Constantly Evolving | Sajjad Hasib, Chief Marketing Officer of Grameenphone

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Sajjad Hasib, Chief Marketing Officer of Grameenphone talks about the company’s endeavor to empower societies and catering to customer needs with their robust network and digital services.
Can you tell us about your 15-year journey with Grameenphone? Can you elaborate on some of the professional challenges at Grameenphone that have contributed significantly to your growth as Chief Marketing Officer?

Mobile connectivity was not a mass phenomenon back in the days when Grameenphone began with the vision of removing this digital divide and empowering societies. A couple of us, including the current CEO Yasir Azman, joined during 2005/2006 to shape up the Telco distribution, paving the path to massify it rather than its existing classified presence and make connectivity affordable and accessible for rural Bangladesh. I joined GP after coming back from the U.K. It was my sixth organization at that time (I was in the 5th year of my career), and I was a bit of an explorer. Frankly speaking, I thought two years would be my best bet. Since then, it has been 16 years now, and every day this organization has given me challenges through which to make an impact in society; that’s what we do in GP – we empower and transform lives.

Reflecting on the early days, we were on a passionate journey to connect the entire nation, and we had a mission to make that happen. The challenge was to break the norms of a traditional telco, making it an FMCG, and take it to the masses. So we transformed the distribution ecosystem to serve the farthest corner of the country, established the regional setup to strengthen up to the thana level and, simplified the processes so that anyone could sell with limited tech knowledge. We also launched the BDT1000 handsets for affordable access and conducted massive consumer activities to educate the country with the power of technology. The results were inspiring, within a year we reached 16.5 million in 2007 from 10 million in 2006. And since then, the hunger continues to connect the next ten million.

The next big thing was the emergence of the internet, and this was another game-changing moment for us in 2013. Connectivity has removed obstacles for people making their lives convenient. But working in Grameenphone, which is a first-mover, is always daunting. We, as an organization, are customer-obsessed and are continually striving to bring in innovative products and services. As a result, we took up the mammoth task of connecting the entire nation with 3G connectivity. The Internet was still a luxury, and the job was to create awareness and educate our people, showing them how the internet can transform their lives. We were determined to build a digital generation, enabling the youth to flourish by leveraging the power of the internet. We thus came with the biggest internet-based nationwide event called I-Gen. In our pursuit to enlighten and simplify lives through the internet, we expanded with 10,000 3G towers within just two years and introduced affordable co-branded 3G handsets.

Now we are in the digital era, and the challenge continues at an exhilarating pace. This time it’s about building Digital Bangladesh with the power of 4G, building a digital ecosystem that unleashes the new energy. With the ambition to connect the unconnected and ensure uncompromised customer experience, we have upgraded all our towers to 4G. Our modernized network enables future-forward technology, facilitating customers’ digital lifestyle. With the inevitable surge in digital technologies during the pandemic, we revamped our one-stop digital solution from catering to the simple self-service app to a comprehensive solution. Keeping customers at heart, we provide all the benefits of network connectivity from Grameenphone and an array of lifestyle and entertainment offerings to become the preferred digital partner for our customers. The responsibility as the forerunner coupled with a very competitive market is exciting yet challenging. The market is changing rapidly, and our customers are also quick adopters, which puts us in a unique position reflected through the spike in digital emergence during the pandemic.

We started with simple voice service moving onto Edge, transitioning to 2G, 3G, and now 4G. We are already seeing 5G peeking at the horizon. With new tech advancements emerging worldwide, being up to date and transforming our customers into this digital journey, onboarding them, and interacting with them always keeps me on my toes. But at the end of the day, I love to take on challenges, which keeps me going.

How have you shaped the brand image and communication strategy of Grameenphone?

Our brand strategy and communication evolve around our purpose – empower societies and our mission to connect customers to what matters most. Our customer needs have been our key business focus which we have aligned seamlessly with our network and digital services. Throughout the last 24 years, we have always wanted to add value to our people’s lives by providing simplified and meaningful solutions. As a result, people across the nation have depended more on us to perform most of their activities, whether work, education, shopping, or business operations.

You remember “Kache Thakun,” where we talked about the power of connectivity and being close to our loved ones.

Now we are talking about possibilities – the capacity of 4G, ensuring freedom and enabling us to unshackle from all the barriers. Marking the 50th year of our nation, we connected the entire country with high speed 4G implemented through the highest number of towers during these trying times. As the largest brand in Bangladesh, we believe we have a role in standing beside the nation and overcoming obstacles together. Moreover, we devised affordable and customized data solutions for university students to conveniently empower them with online education possibilities. We also introduced customized packs for frontline doctors and people from various walks of life. In addition, we introduced the 4G Pocket Router to help people easily carry on their work during the crisis.

What are some of the most memorable campaigns you have strategized? Can you tell us about them in detail?

First of all, in Grameenphone, we have a unique and agile pool of world-class talents who constantly challenge and push themselves to deliver their best. I am fortunate and humbly gratified to be able to lead this team. I earnestly believe I only serve them to make their work meaningful, exciting, and free from blockers. Last two years as the CMO, I have been part of many of the fantastic things we have delivered as a team. But I can point out some of the campaigns that touched the hearts of millions.

· Starting with the ‘Kothagulo here na jaak’ campaign back in February 2020, we realized that many around us could not speak. So, as part of our commitment to customer-centricity, we launched our customer care channel ‘Signline,’ where members of the profoundly deaf community can take customer service using sign language through video calls. We also did our part in educating people on sign language awareness and tried to make their lives easier. We also converted one of our historical assets, the 7th March speech by the Father of our nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, into sign language to further illustrate our commitment to inclusivity.

· Then the world was hit by the pandemic, and we realized we had a duty to help our fellow countrymen. So, we dedicated our digital capacity and reached to raise awareness on the critical COVID-related issues. We also had a joint initiative with BRAC, ‘Daakche Amar Desh,’ where we directly supported 1 lac families through BRAC and helped bring support from the whole country using our marketing efforts. So, this year we again responded to the nation’s call and continued to stand beside the impoverished masses through “Daakche Abar Desh” in partnership with BRAC.
· During brief periods when the lockdowns eased up, we focused on the new normal lifestyle and subsequent campaigns, like ‘Chailei Shombhob,’ and emphasized our education-focused products that were all about making things possible.

· As a more recent example, we converted all our network towers to 4G towers to mark the 50 years of Bangladesh. Bringing together these two landmark achievements allowed us to do a nationwide inspirational campaign that welcomes the prosperous digital future of Bangladesh.

Over the last 24 years, Grameenphone has been working to democratize technology benefits and ensure access to connectivity for all. How will the addition of 16,000 4G towers assist in further facilitating this?

Bangladesh is one of the fastest developing countries globally, and our agility and adoption of technology is impressive. From purchasing bus tickets to watching international cup football – all is possible through the internet and mobile network. Infrastructurally and economically, we are growing faster than many Asian countries, which results in continuous geographical expansion. Look at Dhaka two decades back and fast forward another decade from now – urbanization, civilization, and growth are phenomenal. Simultaneously, Grameenphone has kept a consistent momentum of growth in terms of technology and connectivity. Merging with the demands of time, we shifted from a 2G to 3G network, and now we have a robust 4G network. As a Telecom service provider, we need to keep pace with this development with constant investment in towers to improve people’s quality of service and overall connectivity.

Grameenphone has accelerated the idea of empowerment through digital connectivity and unveiled the manifold possibilities of digital transformation. The last two decades have seen a rapid change in people’s mindset regarding technology adaptability and its implementation. The addition of 16,000 4G towers of Grameenphone will add to this pace and propel the nation towards an efficient and digitally-enabled lifestyle. We have the highest number of base stations covering the highest populated geography in the country, and the journey continues.

The ongoing pandemic has revolutionized the digital arena – how is Grameenphone leveraging this shift, and what does it take to create a successful marketing campaign in a digital era?

Our job as a marketer is to impact our customers’ lives with our products and services. For this, we need to understand our customers, their lives, lifestyle, ever-evolving needs, and challenges. And this is not an easy task for a brand of 82 million, which makes it really interesting. A brand at this scale touches millions of jobs, lives, relations, and moments. So we took the challenge of helping Bangladesh navigate through the rough tides during this pandemic. The task is extensive and demands a lot of creativity. To handle the pandemic better, we also partnered with Dr. Tasnim Jara, a vaccine luminary, to reach a wider audience and people to build a nation with less stigma and more knowledge.

We also took various initiatives and contributions to stand by the health frontline heroes, retailers, and customers through programs. We offered free minutes for millions of customers to stay connected to their near and dear ones, a 100% data bonus, affordable call rates, and data offer to 25,000 DGHS certified doctors. We acknowledge the contributions of its retailers, who play a critical role in serving its customers during the crisis, and have announced a safety-net credit scheme for our most affected retailer’s worth of BDT 10 crore to help them overcome these difficult times.

In your opinion, how is the job sector changing, and what is/are the critical competencies required for aspiring marketers? Also, what are some of the marketing trends we are likely to see in the upcoming future?

Times are uncertain, and digitalization is on the rise, seeping in all aspects of our lives and revolutionizing our ways of living. We, as a nation, are quickly grasping the global market trends, and aspiring marketers should keep an eye on the trends. With the growth of our GDP and the Digital Bangladesh vision in mind – our future is moving towards a point where we would have a much better market alignment with the developed economies than ever before. This transition is a monumental shift in our behavior. It applies to our interactions with consumers (online marketing and sales channels, digital products) and how companies operate, including our human capital.

Consumer mindsets are rapidly shifting, which is quite evident with the growth of e-commerce for shopping, OTT platforms for entertainment, mobile financial services, and many other industries. The pandemic has accelerated the advent of the digital ehealth ecosystem in Bangladesh, growing at an anticipated rate. Upcoming marketers need to train themselves up with digital marketing, e-commerce, f-commerce, AI-based services, machine learning, etc. The job sector is changing just in the same manner, creating more growth opportunities for candidates who can multitask, work smart, and know the use of the available technology.

What is your five-year vision for Grameenphone’s marketing endeavors and yourself?

Grameenphone’s all-time vision is to empower society. We connect people to what matters most to them so that people can make things possible with the power of connectivity. We want to walk hand in hand with the country’s vision of a Digital Bangladesh, transforming lives, keeping up with the rapid pace of customers’ demands, staying relevant, and fulfilling them. But we cannot move forward towards our goal by just catering to particular segments. Hence, we take it upon ourselves to democratize fast internet connectivity at the country’s remotest corners.

With our innovative digital services and portfolio we want to be a front runner in this 4th Industrial Revolution to touch and transform millions and change them for the better. The world seems to be revolving at lightning speed these days, and the trends are also drastically changing. With that in mind, it is evident that to keep up with our rate of economic development, we need to invest in the latest technology continuously. Moreover, to be contemporary and to cater to customers’ needs, we need to ensure the quality of service both at the network and consumer side.

On the other hand, modernization to better serve customers will also require future-ready skills for our youth, and constant reskilling and upskilling as multi-disciplinary gives an extra edge. With the accelerated momentum towards the fourth industrial revolution, building futuristic competencies will be pivotal to move ahead. However, the technological revolution also imposes threats on cybersecurity, and to mitigate that, we have continuously strived to educate the masses. While we do what we do, our guiding principle across the organization remains constant – ensuring that everything we do is ethical throughout our supply chain as a responsible corporate citizen.

Our ultimate objective as a leading service provider is to work towards a digitally connected and inclusive society. We also aim to nurture the meritocracy of the youth in transforming us into a knowledge economy. Finally, our responsible business attitude will inspire millions to step forward in keeping our world safe today and tomorrow.

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