Compiled by Yamini Sequeira


Elangovan Karthik stresses that marketers must evolve to survive

Management guru Peter Drucker once described the marketing function as follows: “The business enterprise has two… basic functions: marketing and innovation.” And yet, marketing is often seen as support for manufacturing.

And marketing guru Philip Kotler pointed out that manufacturing exists to support marketing! ‘Sales and marketing’ is a general term that is often used to denote mainly sales of products and services that a business manufactures.

REALISING POTENTIAL Unfortunately, apart from being clumped together with the sales function, some marketers feel that their focus should be purely on communication and advertising, notes Elangovan Karthik.

“The modes of marketing have changed. Digital marketing has taken over rapidly globally, albeit that it has seen more moderate growth in Sri Lanka. The digital medium is undoubtedly playing a major role in getting a company’s message through to the consumer,” he adds.

Karthik continues: “In Sri Lanka, keeping in mind internet penetration and usage, the onslaught of digital marketing has been less strident; however, increasing smartphone usage will drive its pace of growth further.”

He points out that although corporates are setting aside a certain share of their marketing budgets for digital platforms, “we need to analyse how much of this is being converted into new business and customers. There needs to be better quantitative mechanisms. Once the matrices and measurements are in place, there will be greater investment and growth in digital marketing.”

DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION At the same time, ‘disruptive innovation’ is a new term in the lexicon of the business world.

Defined as ‘an innovation that creates a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances,’ disruptive innovation has touched down on Sri Lanka’s shores as well.

“Disruptive businesses are taking root – such as the digital mobile business PickMe, for example. Disruptive companies are changing old business models and rewriting established business versions,” Karthik enthuses.

Looking ahead, he avers that “technology driven companies are the future,” so much so that financial services entities will face competition from fintech firms.

“Online giants such as Google can at any time take over the functions of financial services businesses if they want to. So we need to be aware of these possibilities and evolve; or companies will perish,” he cautions.

According to Karthik, “many businesses are under threat from disruptive innovation. Although financial transactions are not taking place on a large scale online here in Sri Lanka, it won’t be long before this happens here too with more companies investing heavily in digital transformation.”

“In the next five years, along with new sentinels and millennials becoming future consumers, companies will have to invest heavily in technology and training to be tech savvy. However, Sri Lanka needs marketing expertise on how a digital presence can be precisely leveraged to derive satisfactory returns on investment,” he acknowledges.

He elaborates: “In Sri Lanka, advertising is focussed on TV, radio and the press, but the need for customer engagement has grown in the last few years in terms of direct one-to-one engagement and ground level activations, which are being heavily targeted due to direct engagement with consumers.”

“Companies need to have a blend of short and long-term brand building and marketing strategies. An understanding of how to inculcate a branding strategy within the overall business strategy is imperative for success,” Karthik declares.

SUSTAINABLE MARKETING And Karthik explains that the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits is yet another important consideration of how you embed sustainability in business strategy.

“Very few companies are building sustainability principles into their marketing strategies. Already, we are seeing the impact of climate change on Sri Lanka in the recent floods and drought. How business is conducted will definitely change and marketing needs to be ready with innovative models on how best to tackle the sustainability agenda,” he states.

Talking about the local market, he admits that although large players invest heavily in brand building with the help of scientific tools, “when it comes to the SME sector, they lack a share of voice and market because the know-how of integrating a branding process within the business strategy is lacking.”

Karthik explains: “Although they’ve set up entrepreneurial businesses, they diversify into other areas without building on the foundation of their enterprise.”

“SMEs need brand building knowledge and support to grow strategically. They need to get professionals involved in their businesses. Many are family run businesses and the same formula with which they’ve succeeded thus far cannot be pursued at a mature life cycle of the business. You need a different strategy at that stage of growth. Very few companies think like that,” he contends.

Affirming that SMEs are the backbone of the economy, he notes: “In Sri Lanka, very few SMEs have become major brands because of this. There are a number of SME and governmental organisations that need to make marketing and brand building part of their support mandate so that such enterprises benefit from professional marketing knowledge. Merely extending financial resources isn’t sufficient.”

MARKETING STANDARD Karthik stresses that “Sri Lanka has a high quality of marketers but they need to have a 360 degree view of the business to achieve success. Unfortunately, more marketers focus on communications and advertising, which is only the tip of the iceberg.”

To this end, he says: “Marketers need to understand the consumer, internal and external strengths and weaknesses of the company, and business channels. They even need a certain level of financial acumen. Essentially, marketers should gain insights into all aspects of their company’s functioning. Marketing is about running business processes, understanding channels and planning business models.”

Future marketers will also have to consider the environmental impact of their businesses when forming strategies. Karthik muses: “If they fail to gauge and understand these imperatives, future marketers will find it difficult to survive.”

In conclusion, he opines that many professions will be under threat from disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), which can take over the data analytics functions of traditional analyses.

“As a profession, marketing will always remain because innovation and creativity are part and parcel of a marketer’s DNA – and they cannot be replaced. The marketing function spurs an entrepreneurial drive, which will always be in demand. As a discipline, we marketers must evolve – otherwise we will become extinct,” Elangovan Karthik adds.

The interviewee is a Director and the CEO of Unisons Capital Leasing