Galib Bin Mohammad, Head of Marketing at Arla Foods shares his insight into the fast-changing world of marketing and how brands need to be transparent to find relevancy with evolving consumer bases.
What are the criteria for becoming a marketer who can claim to be a “changemaker” for the company he/she works for?
Everything I am telling here has come from my own pragmatic experiences of 16 years of career, not from any theories. To be a changemaker in an organization, I practice a few things – First and foremost, you have to own your brand like your own child. You nurture your brand, and take care of it and be there for it always – be it officially your responsibility or not.
Secondly, always push yourself. As a marketer, if you want to grow your business, if you want to make a change in the organization for your brand you have to be self-motivated. I am speaking from an FMCG industry perspective. An FMCG marketer is not only responsible for the marketing department, in fact, they are also the business managers – for PnL, for the process, for end delivery and experience. Thus, a marketer needs to ‘own’ the business like a business manager. And as a business manager you have to take the initiatives on your own and ask yourself what can I do differently today, what new option can I bring to the table, where are the problems, what solutions can be implemented. You have to push yourself, and at the same time push everyone else in the organization and outside.
Thirdly, assume the consumers’ position; because a marketer works for the consumer primarily. In an organization, every department looks at the business from their perspective, but it is the marketing department that works as the voice of the consumer, for whom the entire business exists. This is very important to keep in mind always – a marketeer does not work for the sake of his line manager, boss or for the process; rather he works for the consumers who pay for the product and service the business is providing.
Fourthly, as a business manager, you have to be able to connect the dots from different data and information. Being in the centre of a business, a business manager has to have the ability to draw the full picture from an assortment of fragmented data and information. When a marketer is able to draw the full picture of the business, they truly become a changemaker.
Last but not the least, a marketer needs to be a good storyteller, because everything you are doing is to convince somebody else. Therefore, marketers have to be impactful and compelling storytellers and create the desire in the listener for the product. This stands true for both internal and external consumers – internally a marketer has to convince the rest of the departments of their idea, and impart how a campaign will impact the brand and the business. So, you need to sell your story like a dream-maker.
Of your 16 years of marketing experience, would you mind sharing some of the defining moments that shape your professional persona?
Every mistake I made in my career shaped me into who I am today, even more than the successes. Success changes a person, but a mistake has a way of changing a person fundamentally. When I was in Nestle, I dared to take up a project which was huge in terms of funds and activities. While some of the management believed in the project, I later learned that not everybody of the organization was on board. By the time I realized it the project had already been incepted and work was ongoing. This taught me that as a marketer, you need to be able to convey your vision with conviction and ensure you have secured the entire organization and your teammate’s confidence in your vision before moving forward.
The second thing that I learned in a hard way was after Nestle, I had briefly shifted to the banking industry and was working at Standard Chartered Bank for two and a half years as a marketer. It was a completely different world from FMCG – starting from the work process, way of marketing, and language. It is okay to try something new, but I didn’t anticipate the scale of difference between the two industries. To me, it is important to enjoy your job, and working in the banking industry made me realize how much I enjoyed the FMCG sector and this has made my work my playground. My advice to young entrants is to stick with the industry that compels you and grow and widen your horizons in it and master it.
How has the marketing arena changed when it comes to the FMCG industry in the last decade?
A lot has changed. The three changes I have observed are 1) media fragmentation 2) technological evenness, and 3) personalization of media. The biggest change has definitely been media fragmentation, and it’s been happening for the last 15-20 years, however, it has accelerated exponentially in the last 10 years. In the ’90s and early 2000s, companies needed to come out with a brilliant piece of communication that could run for 4-6 years. It was easier for brand managers to grab the attention of consumers since there was one prime medium. As long as you knew the time slots, it was guaranteed that marketers will reach at least 80% of their target group. This was the case for radio channels and the print media as well.
However, now in Bangladesh, we have 30-40 local TV channels and 300 international channels. With numerous online spaces, the media is super fragmented. We have over 20-30 radio channels. On top of that, we have internet videos, podcasts, and larger online platforms.
If a marketer really wants to grab the attention of their consumers, where should he place the brand? Which medium? When? The toughest thing for today’s marketers is reaching consumers in a sure shot way, despite the large volumes of data being generated.
The second thing that happened in FMCG is technological evenness. Thirty years ago, one organization could come up with an ingenious product, but now technology has made it simple for products to be copied thus minimizing the impact of a product’s competitive edge. The concept of USP (Unique Selling Point) has been turned on its head. This is challenging for companies investing in innovation because the window to remain differentiated has shrunk significantly, because technology gives everyone the ability to come up with the same or very similar offering at a fast pace.
The third thing is the personalization of the media which means the digitization of media. There is media fragmentation, but this is the first time in human history that marketers are being able to market to an individual person. Media communication has always been about mass communication, but now the tools have evolved such that we can cater to an individual’s wants and desires. The process is still being developed around the world but soon it will be a game-changing tool.
How important is storytelling in case of reaping the benefits of a successful marketing campaign?
Technological evenness has made storytelling all the more important. It’s not easy to differentiate your product from competitors now, which is why storytelling has become an effective way to position yourself in a relevant way to your target group. Storytelling allows a brand or a product to create an emotional connection with their consumers. Feature-centric marketing will be a memory of the past. The best way to create an emotional connection with consumers is through storytelling that is grounded in truth and relevancy to the consumers’ lives. This has made me change my approach to designing campaigns – now when I sit to make a campaign I first try to understand the story I am trying to say and the medium through which I will convey the story. Craft a brilliant story, and this will certify that you make an impact with your consumer base.
At Arla when I joined, my first project was to rebrand Dano, which has been around since 1961. Three generations of this country have been raised on Dano Milk. The challenge was that when you have a really strong but old brand that has traditional roots, how to make it contemporary and relevant to today’s consumers. My first project was to reposition the brand with clear communication and personalization so that today’s consumers can connect with the brand and Dano finds relevancy with them. It took us a year, and we collaborated on many fronts. We went to consumers across Bangladesh and spoke to them. We brought a renowned professor of Anthropology from a European University as a part of the team. We dived into mythology and history to understand different personas. With all those, we started crafting the brand personality. It was a massive 360 project and it took us 16 months to come up with the whole brand personality. We launched a new personality in January 2018. Since then Dano has become the highest household penetrated brand in the country, we are the Best Milk Brand of Bangladesh and also the market leader in the powder milk category. It was not just a successful campaign, it has been a successful journey which we are going to keep continuing for many more years to come.
During this pandemic, while most of the products are facing a huge challenge to market themselves, what has been your challenge? How did you overcome the challenge?
Our challenge was from two sides – first is that we are in the essential food category where we sell milk. In the kind of health crisis we are in, milk becomes all the more crucial for people’s wellbeing. We had to ensure that the supply wasn’t interrupted. Because of the lockdown, there was movement restriction, and ports were closed and so many other challenges. We bring milk directly from Europe. From there to the shops of this country, it is a massive supply chain workstream which involves thousands of people from multi-parties. Managing these supply chains and people networks were the first big challenge.
The second challenge was from the demand side – which was how to keep your brand relevant to the people and keep it at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Whenever there is a war, pandemic situations, people want brands that can be trusted upon. This is where we have an advantage because our brand has been here for generations and we are loved by millions of Bangladeshis who have put their trust in our brand Dano. To build trust with consumers, brands need to be transparent with the truth and steer clear of exaggerations and promote how the brand can assist consumers’ wellbeing in the current situation. That was something we worked hard on throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
The demand side of the overall dairy sector was also impacted due to the unfortunate poor infrastructure of the dairy sector in this country. While on the one hand, the consumers were requiring more milk, on the other hand, the local producers were not able to supply whatever they were producing. It showed how fragile the supply chain structure is in Bangladesh. So, from Arla, even before the COVID-19 crisis arose, we have been actively trying to help the dairy industry of Bangladesh in forms of capacity building and knowledge sharing. Managing a dairy farm is not easy since it is about livestock. There are a lot of things to manage – food, environment, temperature etc. We at Arla have honed our skills over 100 years and that is the reason why we wanted to help the local dairy sector to build their capacity and how to manage the farm, to produce better quality milk, and how to take the milk from farmers to the end consumers.
What’s your take on the impact of BIG data in case of decisions made in marketing campaigns? How important is social media knowledge for the same?
There is a misconception in the mass population and among the marketers themselves that marketing means making an ad! In reality, it is only 10-15% of the marketing, and the rest of it lies beyond the sight of everyday people. Before you see the ad, a marketer has to do their research– understanding the consumers’ psychology, macroeconomics, microeconomics, decision-making process, supply chain process, product technology, distribution, etc. All these are to be done by analyzing data.
Marketers make observations and have gut feelings, but all of them have to be corroborated by data. This is what makes data so important. Marketing is an investment, and data assists in this process of investing by making sure that it will be impactful and effective. Marketing has to be good for the organization.
Digital media gives you a lot of data, but that is one aspect of the whole process because data is being generated from many different ends. A marketer’s job is to make sense of large volumes of data, otherwise, it has no worth.
A lot of youngsters reach out to me and share with me their aspirations to become a marketer. The biggest misconception is that marketing is purely a creative job. To be a changemaker and a business manager you have to understand all the different functions of a business – how the supply chain is working, how the finance calculation is being done, how the sales distribution is being done, how sales calls are done, how the factory is working because everything impacts your brand. Also, every project you want to do impacts every other function, so I want to tell the aspiring marketers that marketing is, in fact, a multidisciplinary position and you have to learn to master them all. And data is the very centre of the game. If you don’t love math as much as you like human psychology and creativity, marketing is not your cup of tea.