Saliya Withana, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Enfection, Lahiru Halkewela, Co-Founder/Head of Operations, and Shezri Junaid, Head of Group Account Management, joined Echelon for a discussion on how brands should approach digital marketing and Enfection’s meteoric rise as a startup that focused on going global.
What are the market dynamics like as of today?
It is not about how much you spend. Marketers or CMOs tend to be fixated on the bottom line. But the brand is what is remembered and can drive conversions. There is a lot of data available out there, so use that and start building the brand. Successful entrepreneurs are those that have not jumped from trend to trend but have a solid proposition. Therefore, companies should not opt for a short-term approach and need to think long-term. Especially given the economic conditions, there is a need to capitalize on leads. Companies also need to venture out and go global and have a view of making a difference. That is where we come in.
Tell us about Enfection’s purpose and journey thus far?
When Enfection started in 2017, our main focus was to bring a bit of science into marketing. We spotted gaps in the market, where digital marketing appeared to be in the mould of vanity expenditure in correlation with the traditional media angle. Our model looks at lean testing a buyer’s micro-moments through various behavioural economics principles and connecting that to the business’s bottomline goals, rather than focusing on feel-good vanity metrics.
While we launched a company in Malaysia and Singapore two years ago, the pandemic has also been a blessing in disguise because starting a venture in a different country no longer requires a physical presence.
Over the last two years, we have achieved revenue growth of 20% and almost 40% growth this year. From a gross profit margin perspective, growth has been even more remarkable, especially given the booming business in the APAC region.
Growth is observed in clientele and employee numbers as well. Our staff count includes selfsustaining teams that garner our digital expertise. From a people perspective, the team has grown exponentially over the last few years to the tune of 70%. While we strive to be a global-first company, we have local experts who understand the market that has enabled us to serve over 40+ enterprise clients globally.
The cherry on the cake was when Enfection was nominated at the global Drum Awards in 2021 for our digital marketing efforts in collaboration with major Sri Lankan and foreign brands. Which was a first for any Sri Lankan company.
Looking back, acquiring the first client was a pivotal moment, and at the time, we were among the first in Sri Lanka to use social media to generate leads. Being appointed to manage digital content for the 2018 Asian Games was also a solidifying moment. Over the last few years, we went regional, becoming an agency for agencies, who rely on us to provide strategies for marketing transformation. That opened many doors for us.
In the Sri Lankan market, we work with the country’s number 1 supermarket brand in order to communicate their freshness promise to the masses. Furthermore, through a proxy marketing strategy, we have transformed the pharmaceutical industry in the region which is highly regulated. These ‘wow’ moments have created a steady business pipeline for Enfection as other brands with similar challenges started to approach us.
Our data and insights help brands to formulate a gut feel for their marketing programmes. Especially if your purchase cycles are longer, you need more ways than not to predict, to a greater extent, what the outcome is going to be. This is where tactics such as Account-Based Marketing, Proxy Marketing as well as Always On Branding come into play.
The final frontier would be when Sri Lankan clientele looks to venture overseas. They aspire to grow, thus reaching out to us to help chart that course. Traditional exporters and brands who have been relying on traditional ways to be in front of potential buyers are now seeking digital as a channel to go global. This is where the Enfectors and our regional digital experience come into play.
When it comes to marketing technology (MarTech), we have developed web and mobile-based marketing tools, including a learning management tool used by a global pharma company in over 14 countries in Asia. Intending to grab a slice of the MarTech pie, we have our CRM and reporting tools too. In our bid to become a product-driven company, we are hoping to provide a PaaS offering in the MarTech space very soon.
What sets Enfection apart from other marketing agencies?
We use research and data as the basis for everything we do, including creative development. When suggesting concepts to clients, we have the data to back them up, and that data-led approach makes us unique.
We spend time mapping the consumer’s purchase journey irrespective of being online, offline or a hybrid by following Micro Moments principles. Our task is to identify the touchpoints in the user purchase journey. We use data to identify each touchpoint and provide strategies for them. Furthermore, we incorporate lean principles into our approach and advise clients on how to maximize ROIs.
It is important to also look inwards. We call ourselves a ‘learning company’ with individuals driving growth, and a majority of our account managers are certified experts. When we talk to people internally, it is clear that the culture of learning is important, so we embrace that, and it helps us differentiate ourselves.
We do not believe in the traditional client versus agency culture. We are a marketing transformation partner, actively involved in knowledge sharing, and this has garnered us a reputation as experts, with clients and marketing agencies preferring to collaborate with us. In the Sri Lankan market, marketing agencies operate in silos. However, in other parts of the region, we see a lot of collaboration between agencies trying to drive real value for their clients by working with an ecosystem of experts like us. This is something we hope to advocate for in Sri Lanka as well.
What are some tangible examples of Enfection’s impact on businesses?
When a Sri Lankan supermarket chain wanted to transform from a traditional brick-and-mortar business into a freshness-focused brand, we took this message across digital channels. The recognition the campaign received is a direct testament to the work we did with the client’s team.
Helping brands go global has been an interesting challenge. As for going regional, we helped Malaysian oil giant Petronas achieve its best-ever multi-billion dollar bid round. We also offered pharma brands another go-to-market channel through a proxy marketing approach as the metaverse that’s making some noise now.
Despite the rapid gains in digital technology elevating e-commerce and other online services, the offline and online worlds are also interconnected. We have collaborated with clients to bridge the gap and have a full view of online spending versus offline outcomes through our MarTech and data-led digital campaigns.
What are Enfection’s plans for the future?
MarTech is a hot topic right now. Products are easier to scale. The digital marketing or technology trends in the last 4-5 years encompass technology, AI and anything that contributes to the bottom line.
We are focusing on developing mechanisms and products for brands to address their challenges on a global level. We want to scale up and create our own platform, maybe spinning off into a product company.
Currently, we are an API of growth for partners in the region, with further expansion plans. We also have ambitions to open up in the UK, and then look at Australia, to power marketing services especially in niche areas including pharma and technology marketing.
Another area of focus is to be a knowledge agent and thereby establish a presence for Sri Lanka. At the university level, we conduct digital training for those who wish to pursue a career in the field, which will help Sri Lanka achieve branding as a knowledge hub.
We have proven that marketing can be offshored or worked in a hybrid model and plan to launch our upskilling program for digital marketers. Sri Lanka has an interesting mix of people who can provide the required expertise, given the right training and opportunity. We hope to see the program flourishing with more people participating and learning with us. Our plans also include helping Sri Lankan brands go global, as we have the expertise and experience to do just that.
Learning is ingrained in our DNA, and we pride ourselves on being a learning company where we share the latest industry knowledge and trends, not only with our Enfectors but also with our belief network that includes our clients and partners. This is something we will continue to pursue as we grow.
The ultimate goal is to be a learning-focused company with the ambition to be a knowledge hub for the region on marketing transformation.