Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo


Bertram Paul describes the unfolding phenomenon of digital marketing

Q:Is the concept of marketing properly understood here in Sri Lanka?
A: Some believe that marketing is the same as sales or selling, or advertising. Others relate it to branding. But very few appreciate marketing for what it entails.

Marketing is more than a function or department. It’s an orientation or mindset that believes the best way to achieve corporate goals is by satisfying customer needs better than the competition.

A more recent definition is that it’s the strategic business function that creates value by stimulating, facilitating and fulfilling customer needs.

Q: In your opinion, how does marketing add value to a company?
A: The role of a business leader is to adapt the organisation to suit the environment in which it operates. The climate is ripe with opportunities and challenges that must be identified, prioritised and addressed. If this is done, the company will survive and thrive; if not, it will go under.

Marketing provides a disciplined and structured approach to identify opportunities and challenges, as well as the company’s response to them. This can be achieved by identifying market segments that should be targeted, product offerings, positioning versus competitor portfolios, pricing and product availability, and distribution and promotion.

If this is done properly, and strategies and action plans are duly monitored and controlled, there’s a decent chance of success.

Q: If marketing is vital, why isn’t it more widely adopted by our corporates?
A: Marketers are to blame. For too long, marketing has been seen as a loose function where marketers aren’t held accountable for hard metrics instead of intangible and qualitative aspects like driving engagement, conversations, interactions and brand awareness that most CEOs don’t directly link to bottom line impact.

And when times are hard, one of the first costs to be axed is the marketing budget. Some companies view marketing as being merely a sales support function, generating promotional and campaign leads that are converted into revenue by sales staff.

In more enlightened companies, it is a strategic business function that uses marketing principles to identify consumer needs through research in order to design and develop products while constantly testing them against consumer preferences – and promoting products on the basis of research to identify media and channels.

Q: What are the latest trends in marketing?
A: There are many trends but one that encompasses most developments is the digital revolution. Our environments have become volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) due to the ubiquity of technology and innovation.

Social media drives conversations and customer engagement, mobile phone penetration has exploded and mobile broadband has doubled every year since its introduction in 2009. At a global level, Cisco estimates 1.5 mobile devices per capita by 2020.

As a marketer, if your website is not mobile-enabled, you are irrelevant to tech-savvy customers. The more digitally enlightened will speak of trends such as virtual and augmented reality, livestreaming, chatbots, the Internet of Things, marketing automation and data-driven marketing.

Q: So would you say that marketers are ready for this paradigm shift?
A: Most in Sri Lanka are not. Some old-school marketers barely know what and how permeating these changes are.

If you analyse the national advertising spend, mainstream media still dominates. So although marketers pay lip service to the rise of digital marketing, they are not putting their money where their mouths are.

These developments aren’t only relevant to developed markets. Consumers are now more exposed to competitor offerings, and able to compare and contrast them prior to making a purchase decision. An explosion of mobile shopping apps that have many options, simplify pricing, compare product specifications and facilitate peer reviews is making this possible.

Consider the role played by social media compared to mainstream media in the January 2015 presidential election. Despite state media having a stronghold on mainstream media, which should have assured victory for the incumbent, it was social media that influenced the outcome.

Q: How can marketing play a wider role in society?
A: So much can be done. For example, Sri Lanka’s current promotional platform ‘The Wonder of Asia’ doesn’t reflect its relative positioning. There has to be a single-minded proposition to differentiate and promote that aspect, which is what successful brands do.

Ceylon Tea also lacks identity and differentiation. What does the platform ‘Symbol of Quality’ mean? Dilmah Tea has successfully promoted ‘Single Origin Tea,’ which is a clear differentiator that’s understood by the consumer.

Other success stories include child immunisation campaigns and ‘Api Wenuwen Api,’ which is a mainstream campaign that contributed to the enlistment of volunteers to the armed forces in the late 2000s.

Undoubtedly, marketing has a major role to play in various spheres of society, whether they be in government or the not-for-profit sector.

The interviewee is the General Manager – Sales of Chevron Lubricants Lanka