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How Digital Is Changing Advertising Landscape In Dhaka With Md. Ehsanul Hoque, Digital Lead, Team Unilever at Mindshare Bangladesh

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Apr 29, 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. An increasing number of brands are investing in digital these days. Over the past several years, from almost oblivion, digital has gained significant prominence and become a mainstream phenomenon.

Digital advertising investment has seen a sharp increase. On an average, brands in Dhaka are spending between 5-7% of their advertising budget in digital. For some brands, the percentage is much higher, as much as 30%. For internet businesses such as ecommerce and other types of digital startups, digital continues to be the only channel of communication.

With the growing investment, the medium and understanding of the medium have also matured to some extent. Once an experimental pursuit, brands are now looking for the real return on their investments in digital. That said, there is a long way to go.

The central difference between digital 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 to services has fundamentally changed. (2)

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 thought-provoking interview, Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader sits down with Ehsanul Hoque, Digital Lead, Team Unilever at Mindshare Bangladesh, Co-manager, Google Business Group Sonargaon and a digital veteran, to pick his brain about the state of digital marketing in Bangladesh, fundamentals of digital, the art and science of digital strategy, the future of marketing in an increasingly digital world and his take on major digital trends in the context of Bangladesh and how brands can take advantage of this new world.

Future Startup

What is your background? You are in many ways a digital veteran, how have you ended up in digital space? Please tell us about your journey to what you are doing today.

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

I was born and brought up in Rajshahi and attended both my school and college there. After college, I went to Bangalore to do BSc in Computer Science. I returned to Bangladesh in mid-2006 with an undecided mind about what to do with my life. My result was not out yet either.

After a while, I joined NIIT, a computer education center, as a trainer for computer and English. Since they had a campus in Rajshahi, they gave me a choice between Rajshahi and Dhaka.

Without thinking much I decided to go back to Rajshahi which shows my lack of understanding and not thinking much about career planning and all.

A few months into the NIIT job, my result came out which coincided with MBA intake circular of IBA, Rajshahi University. I went to Bangalore to collect the certificate and after returning sat for the IBA exam.

Fortunately, I got in but that did not make my life any easier. I had to work harder than before because now I had to manage both my studies, which was sufficiently demanding, as well my teaching at NIIT.

I would start my day early in the morning. Teach the entire day. And from 5:30 pm would join my MBA class. There was no weekend. Most Fridays I would take makeup classes at NIIT.

I completed my MBA in 2008 and right after that got an opportunity to work at Robi, the then Aktel, but fate played a cruel trick on me. When the selection process ended, I got Chickenpox and could not join at the scheduled time. After three weeks they informed me that they gave my position to someone else and wished me luck for the next time.

Disappointed and broken heart, I took up an internship at a neat composite factory. And afterward, joined a company called Search Light where we worked for Citycell as their contractual employee. I was responsible for City Cell’s Zoom Ultra activation and door-to-door sales activities.

I had worked there for over a year. It was not an easy job and was not enjoyable all the time either. Many a time, there was not enough bliss and contentment at work. It was physically intense as well as mentally draining. But that job in sales at Citycell changed me and shaped my personality. I used to be an introvert throughout my life. But at Citycell, I had to manage a large group of people, handle customers and complaints and move out in the field to talk, know and understand customer and make sales happen. I had to push myself a lot. As a result, although I did not realize it at that time, I grew tremendously as a person.

After Citycell I worked at KDS Accessories Ltd in Business Development for while before joining at Prothom Alo where my real journey into digital media began.

While working at KDS, I came across an opportunity at Prothom Alo which eventually led to me joining their new media department which was basically their digital operation. In fact, I was the first person to be recruited for full-time in the business development of New Media at Prothom Alo.

I worked at Prothom Alo for 2 years and two months and that’s when I came to learn about digital and its future in Bangladesh. My computer science background finally came handy.

During that period, Prothom Alo online grew ten times. We relaunched the e-paper segment, recruited developers and other resources, launched the 1st app, and worked with some of biggest brands in the country. Launched wonderful projects and campaigns together. It was a worthwhile two years. It taught me a lot about publisher business and digital in general.

Towards the beginning of my third year at PA, MediaAxis/Carat approached me with an offer. I embraced the change and took the opportunity and joined MediaAxis as a manager in mid - 2012. It opened up a new world of opportunities and learning for me.

MediaAxis/Carat was focusing on performance-based digital marketing at that time. I came to learn a lot about global best practices, dig out ideas, opportunities, and strategies on what we could do in digital in Bangladesh and so on. We took up ambitious and immensely interesting projects with brands like Nokia and Microsoft.

I worked at Media Axis for almost 4 years and was promoted up to the Assistant Director and was eventually offered a partnership position with the firm, which is still one of my biggest achievements. It was an honor but the hunger in me for exploring the digital world further and grow myself was very strong. I found the right opportunity at the right moment when I was approached by Mindshare to lead the digital portfolio of Unilever.

I joined Mindshare in December 2015 after working for 6 plus years in digital. This opened a different avenue for me. To know and understand how brands grow. Since then I have been working at Mindshare.

I collaborate with Unilever here. To give an overview of the magnitude of the portfolio, we are looking after 21 brands of Unilever and each of them has 2-4 variants and each of them is active in 3-4 separate platforms.

At Mindshare, we work with some of the most coveted brands in the country including Unilever, Grameenphone, HSBC, GSK, Arla, Pepsico, bKash, Symphony and more which allows us to work with a wide range of portfolio, explore and learn. We have won numerous national and international awards. One of our digital-only campaigns for Knorr was even featured in Think with Google for the 1st time from Bangladesh.

Even though I am responsible for Unilever brands, the knowledge and understanding of the market come from the same value chain for all brands.

I had worked there for over a year. It was not an easy job and was not enjoyable all the time either. Many a time, there was not enough bliss and contentment at work. It was physically intense as well as mentally draining. But that job in sales at Citycell changed me and shaped my personality. I used to be an introvert throughout my life. But at Citycell, I had to manage a large group of people, handle customers and complaints and move out in the field to talk, know and understand customer and make sales happen. I had to push myself a lot. As a result, although I did not realize it at that time, I grew tremendously as a person.

Ehsanul Hoque speaking at a GBG event
Ehsanul Hoque speaking at a GBG event

Future Startup

You have seen digital from both end, publishers as well as brands and agency, could you give us an overview of the industry as you see it?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

The growth of the industry has been phenomenal. We are seeing almost 2x growth in user base in every two years. More and more brands are coming online.

Earlier there was a challenge related to awareness and making clients understand the technology and platforms. It has been taken care of since.

As per spend digital will become the second largest media within 2019.

Going forward, brands will want to optimize and have the best ROI for their investment. And to do that industry is focusing more on the capacity building, especially in analytics.

There is a huge lack of analysts in Bangladesh that can dig into the data and bring out insights and land a campaign and also make it successful. This is going to be even more critical as we grow as a market.

Right now most of the brands are using digital platforms in silos for brand building and will eventually focus more on value-driven campaigns to build meaningful connections with their customers because talking about what they are doing and what their product is would not do much.

For example, people don’t search for products instead they search for a solution for their problems. That may be a skin problem, maybe hair problem and so on. Brands need to be there at that zero moments of truth with the solution of researching consumers’ problem that their product solves.

Social will continue to dominate digital advertising at least for the next couple of years and evolve. Youtube will get more prominence in the coming days.

Ecommerce will grow and brands will be more on performance driven campaigns.

Programmatic buying and programmatic creative platforms will come into the play to deliver a more personalized message to customers. DMP and big data will become key drivers. Then analysts will be needed more than before.

Because of 4G and affordability of data video on demand, messaging platforms and video calling platforms will become big players. Technologies like VR, Ai, and machine learning will get into the game.

The digital space will eventually mature further. There are important changes happening. Different metrics are getting questioned and so on. Controversies are leading to new ways of doing things.

Overall, this is a nascent industry. We are learning. One thing is that the industry is way more mature today than a year ago and this will impact the growth.

Future Startup

How big is the advertising market in Dhaka? And then how big is the digital advertising market?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

The total market is somewhere north of 2,600 crores. The digital is around 5-7% of that.

Digital has been seeing a consistent growth. There are several predicaments in our market that don’t help the growth. On the other hand, brands are not sure what is the optimum amount to invest in digital.

Future Startup

Digital spending has grown over the last couple of years, can you give us an insight into how and where brands are spending in digital?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

Social media platforms, mostly Facebook and then Instagram and Google take a significant percentage of this investment. Their share should be north of 45 - 60% of total digital spending. Brands are now spending on Video and Youtube as well. That’s there.

Then there are local ad networks and local news portal. It also constitutes a small percentage of the overall budget.

Around 1% of the budget is going to search and keywords. This is a little unfortunate given the fact that search is such a powerful medium.

Ironically, we have local companies that are doing this search engine optimization for foreign companies but they have failed to convince the local brands and marketers of the value of their product and service.

Content marketing has been gaining a slow momentum. This is very tiny to deserve a mention but it is showing quite a good promise. A few brands are investing in content and it is the duty of industry leaders to shape the industry from the front.

Future Startup

You do media buying and execution from Mindshare, how does your media buying for digital work?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

From Mindshare, we usually look after Brand’s media strategy, partnership management, planning and buying, execution and guide the creative agencies and brand manager with insights.

Your media buying depends on strategic priorities - the kind of audience you want to reach, the way you want to reach them - these decisions dictate your media buying decision. We use data and analytics to make sure that our clients get the best result for their investment.

At the same time, we are also focusing on the content business for the first time in Bangladesh. Though it is a quite small scale initiative in nature, the point is we are getting into content.

We are seeing that globally content is increasingly becoming the center of communications. Content is the king, we have been dealing with this slogan for a long time. In digital, this is even more because digital allows people greater freedom and more choices allowing them to decide what content they want to consume and what they don’t.

A lot of brands are now investing in content and this will grow in the coming days.

Think about Dove. They do 1-2 major content-driven campaigns per year. You might have come across “Dove Real Beauty Sketches | You’re more beautiful than you think” or “Choose Beautiful” campaign. That’s how Brand Salience is built through content marketing.

Unilever Bangladesh has been investing in contents like ‘Kache Ashar Golpo’ and all for many years now. They have understood and captured a particular segment of people who are waiting for an entire year for these contents. That is how the game has changed. There are now web series, content that is solely produced for digital mediums. We aim to get into that space and lead.

I’m particularly bullish about content. As I said earlier people do not look for brands, they look for solutions to their problems. When they search online, they do not look for brands, they look for solutions for a problem they are having that a product of a brand may solve. There is a huge opportunity lying there. The next trend should be of combining search engine optimization and content to generate solutions for your customers that would eventually lead to purchase.

Future Startup

What are the key metrics that companies look for when it comes to measuring the performance of digital investments?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

If you are looking for creating awareness then your target should be reaching as many people as possible with a certain frequency, so then it reaches % on TG. That’s one example where you use a particular metric to measure the success of your campaign.

Usually, metrics depend on the objectives and KPI of a campaign. If your KPI is to reach out to a certain number of people, that’s your metric as well.

There is no universal metric for all the campaigns that you run. It depends on what you want to achieve and according to that your design metric.

Having said that, there are certain metrics that people usually look at. For instance, if you have a video content you should look into the ‘View Through’ numbers. It will give you a heads up about whether your content is working or not.

Another thing for the digital platform to look out for is view time. Say you are running a video ad, how many people that watched your video have actually completed it? That’s an important metric. How long a person spends on your page determines whether he is genuinely interested in your product or he has found something of value in your work.

You also have to think about the lifetime value of your customers. For instance, a customer came to your website through ads or a campaign and then he made a purchase from your website. Now how can you ensure that that customer returns to your shop again and buys your product, that’s where the real value of communication lies.

I would also like to point out that when it comes to digital platforms numbers, analytics, reach - these things have become everything regardless of the objective of a campaign or an event. This should not be the case.

Data sometimes can’t tell the full story. Sometimes, maximum reach is not required for your brand. We should be mindful of these fallacies.

There is a term called Digital Marketing and Measurement Model (DMMM) and that’s a vast area. There are few simple steps which you should think well ahead before getting into developing your communication materials:

  • Define business objective
  • Define marketing objective (Awareness, consideration, Acquisition, Conversion)
  • Define the role of digital to achieve the marketing objective
  • Set a goal in number to reach the objective
  • Define digital touch points of TG, this helps you to choose a platform and create platform mix
  • Map touch points with platform objective
  • Then define moments and TG intent to tap, this helps you to decide what creative to develop
  • Then set KPIs in numbers for each platform
  • Then define Metrics to track for each platforms’ KPIs

Then comes the optimization part! Run campaign for at least 5-7 days, based on the performance then change your communication assets and platform mix based on performance for improvement to reach KPIs and business goals.

Right now most of the brands are using digital platforms in silos for brand building and will eventually focus more on value-driven campaigns to build meaningful connections with their customers because talking about what they are doing and what their product is would not do much.

Future Startup

What are a couple of digital trends that you are bullish about?

Md. Ehsanul Hoque

The first trend is already here and that is the mobile. Bangladesh has been seeing an incredible mobile phone penetration over the past couple of years. This will change entire advertising landscape in the country. Mobile and related ad technology will dominate the market soon.

Video has been a strong trend for a while now. It will mature and more companies will invest in the space. Better targeting and measurement mechanisms for video will be there and interactivity within video will come as well.

We are not much into analytics and data yet in Dhaka. There are discussions about these things but yet to start in reality. There will be more data mining and use of data. Analytics will be an important factor in making decisions.

This has already happened to some extent. It will grow further which is eCommerce. The big brands and MNCs will start looking into the ecommerce segment of the market.

The fifth trend is bots, ai and natural language processing. Bots are likely to take over small chat rooms and customer service. We have already started to see the adaptation of bots by many companies. This will gain pace as we move forward.

I’m particularly bullish about content. As I said earlier people do not look for brands, they look for solutions to their problems. When they search online, they do not look for brands, they look for solutions for a problem they are having that a product of a brand may solve. There is a huge opportunity lying there. The next trend should be of combining search engine optimization and content to generate solutions for your customers that would eventually lead to purchase.

Globally, only 9% of the total search is related to brands. The rest 91% is related to queries and solutions. How to fix my hair to how to fix a bug on my PC. This is where next play will be. And there is yet to be any platform which can be as effective as the search for performance driven campaigns.

The last but not the least programmatic buying and creative for personalized communication. Finally, people will be more knowledgeable about digital platforms and find better ways to use these platforms.

People don’t search for products instead they search for a solution for their problems. That may be a skin problem, maybe hair problem and so on. Brands need to be there at that zero moments of truth with the solution of researching consumers’ problem that their product solves.

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Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Khaleda Husna Fariha

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