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How Marketing Works In the Travel Industry In Bangladesh With Abdul Goni Mehedi, Chief Marketing Officer, Flight Expert

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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 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, Instagram, 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. As a result, 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. 

Travel is one of the few industries that is fast-paced and going through some kind of changes all the time. As a result, travel companies are always doing something different and interesting when it comes to communication. 

We recently sat down with Mr. Abdul Goni Mehedi, Chief Marketing Officer of Flight Expert, to know about his take on digital marketing in Bangladesh, the changing landscape of communication in the age of internet and tech, designing effective communication strategy, how communication works in the travel industry and to understand how Flight Expert deals with the changing world of marketing and much more.

Future Startup 

Could you please briefly tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today.

Abdul Goni Mehedi

I started as a graphic designer at a very early age as a hobby. I used to draw a lot and my inspiration was Japanese manga and anime. My design skills developed since then. When I was a student at East West University, I started working as a freelancer. I also worked at Project Icarus: a youth initiative organization for artists and art enthusiasts in Bangladesh. These experiences helped further develop my skill as a designer. 

Although I studied electronics and telecommunication engineering at university, I had more interest in designs and web development. 

When I was a final year student at East West University, I was offered to join at Fotocart - a startup ecommerce platform, as a graphic designer. Fotocart was an early-stage startup and although I joined as a designer, I used to do a lot of marketing-related works. In startups, resources are always limited and you end up doing a lot of things that are not essentially your direct responsibility. 

At Fotocart, I slowly got dragged into the world of digital marketing without realizing it. 

While working at Fotocart, I met Salman who returned from Canada at the time. Salman and I have been friends since school. We went to Willes Little Flower School and College as kids. We have memories of competing with each other in school Science Fair and eventually becoming good friends. Salman was planning to start an online travel agency in Bangladesh. 

He shared the idea with me. He told me that he does not know how the business would do but he wanted to give it a try. He invited me to join him. I was given an offer to join Flight Expert as the Chief Technology Officer which then still didn’t exist back in 2016. I took the risk and joined to form Flight Expert. 

My first task after joining was to design the logo and afterward the website. We started from scratch and without much experience. We were a young team. OTA was a new thing in Bangladesh. There was very little understanding in the market. There were many challenges. We started off slowly. We slowly started to run ads online. The response was slow but steady. It did not take us long to get an immense response from the market. 

Although my formal designation was CTO, I was doing a lot of design and marketing work. I gradually realized that I enjoy marketing. It is really interesting that it took me all these years to realize this. 

When I finally came to understand that I love marketing and would love to spend more time doing it, I requested our CEO, Mr. Salman, whether I could pursue marketing. I wanted to be a brand practitioner. He happily agreed and I eventually became the Chief Marketing Officer of Flight Expert. 

The interesting thing is that even before taking on my formal marketing role, I was doing a lot of marketing things. In fact, I was mostly leading marketing and communication affairs. It was so that I did not have the formal title. Now I have one. 

Future Startup

How does marketing and communication work at Flight Expert, do you work with any agency or things mostly happen in-house? How does the marketing team work and collaborate? How do you design your long and medium-term marketing goals and strategies?

Abdul Goni Mehedi

Marketing team works closely with the operations team to analyze customer needs and to get the first-hand experience with the service. 

Strategies are set accordingly to meet customer requirements using the feedback from customers. The creatives team prepares the contents and after briefing the ad copy and strategy with operations team the campaigns are run.

While designing strategy we try to get the basic right. We take data seriously. Before designing a strategy, we spend enough time in understanding our customer, understanding our priority as a company, understanding the market, understanding our product and why people should buy our product over other products, understanding changes in the market, and understanding our goal with a particular program or campaign. We always take a customer-first approach and long-term view of things. 

We don’t work with any agency. From day one all the creatives and contents are prepared in house by our team with extra care and love.

How Marketing Works In the Travel Industry In Bangladesh With Abdul Goni Mehedi, Chief Marketing Officer, Flight Expert
Flight Expert marketing team at work

Future Startup 

What are the channels and mediums you use to reach out to your audience? How does your digital marketing operation work?

Abdul Goni Mehedi

We are on all digital platforms - Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Youtube. We have also been investing in content. We do newspaper, magazines, and radio ads as well.

Future Startup 

How does your marketing budget look like channels wise and what percentage of it goes into digital? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

50% of our budget goes to Digital Marketing and newsletter. About 30% to BTL activities such as sponsorship and brand activation. And about 20% to ATL activities such as print and radio advertisements. 

Future Startup 

Are there particular strategies that work for travel/OTA related communication? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

Customer demography is different for every business. This is more so for travel. So when travel companies invest in communication, they tend to do it with an aim to reach and convince a particular type of audience. This selectiveness certainly affect communication type and materials. 

For example, people with a higher income range with specific job titles, aged between 20 to 35, visiting some certain restaurant/food chains and followers of some certain travel-related groups or pages on social media tend to travel more than other audiences. Now when we are designing communication, we design messages that are relevant to this group of people. 

This is predominantly what happens in the entire industry. There are certain skewness towards certain aspects of life and communication that is unique from other industries. 

Future Startup 

Digital marketing has seen pretty good growth in Bangladesh over the past few years, how do you think about digital marketing in the context of Bangladesh? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

The word marketing is relatively new compared to the word market. If you search for the word marketing in dictionaries of the 1900s you won't find it. The word marketing started to appear after 1910. 

To that end, it has been about 100 years for marketers and digital marketing is even younger, about 30 years. Although digital is a relatively new trend in Bangladesh, it has been growing rapidly over the past years and is now a mainstream trend. 

Although being new in the race compared to other countries, Bangladesh has significantly adapted the technological advancements of digital marketing. In fact the overall marketing industry is booming in Bangladesh and will prove to be an economic powerhouse in the future. 

Over the past years, we have seen the rapid rise of spending in digital. Today, a large number of companies spend regularly in digital. For many, digital has become the most important channel for customer acquisition and communication. This is true for us. A significant percentage of our marketing budget goes to digital. 

As a market, we lack in some developments in digital such as usage of data and data-driven decision making, largely because data remains a scarce resource in Bangladesh. There other developmental issues when it comes to marketing technology and automation. That being said, we are well on the way to catching up in terms of developments in the market. 

Future Startup 

One of the differences between digital and traditional medium is in the mindset. Digital is about abundance and freedom which gives the consumer a lot of power and whereas traditional mediums such as TV is about scarcity and control which allows brands to control the conversation. In digital, content is unlimited, compared to traditional media and we can choose what to watch, in fact, we decide what to attend to what not to, we can block ads, we can respond to things we like or dislike, which was not possible in TV. We had to sit through an ad if we wanted to finish watching a serial. This is one aspect. At the same time, the market has become way more cluttered and there is so much noise out that makes it difficult to make your brand stand out. How do you stand out as a brand and how do stay relevant and manage these multi-way communication where brands have relatively limited control? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

Fortunately, today’s technology, research and insights can help us understand consumers motivations and purchase behavior better than ever before and enable advertisers to give consumers what they really want: not less advertising, but better advertising. 

By leveraging the power of data, marketers have the power to create advertising experiences that are enjoyable for consumers, guiding them along their journeys to purchase.

When we put the consumer first, meaning we reach them at the right moment, with the right message and with a relevant product or service they welcome the assistance of advertisers. 

That’s why I’m confident that in the future consumer permission will be at the center of all effective advertising. 

Our audiences will recognize the value they can get out of advertising that is actually useful for them, so they will tell us what they’re interested in, how they want to be targeted and on what channels they’re best reached.

I think while the market has become cluttered and competitive, we also have the opportunity that I just mentioned earlier. Customer-first companies will always do well and will always stand out in the market. Having a customer-first approach to everything you do could well be a sustainable strategy to building lasting competitive advantage in the market. 

Future Startup 

How is digital, marketing automation and data changing marketing? What are the new competencies that companies must master? What are some skills marketers need to develop in today’s environment? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

First, you have to be a risk-taker. In a rapidly changing environment, you have to be able to respond quickly and do new things at a rapid pace. You could do that only if you are a risk-taker. 

Second, understanding data - big data, cohort analysis, funnel analysis, basically, you have to be able to understand data and generate insight from data. You have to know how to use Google data studio. While it was okay to understand basic ad tools, understanding Google data studio is more important in today’s world. You have to be able to visualize and tell seeing data what it is and so on. 

Third, understanding your customers. Understanding how to personalize ads and understanding the buying cycle of customers. Understanding customer behavior online is more critical these days than just merely knowing how to run an ad. You have to understand how your customers think, how they act and why they act. Being able to innovate and find new ways to attract your customers without being a nuisance is critical in today’s environment. Ads should be fun. 

Future Startup 

What do you see as the biggest challenges for marketers today?

Abdul Goni Mehedi

The central nature of the marketing profession is that it is an ever-changing world. No two days are the same. Things that worked yesterday is unlikely to work today. Managing this constant change is a consistent challenge for marketers. Apart from that, I would mention three challenges facing today’s marketers. 

First, meeting increasing customer expectations. We are living in the age of personalization. Everyone wants a unique thing. Due to the global demonstration effect, the expectations of customers have no limit in today’s world. This is one of the biggest challenges for marketers. 

Second, growing your ROI in an ever-increasing crowded marketplace. The market has grown from both communication and competition perspectives. How do you compete in this crowded market and ensure your ROI is a big challenge. You have to be more creative and work harder to get the attention of your customers.

Third, things are very fast paced. The regular response time to challenges has shrunk significantly. Compared to that you don’t have resource advantage any better than before. Limited time and resources remain a key challenge. 

Future Startup 

What are some mistakes marketers make when it comes to digital marketing that they should avoid? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

One common mistake that I see people making is not putting enough importance on data and understanding data. This is a mistake that almost everyone makes at some stage of their marketing journey. This is a terrible one with significant negative consequences. 

Then comes putting the data in use. A lot of people collect data but few try to use it in a beneficial way. They don’t put enough work into making the data speak and do the things that it needs to do. 

You need to collect data, analyze them and then put that insight into practice. Merely collecting data is not enough. 

People tend not to do many of these things. Either they collect data and analyze but they don’t put that insight into work. 

Now to collect and analyze data, you need technical capabilities. You need a good developer team who would put those tools in your website that would help you to collect data and subsequently analyze it. Many people miss this thing and don’t do it from day one. 

How Marketing Works In the Travel Industry In Bangladesh With Abdul Goni Mehedi, Chief Marketing Officer, Flight Expert 1
Abdul Goni Mehedi, CMO, Flight Expert, in his office at Flight Expert

Future Startup 

What are some major marketing trends you are bullish about? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

  • Turning customers into the biggest advocates and promoters with a subsequent focus on service.

Excellent service has its own marketing advantage - “word-of-mouth” is the single most powerful marketing tactic. Rather than following old marketing funnel which only included marketing and sales where customers were considered with little importance once conversion until the next conversion, in the new flywheel method customer is in the center of marketing, sales and service.

  • Personalization marketing to connect content and data in an ethical manner

We are living in the age of personalization. Digital enables us to reach out to individual customers and address their challenges, personally. 

Personalized marketing helps to connect with customers at a deeper level and meet their requirements more precisely, which in turn helps to increase conversion. In personalization understanding user demographics vital.

  • Data-driven creativity is going to be a big strategic differentiator in customer experience

Data analysis is important to get the customer experience right. It brings even greater results when mixed with creativity and intelligence. The data-driven approach helps marketers create the right content faster and reach the right customer with the right content.

Apart from that, AI is an interesting trend. We are seeing the rise AI-powered travel assistant. 

VR has emerged as an interesting medium for ads. 

App is also a great medium for communication. For example, Burger King launched a campaign where every time you drive in front of a Macdonald, you get a BOGO offer from Burger King if you have the Burger King app on your mobile. This is also an example of an excellent personalization. 

These are some of the trends I see will play an important role in how we approach marketing and communication.  

Future Startup 

Your tips for marketers and brand managers on marketing and brand building?

Abdul Goni Mehedi

The first thing is that getting the basics right will help a lot. Most of the time we tend to overlook the basic and mundane aspects of our work and spend an unnecessary amount of time on things that are flashy and trendy. 

On the basic side, I think the following aspects are critical: 

First, keep the brand promise that the business is making to the customers.

Second, create a unique and memorable logo.

Third, ensuring fast and responsive website.

Fourth, a better understanding of brand equity.

Fifth, earning the trust of your customers.

Sixth, developing a voice for your brand.

Seventh, partnership or co-branding with other brands.

Eighth, Seventh, capture your data, use data and analysis of data.

Ninth, track your most important metrics. 

These are quite basic things and as a brand, if you do these things well you should be okay. Unfortunately, many companies tend to overlook these aspects. 

Future Startup 

What are some lessons you have learned about marketing and brand building over the years? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

I have learned over the years that data is going to play an outsized role in marketing in the coming years. Marketers and companies should put enough importance on data collection, analysis and use of insight from data. 

There is no alternative to becoming obsessed with your customers. Your customers are changing every day. You have to be vigilant all the time to understand them. These are some of the most important lessons I have learned over the years. 

Future Startup 

Any parting thoughts? 

Abdul Goni Mehedi

Today’s youngsters should watch more Animes (laugh!). I have a long list of animes to suggest. Naruto is hugely popular these days. A lot of young people watch naruto. There are many beautiful slice of life movies. I can go on forever. I have watched over five thousand animes. What I would say rather is to find some good ones and indulge yourself. 

There is a lot to learn from our surroundings. Often we go by in a half-awake way through life. We should pay attention and be aware of what’s going on around us. Observe. Pay deeper attention to things happening around you, it will change your life. 

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Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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