Galib Bin Mohammad, Head of Marketing at Arla Foods Bangladesh Ltd. discusses the importance of marketing in inspiring social change and the philosophies that shaped him as a professional.
Were you always passionate about being a marketer? How did it all start?
I was not always passionate about marketing. When I was in the 6th grade, I wanted to be a computer engineer as that was one of the most sought-after careers back then. I studied computer science at the HSC level at Notre Dame College and then enrolled at North South University to continue studying computer science. But, in my first semester, I came to the realisation that if I were to be a software engineer, I would have to spend the rest of my life in front of a machine – working with it, working on it. I realised that I actually really valued the time spent interacting with people, knowing them, and having a conversation with them. So, in my second semester, I transferred to the BBA department at NSU and soon found my true calling in marketing. I believed that this subject would complement my personality, and if I could build a career in it, it would be something I would truly enjoy. It has been 18 years now and it’s been full of good memories and enjoyment. I am so glad I understood what I would want to do in my life and acted on time accordingly without fulfilling the so-called social demand of becoming an engineer.
How has mass digitalisation affected the way brands communicate with consumers?
I think mass digitalisation has affected communication in 3 ways – it has created more clutter, it has introduced 2-way communication, and it has changed the attention span of consumers.
Mass digitalisation has allowed for highly frequent communications which have introduced an ocean of clutter. A few decades back, there were only a few mediums for brands to communicate with consumers. Primarily, these were television, radio and print publications. Take newspapers for example. Businesses would only be able to communicate once a day through newspapers. Effectively they would only be able to communicate 30 times a month. On television, it was a similar kind of story, maybe with a little more frequency, say 5-10 times a day, at most. But now, with mass digitalisation, the frequency of communication has increased to many times every hour. From the content you consume to the celebrities you follow, there are numerous ways of marketing communications like brand endorsements, brand discussions and brand placements, to name a few. So, compared to the collective 30 or so ads we would see in traditional media, we are now experiencing a clutter of hundreds, if not more, every day due to mass digitalisation.
Mass digitalisation has also allowed mass consumers to respond to business communications, which have created 2-way communication channels for the first time in human history. Previously, only brands would be the ones communicating with consumers, but now, consumers have the freedom to instantly challenge, ask questions and agree or disagree with brand messages. All the classical marketing text discusses how to communicate from a one-way brand to audience perspective. Lessons on how to communicate back to the consumer when the channel is reversed used to not exist because nobody had actually faced that situation. This phenomenon is very recent – it has only developed in the past 7 to 10 years.
Finally, mass digitalisation has created a monumental challenge for marketers as consumer attention span has significantly decreased. Because there is so much clutter, consumers are unwilling to expend the same level of time and concentration they would previously be willing to give. What used to be the norm of 40-second ads decremented to 30, 20, 10 and 5 seconds. We now even have what we call thumb-stoppers – 3-second ads so that consumers don’t at least skip the communication. As marketers, our core task is to change consumer behaviour. But, if consumers are unwilling to give even 3 seconds of time and concentration, then how could we influence them to change their behaviour in our favour? This has become the most challenging issue for any marketer around the world.
What are some marketing philosophies you see not being fully practised or utilised in Bangladesh?
My primary observation is that business owners are not fully clear on the concept of marketing. Most businesses believe that marketing and sales are synonymous, but rather, sales is a function of marketing. Successful marketing actions result in higher sales. As a result, the philosophy that most (but not all) businesses are missing out on is brand equity.
Selling large volumes in the shortest time possible takes precedence over building brand equity. You have to create brand equity by creating brand relevance and creating brand awareness. If consumers are not attached to your brand, then your brand will fail after it has exhausted its short-term sales strategies.
Brands like Nestle, Unilever and Arla have been in operation for 150 to 250 years. This is because they were always more concerned about long-term brand building than these short-term tactics. So, they focused on increasing the consumer base and loyalty. We don’t have that tendency, which is why most of our businesses die out after a decade or so, while those multinational brands will most likely continue to operate for another 500 years.
It has been almost 52 years since we achieved independence. But how many global brands have we been able to establish since then? This is because we are lagging behind on brand equity and focusing mainly on short-term sales generation.
Bangladeshi consumers may not necessarily believe in the application of psychology and symbolism in marketing. Does that affect the way Bangladeshi companies approach marketing strategies?
I will have to disagree a bit with that statement. Anywhere in the world, the way of marketing is the same. The job of marketing is to change consumer behaviour. Businesses have to communicate with consumers and the consumers have to look at the product, the packaging and product placement and that has to affect their behaviour. If the change doesn’t happen, then the marketing efforts have been futile. This does not apply only to Bangladesh, as this same observation can be made in the American market, the European market, or the Japanese market.
There are certain marketing formulas that work no matter where you are. What does affect the outcome is the maturity of the consumer and how the consumer thinks. But when the consumer’s thought process is involved, there exists such a thing as psychology.
MOST BUSINESSES BELIEVE THAT MARKETING AND SALES ARE SYNONYMOUS, BUT RATHER, SALES IS A FUNCTION OF MARKETING. SUCCESSFUL MARKETING ACTIONS RESULT IN HIGHER SALES.
The difference may be in the execution, but psychology and symbolism exist in all markets. To give a concrete example, in Bangladesh, black is perceived as an undesirable colour. If a bank were to base its entire look and feel on the colour black, then its outcome will also be undesirable in the Bangladeshi market. Again, ‘Tiger’ is a symbol of strength in our country as well as in the subcontinent. You will see lots of brands, communication, and institutions use this symbolism for their brand. We even praise someone by calling them a ‘tiger’ for their strong deed. So, the fact is that applications of psychology and symbolism are also applicable in Bangladesh, in our society, and to our consumers; but how well marketers understand that, and how well they are able to utilise that to affect consumer behaviour is the real question.
Being a veteran professional and an author, how can marketing be used to make positive changes in our society? What has been the most rewarding aspect of being at the forefront of a sector that connects with the mass people of the country?
If you want to make any social change, you have to apply the principles of marketing – this is not a choice, but rather a must. Let me give an example – one of the biggest positive social changes in Bangladesh has been to promote washing hands, for which, Lifebuoy did vigorous communication for more than 30 years. Another example – SMC’s communication for Orsaline significantly reduced the infant mortality rate due to diarrhoea. Another massive marketing campaign has been encouraging the masses to get the 6 essential vaccines to eradicate endemics. All of these are real examples of utilising the principles of marketing, e.g. – awareness, relevance, availability, trial, repeat purchase and in the end, changing behaviour. So, marketing strategies are essential if you want to change people’s behaviour for the overall betterment of society – it always was, and continues to be.
This is also one of the things that have been most rewarding in working in the field of marketing. For example, the product I have been marketing for the past 6 years is milk, which is not only essential for children but also important for the development of a stronger society. When I reflect on what I am doing, it feels rewarding that my actions are helping people to lead a better, nutritious life. The other aspect that feels so rewarding is the large portion of the population that I am able to help by promoting my product. Around 1/4th of the Bangladeshi population consumes my product. It is a huge satisfaction that my involvement is making such a positive impact. As a human being, this thought gives me a very good night’s sleep at the end of every busy day.
Photographs Nasir Hossain