Marketing In The Age Of Digital: An Interview With Morin Talukder, CEO, Pickaboo
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 know 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 and other platforms.
The central difference between the internet and conventional media is in the mindset. The internet represents an abundance mentality and freedom whereas traditional media is about scarcity.
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 habits of traditional mediums.
We recently sat down with always thoughtful Morin Talukder, CEO of Pickaboo, to know more about his take on digital marketing in Bangladesh and to understand how Pickaboo deals with the changing world of marketing.
We had an interesting conversation on digital advertising a few years ago. It was quite a fascinating look into how Pickaboo approaches communication in a digital-first world. A lot has changed since then. The digital marketing landscape in Dhaka has changed. Pickaboo has changed a lot as a company. Let’s start with Pickaboo. Could you please give us an overview of how marketing works at Pickaboo today?
Pickaboo probably has one of the smallest marketing team among the e-commerce companies in Dhaka. We are currently a small team of three people – one designer, one intern, and I.
Our marketing has a distinct nature. We mostly work in collaboration with different brands who sell on our platform -almost 70% of our marketing activities are carried out in collaboration with smartphone brands such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc. As a result, a significant percentage of our work goes there.
Let me give you an example. Take a campaign for Samsung, say Samsung M 20 launch. To begin with, meetings take place between Samsung and Pickaboo. We sit together. Try to understand previous launch events – how M20 has been launched in India and analyze their results, etc. We put a lot of focus on understanding previous campaigns, success factors, the requirements and needs of the brands.
Second, we focus on consumers – doing the necessary works to understand consumers as thoroughly as possible. We look into everything that we could get on a consumer from their age group to behavior to devices they use, how long they are using a device and so on. We try to understand who is more likely to upgrade or shift to Samsung. We collect as much data as possible and pinpoint insight to gauge the shifting trend. For example, Xiaomi users are more likely to shift to Samsung than the ones who are using Huawei.
Understanding your consumer is the key to any communication success. We put a significant amount of time into doing it right. Digital has made it easier for us. It is relatively easier for us to gather information about a user, such as how long a user is using a certain phone and whether he is likely to change it. We usually target the people who have been using a single device for more than one year or one and a half years. We are bad at upgrading people from feature phones because we cannot reach out to them. However, we can always play around within the smartphone group.
Secondly, we look into income. You have to be able to spend. Since people make payments through digital channels and cards, we get to know at least to a certain extent the income level of people. If someone is browsing the payment page and paying through digital means or using the bKash app, it does offer a certain understanding of their income.
These let us know what they are doing. If he or she is logging in SCB we normally assume that he is a job holder because the majority portion of the SCB is employee account. If you are a user of City Bank, either you are a corporate or a recent graduate. We assume that most DBBL account holders are students. Using this information, we try to classify our users financially. We also use the information regarding websites they are browsing and the interests they have.
Companies’ track and target users using interest. There are several challenges when it comes to interest-based targeting. First, interest is something most marketers use to target customers, which means it is a pretty competitive territory. People have similar interests with very little behavioral consequences. The one we are targeting probably has interests in Xiaomi and Samsung as well iPhone, which makes it confusing. We try not getting into interest-based targeting.
We work more on the behavioral targeting – age group, the device they are currently using and their tendency to buy a new device or upgrade.
The other significant user behavior that we are seeing these days is that many people research before buying a phone or a gadget. They read blogs. They watch reviews. We now look into these data and put our advertisements accordingly. For example, we use keyword targeting. If there is a specific keyword on a page, we place an ad for the same product on that page.
Our strategy revolves around our target users. We spend tons of time understanding our users better and then put together a strategy to meaningfully reach them. For example, if it is a One+, we are targeting young people whereas for a similar range of smartphones such as Samsung S10, we are targeting a different group of people, mostly, corporate. Based on the device and the product, we modify the strategy. The constant part of our strategy is we are almost entirely digital advertising-driven.
We have also been putting a lot of importance on data – both collecting data as well as putting insight from the data into work. We create an audience called “look like audience” similar to those who are browsing so that we could push similar types of products to the people who have similar interests.
What are some of the things you do regularly?
Broadly, we are digital. We have little presence offline. We have been doing a few things. We do banners. We have a blog where we talk about technological products and new products that are coming into the market. We have started collaborating with some YouTube channels for the review videos.
We do dynamic ads, which have been performing the best for us. We are trying to place the dynamic ads across all the platforms even on YouTube. So that would be: dynamic ads, banners, YouTube promotion, and blogs are our current activities.
Do you work with agencies?
We don’t. Our communication and marketing works are planned and executed in-house.
How do you think about digital marketing in the context of Bangladesh? What is your take on the market?
Digital is no longer a mere medium of communication or advertising, it has become part of our daily life. We are doing almost everything on the internet from communication to shopping to protest to social good to running our organization. For example, we have seen a successful blood donation campaign to happen online during the recent dengue pandemic. This is something quite new for us in the sense that our understanding of the usage of social media has changed and is evolving every day. We are using the medium for many things.
News has completely moved to digital. We seldom read physical newspapers these days. If you look at the shifts that publications and newspapers are making, this change is apparent. For example, Prothom Alo has already started an online subscription. I believe a good number of people would take the service instead of taking the physical newspaper.
In terms of advertising, however, digital is increasingly becoming the most important medium of communication. Customers are spending more time online these days. Hence, it is easier to reach them there. The medium is relatively inexpensive compared to TV or newspapers or other traditional media.
Second, search has become a powerful advertising channel. Back in 2018, the number of companies placing ads in the search was tiny. It has grown disproportionately over the past one year. The cost has also gone up. Previously, per conversion used to cost USD 2, now it is USD 5. This is because the demand has grown. Previously, Samsung was not into the search ad but they do it now. As a result, every time I try to place an ad in search, I must compete with them.
One challenge with digital is that space for organic growth is shrinking daily. As the paid advertising takes precedence in digital, the room for organic reach is getting smaller by the day.
Third, the app has become important. We currently have around 1.5 million app installs. About 60% of our revenue comes from app users. The good part is we can reach out to them for free of cost. With one push notification, we can reach around 0.7-0.8 million people. Daily one push notification is not a big deal and you could reach out to a size of people that would cost you a lot in paid media.
Smartphone has seen phenomenal growth over the past few years. The usage of the app, albeit useful ones, is only going to grow. We are working on making our app more relevant to our users so that they use it daily. We are adding videos, blogs and relevant content to the app.
The challenge with the app is that it is easy to uninstall for a user. If a user does not find your app useful, he/she would uninstall it in no time. Hence, you have to work extra hard to ensure that your app users are happy and there are reasons for them to stick around.
How much has digital marketing evolved over the last few years?
Let me start in 2016. At the time, the challenge was that our ad account on Facebook would get disabled daily for no good reason. There were many limitations – cards, education and so on. As a market, we were nascent and tech giants such as Google and Facebook were not paying any attention to us.
Fast forward to 2017, everyone started looking into Bangladesh. Facebook and Google put dedicated teams for Bangladesh. Facebook arranged several events in partnership with LICT and e-CAB.
In 2016, everyone was mostly using boosting. Within a year the scenario changed. From 2017, people started to go deeper. They wanted to explore further. From there, today our digital advertising scene is a completely different world. Facebook and Google advertising has evolved into a different thing. There are other ad tech products that our market is using today.
Companies and users both have matured. You could find the sign of this maturity everywhere. Let me give you an example. Whenever I visit a website, I usually check their tracking mechanism – things they are tracking and how. It gives me an idea about how smart their marketing team is.
In 2017, few websites used to track their users. A year later, in 2018, the market evolved. Everyone was tracking page views. No one was tracking what products people were looking at, preferred pricing, categories, etc. Fast forward 2019, everyone is tracking everything. Everyone is using advanced tools. When they are tracking, they are segmenting their customers and so on.
There is a thing called enhanced e-commerce which has been available since 2016 but no one was using it at the time in Bangladesh. Now everyone is using it. They are checking in what stage a user is in – awareness, consideration, or purchase decision, etc. The number of people who are getting a blueprint certificate from Facebook is also pretty high. Once, finding good people was a challenge. That has improved over the past few years.
How much has the marketing priorities of companies changed?
In terms of major changes, people have come out of likes and shares. We can see people are investing in engagement.
The market has moved into engagement and conversion. It’s not anymore just reaching out to people. Brands want action.
Proper targeting has become important. People are trying to reach out to a limited number of people but want them to take some sort of action. This can be direct sales or engagement or consideration points. This is a huge shift in mindset.
What mistakes do you see in digital marketing?
We have made many mistakes and continue to do so but we always try to learn from our wrongs. I believe that should be the case for any other company. There are some pretty rudimentary things that I see when it comes to digital marketing.
First, these days everyone is investing in dynamic marketing across the platform with limited thought put into which content is being shown at what time to whom and so on. When you are running a dynamic ad, in many instances, you have limited control. As a result, it becomes embarrassing as well as a waste of money sometimes. People don’t spend enough time in proper targeting. For example, you don’t need to show a female perfume to a man unless it’s for gift purposes. There are many more examples where ads are misplaced. That is something I felt.
Second, we directly jump on to sell. If I expect that I will start getting the order right after an ad that might not happen. There is a sales funnel that starts with awareness, desire, and consideration and so on. For someone to buy a product he has to have the desire to buy it. Before desire, however, there are other steps such as awareness. As marketers, we have to follow the funnel and start from the beginning.
Unfortunately, we all keep making the same mistake by focusing specifically on sales. If we put a little more thought into how we approach this challenge, we could generate even better results from our campaigns and conversion-driven ads. To that end, analytics and data are fundamental tools. It seems we are far behind in those areas in Dhaka.
To give an example, when we launched Huawei P30 Pro, we had confusion regarding how many pieces of that device will sell. Our assumption was not more than a hundred. But when we eventually launched the product it blew up our assumption. We sold out our entire allocation on day one. I was in China at the time and was visiting Huawei HQ.
We later tried to understand the event. We found out that Huawei did an excellent awareness campaign globally, which helped to build a solid awareness of the product in Bangladesh as well. They did a fair amount of work in Dhaka pre-launch. All that awareness activities contributed to the excellent success of our conversion campaign. That was a huge lesson for us.
These are some of the mistakes that I come across often. Often one mistake leads to another. For example, when we are jumping straight into the conversion campaign without much awareness, it does not work and when it does not work, we are coming up with the excuse that this product is not going to sell or whatnot.
People trust online platforms. They are paying at times extra for genuine products. But when we are doing half-assed things like instead of building awareness spending in sales, it backfires and creates a bad impression
What are some skills a digital marketer should develop?
I have observed two things over the past few years. One, it is hard for traditional marketers to convert. The challenge is not in skills, rather in mindset and approach. Digital requires a certain kind of mindset. Students from engineering backgrounds do well than marketing and BBA graduates.
There are several reasons.
While digital marketing is conceived as Facebook marketing by most, it is not. Digital is a combination of technology. It requires technical skills such as data analytics and other related skills to do well in digital. There are a decent amount of technical intricacies that one has to understand to operate effectively. Technology people understand these nuances better. Hence, they do better. Having decent tech skills, broadly speaking, helps.
Second, the ability to adapt to change is critical. Tech is a fast-changing world. Over the past years, advertising on Facebook has changed numerous times. If one wants to do well in digital, one has to be prepared for these changes and be willing to adapt and evolve. Humans are not good with change. Our adaptability is questionable. Most companies don’t want to adopt and rather prefer to stay with the traditional things. In digital, this mindset is a liability.
Previously, there was only a boost button on Facebook. Now, the platform offers a ton of options. It has a creative studio, creative hub and we can even check the performance of a specific creative such as relevance score and so on.
In most instances, we now run A/B test before choosing a campaign or a creative. We try different creative and ads to see which one is working better. And then make a decision based on the result. The advantage of digital is that you can see the result of almost everything, starting from color to content to copy to everything else. Now we even check the text before publishing the creative especially the content quality. So there are many things to consider.
There is a talent crunch in the digital marketing space in Dhaka. At the end of a campaign, how many of us come up with a campaign analysis. While it is of critical importance and allows us to see what works and what does not, few companies do it.
Take, for example, the Samsung M20 campaign that I mentioned earlier; we ran an integrated digital campaign. Question is how much traffic have we got? What was the conversion rate? We do not focus much on these questions. But once you have someone who understands analytics, they would pay attention to this. That gives them the idea, by the next campaign we will invest more into Facebook and not into the search because I get fewer results from the search. This is something important.
What are some digital marketing trends that you are bullish about?
I feel that video will continue to dominate. Investment in videos will grow. Video gives better results than static content. The challenge with video is that it is an expensive production.
Other than the video, overall visual communication such as GIFs are on the rise and is likely to continue to grow. There are now apps that help you convert still images into GIF and make small videos. We use an app called Legend.
I feel that blogs and contents are the next big trend. People, in general, spend more time reading these days. Previously, we were not used to reading. Now we are reading online. Native content marketing has become a thing in many markets. We are seeing slow growth of it in Dhaka. I think content marketing would be a strong trend in the near future
What are your tips for other marketers and brand managers?
I would tell you what we have found useful over the last few years. In the past, we have been overly reliant on paid advertising. While we continue to invest in paid marketing, we are now working more on finding ways to grow organically and where our investment would produce relatively better long-term results such as investing more in content and our channel.
We have also been paying a lot of attention to reviews. Previously, few people used to leave a review on the site. The trend is changing. The number of people leaving reviews is increasing. Previously, it was probably 100-200 per product. Now it is more or less 5,000-7,000 for hot-selling products.
More importantly, people read reviews before buying a product. We track the pages people browse on our site. People are now going through these review pages more often than before. It makes complete sense because before buying a product people certainly would want to learn about it. It helps users in making decisions.
Reviews are genuinely helpful for customers. Not only on-site reviews, third party reviews, and mentions are also effective in educating and inspiring customers. Simply look into how we buy products, from books to booking hotels; we look for reviews of other users. So I think companies should pay attention to reviews.
Do you use any particular tools for analytics?
We use Google Analytics, which we have fully integrated with our platform. We put a lot of work into collecting and understanding data about our customers. We try to be exhaustive in that. We have enhanced product-related and search-related queries information which we use. We use a tool called Firebase for push notification in-app. It also helps us in segregating different audiences so that we can reuse those audiences for the next product. The current regiment is performing pretty well.
Do you use any chat-bot or conversation AI technology in your marketing activities?
We have a chat-bot running for the past year. However, we never found it sufficient. There could be various reasons. It could be that we used a rather rudimentary technology. Language could be a problem.
We were using Bangla and English together. One challenge was ensuring that answers are appropriate and contextual.
A bot is essentially is a pre-configured system. As a result, not all answers are accurate or contextual. On top of that language, limitations made it even more challenging.
Our Bot does everything from order placement to product searching, etc. The problem is when it shows search results, it shows some weird search results, which causes trouble and affects consumer perception.
While Chatbot and similar tech could offer excellent alternatives to entry-level customer service management, the way we greet people, the machine can never do it. When two people are having a conversation, they talk about a lot of things. Some of them are related and others are not. For a machine, the type of machine we are talking about now, it is often a challenge to do that. As a consequence, you may lose a customer or miss a rather easy conversion. That being said, chatbot, as technology evolves, will make a huge impact on customer service and communication management in the coming days.
What are some lessons you have learned?
There is the Digital Marketing Summit every year organized by BBF. We wait for that. It offers an excellent window to know and learn from what everyone else is doing. There could be some more things like that.
The market for digital has been expanding rapidly. Similarly, digital has become much more expensive today than a few years ago. As a result, there is a genuine need for thinking critically when you are investing.
Content is king. Good contents are often the best investment. Contents help you to reach people organically. It generates long-term returns on investment. Over the past years, we have invested in videos and other forms of content that continue to generate a return for us.
Investing in data and understanding data is of paramount importance. Analytics is critical. Analysis and research are mandatory things if you are to do well in digital. We monitor every campaign’s results. Our business development gives us the idea of where sales are happening or why it is not happening. We monitor everything down to what design does well and what does not.