adept team which makes it possible for us to optimize every campaign and achieve intended goals.

Additionally, the rich media campaign is not that common in our country yet. Both our team and technology is capable of supporting the rich media campaign.

Similarly, in Bangladesh feature phone still has a large market share. At least for now. Our technology is capable of reaching feature phone users too.

We offer precision technology where brands can target their intended TG which is hard to do with existing technology.

The fundamental difference is that we collect a lot of data and when a client run a campaign using our platform, the next time we can easily retrieve the TG profile and make sure that it reaches to the right audience. Every month we reach to 52 million people and serve over 10 billion impressions.

In simple, we have five key areas that make us different from any other similar services in the market. Firstly, we offer you the highest reach since we have users of many global Ad networks combined. We serve over 11 billion impressions and 52 million users per month.

Secondly, we offer a competitive pricing. Now when we offer an incredible reach and competitive pricing, this is a very good match. Thirdly, currency and money transfer is an issue for which we offer an easy solution.

Fourthly, we offer brand safety. There is a growing concern from brands that their ads are being placed alongside inappropriate websites and contents and videos. We make sure that this does not happen when we work with a brand. We have both our internal brand safety tools as well as collaboration with 5 to 6 international top-notch brand safety tools. When a brand asks, we allow them to have a brand safety report.

Our mobile programmatic platform for agencies and brands called Eskimi DSP has more than 280M users on mobile. Eskimi Social, our social network, has over 20M engaged consumers in emerging markets.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your work as Regional Manager, South Asia, at ESKIMI? How do you approach your work? As well as, how does your operation in South Asian markets work?

Lutfi Chowdhury

I started working at ESKIMI as Country Manager of Bangladesh about a year ago. When we launched in Dhaka, we had a footing in the market and that was it. We did not push much. Over the past one year, we have been able to make a significant progress in Bangladesh through hard work and ensuring great service to our customers.

Apart from my formal role, from the beginning, I have also been involved in opening up our neighboring markets: Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Now we have operations in all three of these markets and the operation is being coordinated from Bangladesh and that’s what I do as a Regional Manager for South Asia.

As a business, ESKIMI has been very successful in Africa and we continue to do well in African markets. Our ambition now is to serve our customers in South Asian markets and these three markets are extremely important for us.

We are in the process of building our team in Pakistan, Nepal, and Myanmar. We have a great team in Dhaka and some of our team members collaborate with these two markets as well.
Future Startup

In how many countries do you operate now?

Lutfi Chowdhury

We have operations in 20+ countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. We have been in operation in Africa for over 3 years now. We are the market leader in many markets in Africa where we operate.

We are now expanding into Asian markets.

There are a lot of similarities between Asian and African markets including demography, economy, and technology adoption which allow us to transfer our understanding from African markets and apply it here. We have learned a lot working in different African markets and we believe that we can use that experience here in Asia in helping our customers and develop our business.

We have been collaborating with almost all the top agencies in the country. Although we are pretty young in Bangladesh, we have been able to build a meaningful relationship with our agency partners through our great product and services.

Future Startup

How big is your operation in Bangladesh?

Lutfi Chowdhury

Eskimi has been operating in Bangladesh even before my joining. The operation was largely managed from overseas. We had a few clients in Dhaka. Our team members used to fly over here to meet clients. We have started our location operation in a more formal manner around one year ago. Now we have a team here in Dhaka that looks after the business. Team members from our global team also visit us on a regular basis.

Currently, we are a team of 10 people in Dhaka and growing. We likely to get to 20 people in very short time. We are also building a team in our other markets.

We serve ads on over 26 thousand websites worldwide visited from Bangladesh including websites connected to some of our partner platforms. Our focus more on users instead of publishers or platforms. When a brand runs a campaign, they want to reach users regardless of where the ads run. We take your ads where the audience is.

Future Startup

How are you doing in Bangladesh in terms of business? How many brands are you working with now?

Lutfi Chowdhury

We have worked with a host of brands from diverse sector including Telecom, FMCG, eCommerce among others. Mostly, we collaborate with agencies who work with brands and do media and ad buying for the brands.

The agencies manage the clients and set the KPIs, budgets, time frame and other things and give us the requirements. We work on that and deliver the KPIs and other deliverables. In some instance, the brands make us sit together with the agencies so that the three of us can have direct interaction and a better understanding of the requirements.

We have been collaborating with almost all the top agencies in the country. Although we are pretty young in Bangladesh, we have been able to build a meaningful relationship with our agency partners through our great product and services.
In fact, we are also working with almost all the leading agencies in Pakistan, Nepal, and Myanmar.

Future Startup

How have you attracted clients and grown in Bangladesh? What is a couple of things that you have done since you joined almost a year ago to grow the business?

Lutfi Chowdhury

Although ESKIMI is an 11-year-old company, we operate pretty much like a startup. Our internal culture has contributed greatly to our growth. We have a pretty flexible organizational culture. There is no bossing and growth remains the most important metric for and we move fast. This has been a huge advantage for us.

When I started, I was alone in the Bangladesh market and used to collaborate with our global team.

We started with building a pipeline and turning it into a real business. We offer a better product and work hard to ensure best possible result for our partners which have helped us to grow pretty quickly.

Future Startup

We have a couple of local ad networks and then there are Google and Facebook, how do you see the competition in the space?

Lutfi Chowdhury

We are basically an aggregator of Ad networks. On top of that, our technology allows us to serve programmatically as well as brand safety where required.

We don’t collaborate with any local ad network yet, but we plan to in the near future if we see a synergy there.

Although ESKIMI is an 11-year-old company, we operate pretty much like a startup. Our internal culture has contributed greatly to our growth. We have a pretty flexible organizational culture. There is no bossing and growth remains the most important metric for and we move fast. This has been a huge advantage for us.

Future Startup

What are the major challenges for you in Bangladesh market?

Lutfi Chowdhury

The biggest challenge is a lack of awareness in the market regarding programmatic buying. A programmatic platform is not something marketers are familiar in our market. There is no doubt that programmatic is the future and there is an interest in the market about the medium but it will take some time to grow. Although we have made significant progress over the past months, we have a long way to go.

Over the next couple years, our ambition is to build the awareness in the market. We have a program called ‘Eskimi Talks’ where we invite marketers and brands to discuss the challenges of current marketing and advertising landscape. That’s one of our initiatives to build awareness in the market.

On the top of that, we regularly meet with agencies, and clients to discuss things and new ideas. We are using our global case studies to build a local understanding of things.

Future Startup

What are the plans for Bangladesh Market over the next few years?

Lutfi Chowdhury

One goal is to increase the digital buying in Bangladesh. Digital is growing in Dhaka, but there is room for even faster growth. Moreover, there are questions about the effectiveness of digital buying. We plan to address these issues.

Product-wise, we aim to offer an even better deal to our partners and we are constantly working towards that goal.

Business-wise, growth is the priority. We plan to work with more brands and help more marketers to grow their business through using programmatic advertising.

We are already in a strong position in Africa and one of the largest in Asia, we want to be number one programmatic buying platform - that’s the ambition.

Future Startup

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

Lutfi Chowdhury

There are two things. Firstly, an increasing number of brands are shifting budget from offline to online and we have been experiencing a pretty consistent growth over the past couple of years.

However, one thing that we should consider is that it is important to understand the ROI and the KPIs of investments.

We started digital marketing back in 2010 and 2011 and we still struggle with coming up with proper ROI and there are questions. In many instances, we don’t have the clear understanding of KPI and the ROI.

This not unusual given the fact that the medium is fairly new. However, the risky part is that if we keep losing money on wrong channels or wrong way then one day we will lose the faith in digital marketing, especially the management would question the effectiveness of the medium, which would not be a good thing for any of us.

Marketers should be mindful when they are spending money. Because you are spending money of a company, so whenever I’m spending money I need to have a clear understanding of the return on that investment. What would be our KPI before a campaign and what is the ROI - these questions need to be answered clearly.

On the other hand, digital marketing is a growing phenomenon in Bangladesh, but it has not grown as expected by many industry insiders. I think there are a couple of reasons behind it.

Firstly, language and local content remain a key challenge. It has improved a lot and great things have happened around this. But still, there are some issues that need to be addressed.

Secondly, payment. As I mentioned earlier, payment is a critical problem. International transactions are often expensive and come with baggage that many marketers and brands tend to avoid.

Thirdly, there are unresolved questions about the effectiveness and also there are issues with understanding.

That said, things are getting better at a rapid pace. Awareness is growing. Brands are now allocating more budget for the digital.

Our core strategy is to help brands. Instead of finding opportunities to make some quick bucks, we help them to understand things so that they gain confidence about the medium.

Digital is the way forward. We are already seeing an early sign of that and we believe it will be more so in the coming years.

Marketers should be mindful when they are spending money because they are spending money of a company so whenever I’m spending money I need to have a clear understanding of the return against that investment. What would be our KPI before a campaign and what is the ROI - these questions need to be answered clearly.

Future Startup

What are a couple of digital marketing trends that you see going big in Bangladesh over the next few years?

Lutfi Chowdhury

I can only talk about the display. I'm not going deeper into the social media trends and others because I'm a bit off on that side last few years.

Technologically, the banner has improved significantly. We are now using all sorts of banner ads starting from dynamics to expandable to GIF to rich media to videos etc.

We need developments on the publisher end. Our publishers have to embrace the advanced technology.

Secondly, the video has been seeing a consistent growth over the past few years. People have also developed an understanding of how video works on different platforms.

We used to use the same video that we used for TVC in digital, this is not happening now. People are making a special video for different platforms. I think we will see this trend continue to gain popularity in the coming days.

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. How you do think these mindsets are going to affect overall advertising in the coming days and do you see television advertising is going to decline over the next couple of years due to these changes?

Lutfi Chowdhury

I would say TV and offline media continue to dominate our market even these days. Still, offline and TV take up most of the advertising budget because of the huge reach these mediums offer.

However, the difference between the two mediums - offline and online - I would say, at least from an advertising perspective, “is data". When we are spending money on TV and offline there is a lack of concrete data, but when I’m spending on digital, I have concrete data.

The common thing in both medium, as a consumer, no one wants to see the ads. This is for sure. People hate to see ads. Then and again, there are exceptions. I probably love some brands, I want to see offers and ads for those brand. There is no doubt. But the problem is that for 30 people there are ads from at least 400 companies. Then I’m bored and I’m annoyed to see that.

In TV, I can jump. On the internet, there is ad blocker. There is an option to do it. It is not bothering me; because it is a static banner outside. I’m not attracted to it, that is a problem.

The clear difference is when I get the data from the digital campaign then I know I have a campaign I reached out 3 million people and out of 3 million people I got only 20k or 30k people showing their interest and the rest are not.

This is the advantage of digital, you can know your users better and design your strategy accordingly.

For the next campaign, I can exclude those people from the campaign. I'm bothering these people who are not interested already and I’m losing money by showing ads to the wrong people. This is the beauty of digital marketing.

Another difference is who wants to see what. In the digital, to some extent, we can say that, but in offline it is difficult to determine. That’s why the medium is popular.

On the other hand, we are seeing a growing number of ecommerce and digital-only ventures. They have only one channel to promote their businesses - it is online.

I would say TV and offline media continue to dominate our market even these days. Still, offline and TV take up most of the advertising budget because of the huge reach these mediums offer. The difference between the two mediums - offline and online - I would say, at least from an advertising perspective, “is data". When we are spending money on TV and offline there is a lack of concrete data, but when I’m spending on digital, I have concrete data.

Future Startup

What do you think about TV advertising? Do you think because of the growth of digital and other things TV ad market will decline in Bangladesh?

Lutfi Chowdhury

I’m pretty sure that it will start to see a decline pretty soon because I’m not seeing any concrete plan from the TV media side to maintain the market share and fend off the competition from the digital.

Having said that, I’m also sure that there will be some plan from TV media and marketers and that they will come up with some concrete solution to keep the market share.

For now, I’m not seeing any plan from their side to fight the other platform by showing ROT and offering new options to the advertisers.

TV is a very costly medium and it is very good for awareness and reach. If I need that reach and I have the budget then TV is the best way to promote my brand. But it's not for all people.

I think TV will continue to survive and even do well in the future. There are things happening internationally while TVs are offering data and getting into digital. Things are certainly going to be challenging for TV but I don’t think TV will go away in the future.

Future Startup

Another challenge would be how people consume television is essentially different from how we consume other content e.g. YouTube. TV is essentially a leisure medium. We go home, sit together and then watch TV. That’s one of the reasons I think TV advertisement is so effective because people are usually receptive to the message. They are not that aware of what's happening. They are consuming entertainment and open to receive any kind of message. The time we are living in is a very busy, anxious time and we are moving all the time. In fact, when we are watching a YouTube video, we are in 10 other tabs. Every 5 minutes you are checking the newspaper, LinkedIn, Facebook - do you think these are going to be a challenge for TV?

Lutfi Chowdhury

I’m not being judgmental on any content issue because this is something else to discuss. People love to see two things live, one is sports and the other is news.

Other things we can watch later. That is why TV is still playing a big role because we are a cricket crazy nation, also we love other sports and news is there from the political and other sides. That’s why they are still ruling the market. For other things people switch and prefer to go to YouTube and see the ad-free content.

Having said that, I think TV has a fair chance to compete on that as well if they can offer better content and better ad formats.

Future Startup

What advice and tips would you give to brand managers and marketers who are working in the digital space?

Lutfi Chowdhury

Digital marketing is nothing new. It is not a rocket science. It’s the same people I’m reaching, online or offline.

The basic essence of the brand or the brand communication should remain same for offline and online. The change is in how you deliver that message or make that content. Your content should go along with the nature of a particular medium or channel. That’s one.

Secondly, we have around 70 million internet users. So we have to understand out of them who are my TG and my consumers. You can reach 70 million people step by step and by using data, you can understand who is interacting with your brand or who is not.

Using that data you can figure out yourself that out of 70 million people how many people are actually your TG and spend money on that particular group of people and not showing ads to all.

If you are not using data and doing is random, you are wasting your money and you are bothering other people. This is a basic understanding.

For instance, being an iPhone user, I don't want to see ads for any android below 30k - 40k or normal android phones. But I’m seeing them all the time which means they are wasting their money. They need to understand who is their TG and should make sure that they only reach out to them.
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Notes

1. Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Mohammad Tashnim and Shabiba Benta Habib

2. Further reading on the future of communication in Bangladesh here.


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