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Building Materials Marketing Playbook and Real Lessons from The Trenches of Marketing: A Conversation With Shahriar Zaman

Our guest today is Shahriar Zaman, Head of Marketing at AkijBashir Group. While an accidental marketer initially, Shahriar has become one of the leading minds in building materials marketing in Bangladesh through his decades of experience. It was a real treat to have this wide-ranging conversation combining his deep insights from the trenches of marketing and communication work. 

We discussed his beginning as a marketer to his current role overseeing the marketing efforts at AkijBashir Group, the nuances of marketing in the building materials industry, the unique nature of the sector, his strategic approach to marketing building materials, creating demand and shaping new trends, designing a marketing strategy that works, how companies can improve their marketing and communication efforts, and a lot more. This interview is a must-read for anyone interested in marketing. Please enjoy this great conversation with Shahriar Zaman. — Ruhul

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. We can begin by talking about your background and journey. Please tell us about yourself and your path to what you are doing today. 

Shahriar Zaman: I was born and raised in Dinajpur, in the village of Nowpara. After completing my HSC, I moved to Dhaka in 2004 for higher education. While attending various admission tests, I started my first professional journey as a journalist even before starting my undergrad. I began my journalism career as a contributor to Amader Somoy, which had just been launched. My passion for writing has been a constant in my life. In Dinajpur, where access to newspapers was limited because we usually received daily newspapers the next day, I would send my writings, including poetry and articles, to various newspapers. After a year and a half of persistence, Ajker Kagoj published one of my short write-ups, which was a huge deal for me at that time and perhaps altered the course of my life.

Academically, I pursued a BBA, majoring in Finance and Banking, and didn’t know much about marketing and related disciplines. I was enjoying journalism and thought I would eventually build a career in the field. However, my journalism pursuits faced an interruption due to an incident, which is not uncommon in journalism. After working for three years, I had to leave journalism. Leaving a job I loved was a difficult experience. The following one and a half years were psychologically terrible for me. 

My journey into the world of marketing started in the advertising industry. I joined the multinational agency BBDO after graduation, which again came quite unexpectedly to me. 

One day Mahi Bhai, the CEO and CSO of BBDO Bangladesh, told me that they were looking for a creative writer and whether I would be interested. I replied that I didn't know much about communication and creative writing and that I studied finance. The person who was doing the recruitment considered me for my journalism experience and told me that ‘I would give you a task of writing a copy for us and we would see after that’. He assigned me to write an Eid Card invitation for DHL. He gave me about an hour to submit the task. However, I called him back with a few alternatives in about 10 minutes. He asked me to meet him the next day in the BBDO office. That’s how my career in marketing began, doing something about which I had no idea. 

Advertising agencies do diverse projects, giving you opportunities to work with various brands, products, and companies. This exposure allowed me to explore and gradually develop a love for the industry. Eventually, I made the decision to build a career in marketing, pursuing an MBA in marketing and an MPM from Dhaka University after graduation.

I have been in this industry now for nearly 12-13 years and have worked on a long list of products, audiences, and consumers. My journey began as a creative writer at BBDO. However, I later worked across roles at the agency from strategic planning to creative supervision to client servicing, mostly driven by my curiosity to learn and grow. 

I left my agency career in around 2013 and started my corporate career at Anwar Group the same year as an assistant manager of Marketing. At Anwar Group, I had a bigger canvas and worked on several rebranding projects, including Anwar Landmark and BD Finance, along with launching several products such as Anwar Cement Sheet and OZO Faucets. To that end, I started my corporate career working on building materials products and have continued working in the same category for the last ten-plus years. 

After Anwar Group, I worked at Tiger Cement and Pedrollo Water Pump for a while and then I joined Akij, working on Akij Cement. I have been working here for almost seven years now and my current responsibilities include overseeing the building materials portfolio of AkijBashir Group, which includes Board, Tableware, Ceramics, Sanitaryware, Selections, and group corporate.

You can say I am a marketing professional with a specialization in building materials, lifestyle and retail products. I've exclusively been working on building materials marketing and you may consider me as a building material marketing expert. 

Beyond my professional work, I am actively involved in various social work initiatives, predominantly related to marketing. In 2014, I founded The Ads of Bangladesh, a blog and advertising library for Advertising and marketing people. In 2015, Mirza Illius and I co-founded Brand Practitioners Bangladesh, a community dedicated to empowering the marketing community in Bangladesh. I'm also involved with the Marketing Institute of Bangladesh (MIB), which organizes Marketing Day and several other similar initiatives, where I'm the convener of the publication committee. 

Ruhul Kader: You are in a way an accidental marketer. You studied finance and banking, did journalism for a while, and then entered the marketing profession. When did you first realize marketing is something that you enjoy and want to pursue as a career?

Shariar Zaman: Going back to that BBDO story. The next day, I went to the BBDO office and met Mahiuddin Palash, known as Mahi bhai, who was running the BBDO office in Bangladesh at that time. He asked me, since I had no prior experience in marketing, ‘go to all different teams, listen to their briefs, and work for the next seven days as an experiment. On the seventh day, I would meet him, discuss my understanding, and decide how to proceed. He also asked me to update him every evening on what I saw, learned, and what I could do. I'm always grateful to Mohiuddin Mahi bhai because he sort of changed the trajectory of my life.

I first went to the creative room where I met a bunch of creative people doing exciting work. They easily took me under their wing, and I had no clue why. I later asked them why they had accepted me in those early days, and many of them told me it was because of my curiosity. I was open, took on many works out of curiosity, and asked a ton of questions.

When people in the company and the team I was working with appreciated my work and showed their confidence in me, and the CEO of the company also told me that I could do it, it was inspiring. I was not certain about my advertising career yet, but I was enjoying the work. 

Ruhul Kader: This is interesting. My takeaway from your experience is that it is more about the people you work with and not just about the job itself. Of course, you have to enjoy the work, but the way people treat us when we are working somewhere makes a significant difference. 

Shahriar Zaman: Apart from those two aspects, there were a few other ones. Today, when we work with advertising agencies, advertising is quite different. Data plays an important role. You analyze everything. You see some international examples and trends and take inspiration from that. 

Things were not like this when I was getting started in advertising. Our approach in those days was entirely insight-based, which was the thing that attracted me the most. Before starting any job, we spent days on the field, asking, analyzing, and developing insights about consumer psychology. When you understand the psychology of your consumers and design your communication based on that, you have something that will work. We never did anything because we saw something online. We went to the market, learned from interacting with people, and developed something based on what we saw. 

I feel that that approach remains superior. Because something that worked for Apple in the US doesn’t always work equally for a Bangladeshi audience. Contrarily, when you go to the market, talk to customers, collect insights, and then convert that insight into creativity, it not only makes the entire thing enjoyable, but your work also becomes distinct and effective.

Ruhul Kader: You said you have predominantly worked in the marketing of building materials. How is the marketing of building materials different from the marketing of other products? 

Shahriar Zaman: Marketing is about establishing a relationship between your product and the consumer. In building materials, one significant aspect of this is trust, which is important for every product but quite vital for us. A little detail about these products will help you to understand the difference.

A single batch (a truck) of cement costs about BDT 200,000, and a customer usually purchases cement once in their lifetime. Repeat purchases are not common in these categories. So trust should be at that level where you would choose a product for a task that you would not be able to undo easily. It means as a brand, to enter the consideration of your consumers, you have to build trust in the market. 

Now, this trust depends on a lot of different things. 

Reference is one of those things. We have found that people on average speak with 8 people of four different types before making a purchasing decision in these categories — someone who used the product, someone they trust who might have or have not used the product, an expert/engineer, a technician, and a retailer. 

However, it is not enough if the decision only comes from the owner. The owner may decide to purchase your brand but that decision can change later under the influence of other stakeholders involved in the process of building a house. For instance, it takes about a year to complete the work of a house. Initially, it is easier to maintain these preferences if the owner decides to use your cement but it gets challenging with time. If someone buys on credit, the shop owner may influence the choice, and the preferences of engineers and technicians also come in. In short, it is quite a difficult task to keep your brand on top of consumers’ mind overcoming all these influences and biases. It means as a brand, you have to establish your distinctiveness to such an extent that someone considers you despite all these different influences. 

These are high-value products. Consumers are always extra cautious when making these purchasing decisions. So you have to build a brand that is preferred not only by the final consumers but also by all the touch points the consumers may go through before making the final purchasing decision. This is one of the major differences between FMCG or other products and building material products. 

This is not a mass-consumer product. It is a specific and narrow segment. Repeat purchases are quite low for these customers. Trust is an important factor in making purchase decisions. Maintaining the relationship throughout the process is critical for retention. Reference plays an important role and once a customer is happy, he becomes a referral. 

So the major challenge for us in marketing our products is to come up with a strategy that can address all these different aspects. As you can see it is a complex undertaking. Our communication has to be different—we use attributes like solid, strong, and trustworthy. More importantly, marketing is not merely communication. We do a lot of different things to succeed in this vertical. We experiment and analyze many different ideas and initiatives to understand and design strategies that can help us successfully navigate a complex market like the one I just explained. 

I will illustrate this point with an example. 

We found out that in a particular location near Dhaka, while several competing brands were doing well, our position continued to be poor. You could respond in many different ways in a situation like this. However, the way we operate, my job in such a situation is to get a sense of reality, understand and analyze the challenges, and come up with ideas that could help us break into that market. 

When we analyzed the market and investigated our shortcomings, we found out that we would need a diverse mix of strategies to succeed in the market. A mere communication campaign wouldn’t solve our market position challenge. We have to work with the experts such as engineers, technicians, architects, etc. Because these people play a critical role in our domain. You can never purchase paint of your own choosing. If you do it once, the next time your technician will say this paint is not good; we need this particular brand. He would suggest his preferred brand. We realized that we have to take a targeted communication approach instead of merely relying on mass advertising. This is one important distinction. 

There are many similar aspects that are unique to our category of products that separate us from regular marketing.

Ruhul Kader: Can you give an example of how it is done in practice? You came across a market position problem and then went on to address it using a unique strategic approach. 

Shahriar Zaman: I will share a case here without giving out many details. We ran a territory-based analysis for a cement company. We found out that in some territories we were not doing well while some of our competitors were doing well. 

Accordingly, we took it upon ourselves to analyze our poor performance and found two insights: one, there was a lack of awareness regarding our product and quality; our price was higher compared to other competing brands; and our visibility was less at the retail level. 

As a marketer, my challenge was to solve these three problems.

We sat down and brainstormed. We came up with and considered a number of ideas, including running a mass advertising campaign. However, we concluded that measuring the impact of a mass advertising campaign would be difficult. We needed a strategy and actions that we could measure to see if our market share had improved. 

After much deliberation, we came up with the idea that we would run an activation program. We would create small teams of four people for each area; these four people would visit all different households where there were construction works and tell people about our product to create awareness.

We created separate modules for these groups so that they could communicate effectively. We couldn't have covered them with a traditional ad. We gave them printed materials and tablets and applied examples. We trained them and gave them a target that they would have to visit 8 houses per day. Your ultimate target is not really the number of houses but conversion. If you visit 100 households, you have to convert 10% of that, which means you have to sell at least one bag of cement. 

Using this approach, we managed to connect two dots from our challenge—convincing owners and technical influencers. We had three challenges: one, lack of awareness; lack of visibility at the retail level; and finally, technicians were not recommending our cement. So, four-person teams, two would brief the owner and engineer, and a two-person team would brief mason. 

Additionally, we create a partnership with the retailers and dealers for the particular routes of the activation. With this, we addressed the challenge of retail product visibility. We connected all three dots. 

At the end of the month when we calculated the outcome, we had piloted this program in about 10 territories in different locations of Bangladesh, and we received about 22% average conversions in all the territories. We saw almost a 10%-50% increase in some of the markets that we targeted. 

With this one-two-one communication, we were able to create many organic pulls of the product and the retailers showed interest to store or sell the particular brand. 

This is one example of how we approach problems, communication challenges, and develop solutions. 

I will give another example where we were similarly struggling to gain market share. We ran a similar market analysis and found out that distribution was a major competitive factor in that market. The leader in the market had an edge in distribution and could deliver small quantity products at competitive costs. For us, it was not logistically feasible to do so. We spent days brainstorming ideas and eventually came up with a distribution strategy that eventually allowed us to deliver any quantity of products at a market competitive price. Once we figured out the distribution model, we announced in the region that we would deliver as minimum as 10 bags of cement in the area. 

After announcing this move, we became the market leader in that market within six months, where we had only 2% market share before. This was a game-changer for us. Without doing anything, we made a major breakthrough in the market. 

These are unique challenges that we face in the building material industry. We have to come up with ideas and insights that can tackle these challenges. 

Ruhul Kader: You work at AkijBashir Group as Head of Marketing. Can you please tell us about your work and your approach to your work? What does a Head of Marketing do? 

Shahriar Zaman: Let me start by giving a rundown of our businesses today. We have ceramics tiles, sanitaryware, tableware, faucets, boards, doors, building materials retail, jute, packaging, and a number of other products. We have some B2B businesses, and we have a steel business and we will launch glass this year. These are some of our products and businesses.

If I go into the philosophy of the AkijBashir Group, we have three core mindsets. One, thinking ahead—we want to think ahead of the market in every product we make and sell. 

Two, setting standards—we want to set benchmarks in every business we operate in. We have done that in every business we are in today and many of our competitors follow us for this reason. 

Third, raising the bar—always raising the bar of our quality. 

Our strategic decisions come from these three core values. That is why our tagline is 'Beyond Tomorrow'. 

Now, if we come to your question of what we do in marketing at AkijBashir Group, our task is to manifest this 'Beyond Tomorrow'. We internalize these three core principles and then work to align with all other departments in the company to present our products to our customers.

As the group Marketing Head, I mostly focus on the communication of our B2C products, including ceramic tiles, tableware, sanitaryware, boards, doors, faucets, etc. We are also in the process of launching several other products. 

We do a number of different things, including helping to find product standards, future product development, strategic moves, communication movements, etc. As the marketing head, my team and I look after setting these visions and measure whether these things are happening at the level we want them to happen.

In our marketing work, we are objective-oriented. We have marketing objectives and we have product objectives. Anything we do, we start with setting an objective. We start with the question of why we want to do something and what we want to achieve from a task. Even if we are doing an event, everyone on the team must know what our objective is from the event. 

We make sure that we are on the same page as a team when it comes to our target in everything we do. This is one of the major differentiation points when it comes to how we operate our marketing.

We have a formal planning approach. We start with a five-year plan that we break down into yearly plans, and we then break down these plans with activities and align them accordingly. This is a key part of our work. 

What people see from the outside as marketing work is only 20% of our work. 80% of our marketing work happens that people don't see, and many of these are boring tasks. If you don't really love your work, you wouldn't like to get involved in this kind of work.

In that sense, my primary task as the head of marketing is analysis and objective setting along with my team. 

Ruhul Kader: How do you do these things? Can you illustrate with some examples? 

Shahriar Zaman: I will give an example of the Akij Board here. We are the highest-selling product in the furniture category in Bangladesh. 

If you have any board products in your home, I can guarantee that you have products that are made from our board even if you don't know it. It is a less involved product for the users, and users are not really concerned about what is inside it and so on. You purchased an end product, and you are not worried about the raw material. The board is a raw material that is used both in interior and furniture. Now my challenge as a consumer brand becomes how can I make customers aware of my board and make them interested so that they would ask what this board is made of. 

We are at the initial stage of this, so we don't have that much mass awareness, but we are trying. And our work has created some awareness. Now when people are buying a product made from boards, they ask which board is being used, and so on. People now ask these questions. We have been pushing this awareness for the last three years, encouraging customers to ask these questions. 

But it didn’t happen without well-thought-out efforts. To make a breakthrough in this space, we analyzed that over the last 12 years, there has been no change in the trend of board-made furniture. It has all been the same—same types of furniture designed from the same types of boards. Anywhere you go, you find the same type of furniture — same texture, same accessories, same design with little to no innovation. Anybody who tries to do something different, such as Hatil, has become a brand. There are several contemporary furniture companies such as ISHO, GRID, Bohu, and so on. They are trying to do something contemporary compared to regular furniture available in the market. It is a niche market, while the traditional market is the largest one. Only 30% of the furniture market of Bangladesh is branded furniture. You can't overlook the rest 70% of the market. 

So we ran an analysis of this market, trying to understand what consumers want when they go for board furniture. In the past, durability was an issue, which no longer is. Today, durability is increasingly a less important consideration for customers. People are happy if something they bought for BDT 5000-12000 runs for 6/8 years or so. Instead, they want low-cost furniture that looks great and doesn't bend or quickly deteriorate. 

After analyzing the market, we came to see that we have a long list of modern designs of boards with unique textures and colors. After some initial tries, we realized a regular push wouldn't work. Instead, we decided to train and educate the furniture makers. We told them that our boards with diverse designs could help them expand their business and charge customers more. 

We divided the market into clusters and started to run small programs, educating these furniture shops and makers. If you go to Panchagarh today, you will see that there is at least one shop that sells completely different furniture than what is available in the market. Every meaningful change has a domino effect. When one shop starts selling different designs and sees some sales, others start to follow the trend. As a result, it has now spread all over Bangladesh. 

This change happened because we spent time understanding customer expectations and worked hard with retailers to deliver on those expectations. We had the capabilities and the products. We invested in training the channel to reach customers. Identifying the need is something quite important.

As I mentioned at the onset of our discussion, marketing is about establishing a relationship between the customer and the brand. The other important work we do is building and maintaining this relationship. We work in the space of lifestyle development or improvement. For instance, tiles. Tiles have become an essential need for people over the years. 

When something becomes essential, the next step for it is aesthetics; now you want more and better products. I have fulfilled your basic need, and now when you go to purchase tiles, you look at the aesthetics. We now cater to this need in various ways, such as people now using big-size tiles and clean colors. Small tiles with various designs have seen a decline in demand because people now think that their choice of tiles, interior, color, furniture, etc., reflects their personality, so they want to show off. Now, the job of a marketer is to make sure that these customers can properly express their taste. 

In many of these instances, customers know they want something premium but don't know the specifics. In these instances, we work as a trend shifter. We help customers make decisions and embrace new ideas and trends. This is not only for us; this is true for many brands that do good business in any market. We do this regularly in tiles and boards.

For instance, on boards, there are wood-texture boards that are commonly available. But you can do many decor boards in place of mere wood texture. You can do marble, stone, glitter, even solid colors, and many other different decors. 

We took an initiative about one and a half years back about what type of texture we should introduce in the market and what volume these things may work. Now my aim is that we want to provide material for creating contemporary furniture to our customers, but consumers don't have that need. This is one of the differences between us and other companies. We create demand and need, whereas in many markets you serve the needs. 

For instance, in boards, customers want to buy something of wood color because that is more common, but we are trying to shift that taste and encourage them to buy something of marble color. We are educating them and encouraging them by offering logic in our favor. Gradually, customers get used to the new trends and ideas. If you go to the market today, marble tiles are in high demand. This you can see across many categories and products.

Ruhul Kader: This is very interesting. People intuitively know that taste and trends are manufactured. There are forces that dictate these trends and ideas. But how do you do that? How do you create a new trend? One idea is, of course, what we call demand and supply connection. Demand creates supply. Similarly, sometimes supply also dictates the demand. If you expose people to new ideas and tastes, it can create new demand. But is there a deliberate strategy that you use to shift these trends?

Shahriar Zaman: If I summarize without going into the details, we actually sell aspirations. The brand is always showing you a dream. For us, we are showing you a dream space. Even if this space/home is not similar to your home, you want something like that. We always show customers these aspirations. We influence customers that you can make something like this, and that's how conversion happens. 

Now, how do we connect with and reach our customers to make this change happen? We perhaps will talk about media down the line, but we follow quite a traditional approach in how we work, which means you wouldn't see my communication if you aren't my target audience.

You wouldn't even hear my name. But if you are my target group (TG), you would hear my name at least three times a week. What we do is kind of confidential, but I would share an abridged version. 

Apart from this, for mass communication, we use digital communication. Digital is not a mass communication medium, but rather a highly targeted medium, but we use it for mass communication. The so-called targeting in digital is actually mass targeting for brands like us who work with a highly targeted approach. We have dedicated teams who are responsible for this.

Another important aspect is product development. Marketing plays an important role in product development. In some companies, this is a common practice, and in some others, it is not. We partially practice this approach. We don't go into all major decisions, but when we see we have a certain capacity for product development, we then suggest product developments based on market insights. 

I would take tableware as an example. We have thousands of designs, but still, we regularly make design suggestions based on the market insights and the trend we want to set for the future. We regularly provide inputs in product development. For instance, how can we cater to the young target group of today? 

As a building material brand, we are in the business of trust. Consequently, when you are running a communication or a campaign, you have to be extra careful. You can't do anything that can raise questions. You have to be meticulous and precise in everything you do. 

Finally, customers are always demanding. You want a certain standard from me. You want a certain quality product. If we can't deliver on that, you won't consider us. This is true about our product as well as about our communication. This is an area where we spend a significant percentage of our time and efforts. If you look at our communication, we have a benchmark that every brand has to maintain.

Building Materials Marketing Playbook and Real Lessons from The Trenches of Marketing: A Conversation With Shahriar Zaman
AkijBashir Group Marketing Team | Photo by AkijBashir Group

Ruhul Kader: How big is your marketing team at AkijBashir Group? How does the team work? How do you collaborate internally and what is your culture within the team? 

Shahriar Zaman: We might be one of the smallest marketing teams in the category, consisting of 12 people. There are brand-specific custodians and scope-wise common teams.

A major part of our culture revolves around strategic alignment. Although we engage in various activities, we always stay on the same page. 

Our people are empowered across the organization, doing their jobs without needing permission for every decision. They are empowered to work and make their own decisions. 

What connects everything is our strategic direction and decisions. Everyone knows the objectives and priorities and we are all aligned and working in unison, which is one of our core strengths. 

Ruhul Kader: How do you ensure this alignment? Does it happen through meetings, or setting objectives and goals? 

Shahriar Zaman: I mentioned at the beginning that we usually have two plans: one long-term plan and another one-year short-term plan. These plans are prepared collaboratively with inputs and participation from every core team member. When we are creating a yearly plan, we involve every core team member. We structure our yearly plan around problems, solutions, and learnings. We address challenges faced in the past and strategize for the future.

Every year, we conduct a three-day workshop outside the office focusing on these aspects, where every team member provides valuable input, and everyone actively participates. We align our strategies during this workshop with our core objectives. Since everyone is aware of the core objective, even a salesman attending a dealer conference knows the purpose and benefits we seek from the meetup. 

We operate in a highly collaborative manner. Although there are separate teams for different brands, all teams contribute to planning and possess substantial knowledge about other brands. We follow quite an interdisciplinary approach, emphasizing that we are one team.

Ruhul Kader: How do you approach your work as head of marketing of AkijBashir Group? How do you work with people in your team? 

Shahriar Zaman: Broadly, my responsibilities include cross-functional coordination, team coordination, aligning them with strategic objectives, finding ways to grow the business, and, most importantly, monitoring the business performance every month and taking necessary actions accordingly.

When it comes to people management, we have a common approach at AkijBashir Group: we empower people. We encourage responsibility, urging individuals to take responsibility for all their work, both good and bad. This is also how I manage and work with people. For instance, when working with brand managers, I communicate my expectations and fully empower them to make decisions that align with the business and other goals. I provide support and guide them where necessary, but empowerment is the key focus. This is my approach to working. 

Personally, I have a specific method for measuring quality, which my team is aware of, and they adhere to it. We maintain a basic quality standard, facilitating our work since we share a fundamental understanding of quality. Empowerment is a fundamental part of how I manage people and projects.

Ruhul Kader: When it comes to designing a marketing strategy, how should people approach that? 

Shahriar Zaman: You can find a ton of theories and discussions when it comes to marketing, but there isn't really a grammar to it. Your product and customer are your grammar.

Consumer analysis is crucial. In any strategic planning, you have to know your product and consumers. Without a deep understanding of these two components, you can't develop any strategic plan. If you know these components well and use your common sense effectively, you can create excellent strategic plans. 

We can complicate things with details, but usually, it comes down to two core things: your customers and your products. Know what you are selling and who you are selling to.

I use a method called the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek. There are only three questions in the golden circle: why, how, and what. If you know the answers to these three questions, you can figure out everything else. 

Ruhul Kader: What are some common mistakes companies make when it comes to communication and marketing? 

Shahriar Zaman: There are many. One notable one is that many companies consider marketing an expense rather than an investment. Although marketing brings in business and helps establish a lasting brand, which, in turn, contributes to building enduring demand in the market.

Many companies also neglect investing in brand development, prioritizing short-term promotions and campaigns over investing in long-term brand development programs. While these short-term campaigns may generate immediate sales and impact, they do not contribute to long-term success. Companies should focus on investing for the long run.

The third mistake, I will illustrate with an example from my career without revealing much details about the company. We launched a PVC faucet, and I was working as a brand lead for that specific product. Management tasked us with launching the product, and initiating a mega campaign. The goal was to capture a meaningful market share within a short period. We prepared the campaign before the product was ready. In a rush, management launched the product, and we simultaneously launched the campaign. Within 20 days, we successfully distributed the product throughout Bangladesh, and the response was overwhelming. The power of communication is that if you can do it right, it can generate real results. We received excellent results in terms of brand and communication success.

However, the product itself was not of sufficient quality. We launched the product without conducting a proper trial. The consumer feedback was very negative, leading people to return the product after a few days. Management decided to withdraw the product from the market and replace all units with new ones. We executed another campaign announcing the replacement and sent out a new product set. Unfortunately, we faced the same challenge with that product three times, ultimately marking the end of the brand. Today, the company has a strong faucet brand under a different brand name. But that brand didn’t survive. An effective or fancy communication is rarely enough, you have to align the product with consumers with a quality standard. 

This is a common mistake that many brands make–launching communication without fully understanding the product, thereby failing to deliver on the promise. 

Another mistake is communicating without a clear understanding of the target audience. While it may be tempting to emulate communication strategies inspired by Apple/Nike, it might not be suitable for your specific target audience.

Ruhul Kader: How can organizations get better at marketing and communication? 

Shahriar Zaman: Building a brand in today's landscape demands a well-defined plan, consistent nurturing, continuous innovation, and targeted communication. Above all, unwavering commitment to your core objectives is paramount, and making a guideline with that. 

I feel many organizations, especially local organizations are not consistent. In many instances, local companies don't usually adhere to any brand guidelines. Things happen as you see fit. Big brands typically maintain standardized brand guidelines. I believe this can serve as a starting point for local companies looking to improve their marketing and communication. This means that regardless of who manages the marketing, having a brand guideline ensures a consistent brand character, voice, and persona that doesn't change every year or with the transition of brand managers.

For instance, at Akij Ceramic, there is no room for humor in our brand guidelines. Our communication guidelines are sophisticated, premium, and polished. If humor were introduced the next day, it would not align with our established guidelines. With a standard guideline, we can consistently maintain our brand identity.

Ruhul Kader: How can individual marketers improve and get better at what they do? How do you improve yourself? 

Shahriar Zaman: I'm a curious person. I'm always looking to delve deeper into things. I study and seek to understand various subjects. I follow campaigns, events, and the work of brands from different sectors to comprehend the market. When I come across something interesting, I go down the rabbit hole and strive to understand as much as I can. I spend time with other marketers to learn from them.

Stay curious and keep asking endless questions.

Ruhul Kader: How can one build a successful career in marketing? 

Shariar Zaman: Maintain a deep curiosity and relentlessly pursue learning. Become a learning machine. Learn to collaborate with diverse people and cultivate your common sense. 

Ruhul Kader: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned from your journey so far?  

Shahriar Zaman: When I started working for Amader Somoy as a contributor, I worked for free for the first year. After one year, I received a payment of TA and DA, totaling around 2000. The maximum TA and DA that I received was tk 2800. It was a meager amount, and I could do very little with it. However, I continued working because I found the job interesting, and I was passionate about it. Surprisingly, that work served as a foundation that I hadn't expected. So, nothing is truly free; if you do good work, you will receive some return. If you learn anything, you will see results. 

Ruhul Kader: Your favorite books.  

Shahriar Zaman: There are many. However, I can name two of my recent favorites: Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller, Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee. 

Ruhul Kader: This was the last question. Thank you so much for doing this interview with us and being generous with your time and insight. This was an excellent learning experience for me. 

Shahriar Zaman: Thank you for having me. You have asked some really good questions. I hope this will be useful to your readers. 

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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