In conversation, Adnan Karim of Interspeed Digital Solutions explains that digital marketers need to be holistic and creative to follow their customers across the ever-evolving and changing world of digital marketing
Operating since 1968, Interspeed is one of the pioneer advertising agencies in Bangladesh. How has the company evolved over the decades and how has it diversified its services since its inception?
Ever since our company was founded by Enayet Karim in the late 60s, Interspeed has often adapted and transfigured the advertising business model in the pursuit of helping businesses and brands succeed in Bangladesh. As a pioneer of the advertising and marketing industry, we meet the challenges of the market for our clients and help them traverse an ever-changing landscape.
In the 70s, it was brand building alongside nation building. In the 80s, we blazed a trail in terms of creativity by making TV commercial productions upholding international standards. In the late 90’s, clients were expanding their distribution and reach to the outer peripherals of the cities, trying to reach consumers who lived in areas with minimum urbanization and electricity. We defined our target audience as ones who weren’t “touched” by TV – hence the term ‘media dark’ markets! We were faced with the challenge of how to promote brands and communicate to the rural population. That is why, how, and when the Interspeed rural outreach pilot project was born for one of our clients.
Rural Outreach was planning-based in deep rural areas, using learning and discovery techniques developed by the then thriving NGO sector – techniques like PRA and RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal). We also developed our own metrics, the RDI (Relative Development Index) and facilitated rural communication in haat-bazaars, school-colleges and various public congregation points. Four-color printed Tin-Plates replaced paper posters. Mobile Film Units carried by 4W Drives replaced TV programming. Today these activities are a part of the juggernaut industry called “Activation” and the Interspeed Rural project is now known as Interspeed Activation.
The late 2000s saw the ban in tobacco marketing come into effect, and we gave birth to one-to-one communication that was permission-based. Our Direct Marketing agency Interspeed Marketing Solutions started in 2008/09. Today Interspeed Marketing Solutions is one of the leading Below-the-line agencies in Bangladesh with field force deployment of more than 5000 people on the ground, and experience of working with a variety of clients from all walks of the industry.
With the advent of social media, everything just exploded in terms of digital marketing – the small digital agency start-ups, as well the digital ‘wings’ of the legacy agencies started popping up. Initially focusing solely on social media marketing and adapting old school offline content for the new platforms, the market soon realized that the change needed was more fundamental – there was a seismic shift in how consumers interacted, chose, and even purchased products and services. In 2015, Interspeed Digital Solutions was born to fill the gap in the understanding of digital platforms and to provide clients with a more holistic approach to the digital space. Today Interspeed Digital Solutions also serves international clients with customized software solutions and digital marketing and has an office in Virginia, U.S.A. Our clients are from the U.S.A., Africa and Finland. We are excited to join many others in making Bangladesh a serious player within the software development and digital marketing space.
How has digital marketing changed the landscape of the marketing industry?
As more and more customers move away from their TV box and onto a 3-inch mobile device, their media consumption behavior, attention span, and command over the conversation also change! Consumers now search, browse, choose, purchase, pay and even return goods and services without engaging with the physical world at all! That is a fundamental change in human behavior – so the question is not “how digital marketing is changing the landscape?” – because it isn’t, but how “digital lifestyle is changing the marketing” – it is changing it radically!
Today more than ever, for digital marketing, creativity and content is King. As for the science of reaching the right customers, there is one global advertising agency for that – Google, and along with other successful platforms providing such intel, digital marketers need to be holistic and creative to follow their customers across this space.
Can you tell us briefly about the complete marketing communications and solutions Interspeed provides through the three agencies within the group?
We start from scratch. Our “digital-first” creative agency can plan, conceive, design a brand and identity for a client’s products or services, give birth to their packaging and promotional items. We plan, strategise and position the brand for the right target audience, execute clutter breaking communication content and push it out effectively and cost efficiently across media platforms both on-line and off-line. Our digital teams also build websites, apps and email campaigns, social media platforms to start conversations. After dealing with the demand “pull”, our BTL agencies can also help the client at the trade level with “push” strategies, to ensure visibility in markets, customer engagements on the ground and product roadshows, all across Bangladesh. We even devise non-traditional alternative sales channels and models for certain clients to take their products to the last mile distribution, or specific demographics.
Out of the three service agencies at Interspeed, which has seen increased demand from clients? Why do you think this is so?
Clients today realize the absolute necessity in true 360-degree communications to ensure relevancy – this puts Interspeed in an instant advantage given our holistic nature. Often clients do a lot of the 360 activity themselves to reduce costs, and here we can help them bring ‘method to the madness’ so to speak, in terms of our systems and automation expertise for on-ground and other marketing processes. They can pick and choose what they want us to help with, knowing we can deliver a one-stop solution.
What sets Interspeed apart from other advertising agencies in the industry? As a market leader, what are some of the innovations Interspeed has established?
Our holistic one-stop offering sets us apart. Digital transformation has been at the heart of Interspeed’s innovation. We have developed our own proprietary software and tools for trade marketing, activation and sales field force management, to provide efficiency and transparency to our valued clients. We have collaborated with international software companies to bring in breakthrough off-the-shelf technology to launch in the market – Hexnode is a platform used globally to track and control hand-held devices remotely, Interspeed is a licensed reseller of this platform for Bangladesh market. We are also working on a virtual assessment platform for HR recruitment processes to name a few.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the pandemic for Interspeed? Can you share some of the successful campaigns from during the pandemic period? Who are some of Interspeed’s most renowned clients?
When lockdowns hit the country, needless to say there were huge repercussions for the Below-the-line activation sector! Like everyone else our activation business went dormant for almost a year. Luckily a lot of our clients who have field forces managed by us gave us the opportunity to retool our operations and manage critical sales functions in the field.
This challenging period however posed some interesting opportunities for Interspeed, given a ferocious focus on digital and social media space by most clients – namely we were hired by United Hospital on a PR project to manage their communication crisis during the height of the COVID-19 operations at the hospital. In this time we also spent the year developing and designing United Group’s new brand identity, acquired a new digital client in Haier – the world’s no.1 electronics brand, acquired a new creative and digital account in Finlay Tea, and even launched their new Japanese green tea variant, Shinrai. We also successfully managed and executed a nationwide digital distributor conference for a large pharmaceutical company.
Currently, our key clients include Anwar cement, Bikroy.com, BAT Bangladesh, Dabur Bangladesh, Finlay Tea, GP (Skitto), Haier Bangladesh, Marico, Perfetti (Mentos), Robi Telecom, Teletalk, Unilever, United Group, and VISA.
With an exemplary track record in the industry, what’s next in line for Interspeed?
Software development, AI-led automation, Blockchain technology and continuing to be a creative force!