Unraveling the Marketing Dinosaur

By Mustafizur Khan

In 2011, after five years as Head of Marketing & Communication at the Bangladeshi office of a multinational bank, I was transferred to its Singapore office as the head of brand & sponsorship. In my last role, I was managing close to a million dollar marketing budget, and, in Singapore, I was responsible for US$14mil dollars. The brand budget was more than the total revenue of our entire retail business in Bangladesh. The marketing team was 4 times larger at close to 38 people supporting a US$400 dollar business in Singapore. In short, everything was bigger and complex.

One of my biggest responsibilities was managing a large sponsorship event that took 6 months to plan with a US$5.5 million marketing budget. US$500K was spent in digital marketing – not an insignificant amount of money. We wanted to invest in digital, and our agency was encouraged us to be present in new media as well.
Digital marketing was a new world to me and our entire marketing team. We had to rely 100% on our digital agency to come up with concept briefs, online media and execution plans. We agreed on campaign KPIs and took a big bet on developing an online gaming app – an  augmented virtual reality game; the first of its kind in Singapore. We hired professional bloggers to write about our digital marketing campaign to encourage people to participate, and our agency developed a beautiful microsite to educate people on and engage with the sponsorship event and the virtual game. The online campaign was supported by a 360 degree traditional marketing push – print, TVC, outdoor, including bus & taxi branding, subway station and subway cabin branding, merchandise, giveaways etc. This was all in addition to our other responsibilities, like managing the customer invites from around the region, which included e-ticket issuance, gifts, merchandise, press conferences, multiple invite-only customer events etc. I will not even discuss the onsite branding and hospitality packages that we had to arrange for corporate, HNWI and private banking clients. So, one can easily understand the complexity  of this many-legged beast of a marketing campaign. Traditional marketing did a wonderful job in getting 27000+ spectator to our sponsorship event and met all the KPIs. However the digital marketing was not that effective.
Before our event, we planned a 3-day augmented virtual reality gaming competition at Orchard road, right in front of the Takashimaya shopping mall. Orchard is well known for its large shopping malls and exclusive fashion brand stores. We chose the location for its heavy foot traffic and high visibility.  The objective of the digital marketing campaign was to encourage participation in the offline game and also to create awareness about our sponsorship event. We built an app-enabled 9-hole golf course right in front of the mall. People had to use the game app to play on the golf course. The gameplay  was simple: people had to mark a flag through the in-game screen and swing their phones to make get the ball to the hole, just like actual golf game. The cash prize for winning the virtual golf game was SGD $10,000 which we assumed would draw a lot of interest. During the 3 day event, we had brand promoters on orchard road dressed up as golf balls and had flyers distributed in key areas at Orchard road. We left no stone unturned to make it a successful online digital campaign. The reality was far from the expectation, however. We had a lot of people coming to the virtual game course, but very few people actually participated in the game. People who did were mostly tourists or foreigners and not the residents. People liked the idea, thought it was cool, but were too shy to put themselves out there on the golf course. After the event, we sat with our traditional, digital, PR and Media agency to do an in-depth evaluation. It was clear that our digital marketing campaign was a major disaster, failing to meet most of its KPIs. So internally, we sat down as a team and we tried to investigate the key reasons for such a major failure. Here were our top three findings:
  1. As a marketing team, we did not have the knowledge base to evaluate the creative proposal, so heavy dependency on the agency was a crucial mistake
  2. Our digital agency was growing at that time, had a lot of fresh recruits who proposed a very complex campaign that was not right for us. The digital campaign had a lot of offline moving parts which was a major weakness and prevented it from being executed effectively.
  3. The duration of the digital campaign was too short, so we were unable to grow the traction for the digital campaign
Later, we recommended training for our key marketing personnel and continuing doing small experiments with digital marketing. We focused a lot on our credit card, brand and alternate channel promotion through digital marketing. This helped us to have consistent brand presence throughout the year versus a major tactical campaign implemented just once a year.
Personally, I spent my own money to attend a short course on digital marketing in a European B-school’s Singapore campus. I also took a Google certification course and had to study really hard as the pass mark was 85%. Not to mention numerous books that I have read on digital and social media marketing since then. The new media space is so dynamic that one really has to read everyday to keep up with the latest changes among the various online platforms. But nothing beats working on actual digital marketing campaigns and seeing your campaign perform in real time. I also sought out people who specialise in digital and social media marketing, and their insights have been invaluable to my learning.
Recently I was talking to one of my old friends who is also a marketer like myself. He worked for one of the best FMCG companies in the world, with regional work experience. He is in a very senior position, and while he was looking to switch his job, he quickly realized his biggest shortcoming. He does not have enough digital and social media marketing experience and nobody is hiring marketing heads without that skill set. So what I realised in 2011 through my marketing campaign, my friend discovered in 2015 through his job search. I am sure that most of the marketing professionals working in the local market have a huge hole in their skill sets, and it is about time we correct it. The transformation of knowledge requires a lot of time and patience, but foremost it requires one to admit first that you have become a dinosaur.
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SD Asia Desk