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Friday September 30th, 2022

Gamika de Silva on unleashing the power of marketing

Gamika De Silva Assistant General Manager – Sales and Marketing at Seylan Bank PL

The Global Best of the Best Effie Awards juror reflects on the transformative impact marketers can bring to businesses and the economic revival.

Gamika De Silva, Assistant General Manager – Sales and Marketing at Seylan Bank PLC, reflects on his experience and learnings as a juror for the 2022 Global Best of the Best Effie Awards. He also shares insights into how marketing professionals can help reimagine the businesses they represent by taking ownership of brands and giving leadership to strengthening customer-centric cultures amidst an economic crisis.

You were a member of the panel of jurors for the Global Best of the Best Effies. How did you get that recognition, and how was that experience?

I was probably appointed to the jury panel for the Global Best of the Best Effie Awards because of my affiliation with Effie, spanning over a decade, participating in global conferences and heading the jury panel for the 2021 Sri Lanka Effie Awards. The experience at the Global Best of the Best Effies was incredible, insightful, and inspiring. I am grateful for the opportunity to delve deep into some excellent case studies from Gold Effie award winners from regional awards programmes worldwide – each contending with post-pandemic market upheavals and uncertainties in varying degrees and forms. The entries were top-notch, and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to reflect on each of those brand campaigns and relate them to the Sri Lankan context.

Consumer behaviour varies from country to country, so the insights and perceptions were rich in their diversity. I was intrigued by how some of those global campaigns scored high marks at the Global Best of the Best Effie awards for their simplicity and effective communication at its best. In Sri Lanka, most problems involve poor or ineffective communication or failing to gauge how communication measures with intended outcomes.

Another key learning for me as a professional marketer was how often PR teams led successful brand campaigns utilizing different marketing communication tools. The norm in Sri Lanka is for PR teams to perform more of a support function for marketing campaigns. However, the Global Best of the Best Effie winners demonstrated how PR teams often led brand campaigns with digital & ATL (above the line) advertising being support mediums. They often adopted a digital-first approach, mixing traditional and new-age media for better engagement and reach and investing enough time and resources in pre-and post-campaign effectiveness.

So how do you see the global profession evolving?

I see marketing as a social science that should concern everybody in an organization, not just the marketing people or brand managers. It could, and should, apply to nation-building, I believe.

Marketing is a fluid discipline that has to evolve with time, and marketers must be on top of the ever-evolving consumer needs, perceptions and sentiments. The global profession has learnt that effective communication is not a one-way street but creating dialogue. Some of those agencies showcasing their work at the Global Best of the Best Effies demonstrated how they got consumers involved in building a brand campaign.

The digital transformations across advertising, communication, and e-commerce have empowered and enabled consumers to be involved in those communications, a phenomenon that will become mainstream in the future, no doubt. Gone are the days when you could shout about your organization to consumers and bombard them with all those messages. Today, however, consumers are far more effective at marketing a brand and influencing behaviours in other consumers.

Fundamentally, we learned about this concept a decade earlier. However, the rapid economic upheavals caused by the advances in digital technology and the Covid pandemic have pushed the consumer further into the core of marketing. Successful brands are sharper with their communication strategies and intensely consumer-centric. Each brand campaign deals with a specific, well-defined strategic problem requiring the appropriate communication solutions that require collaborations with other functions of an organization – not just the marketing and sales teams – and deeper engagement with consumers.

I like to highlight an example of how we did this at Seylan Bank. During the height of the pandemic, we launched a digital-first campaign called #ResponsibleMe with a distinct and explicit message that cuts through the noise. People would have expected us to talk about banking. Instead, we positioned the brand closer to the lives of our customers by engaging them to take responsibility for their actions because we believe that the well-being of society matters for us to move forward as a brand. We did not confine this initiative to Seylan Bank. Several other businesses joined this campaign, helping us take the brand to as many people as possible.

Sri Lanka is amidst its worst economic crisis. How can marketing professionals help businesses reimagine themselves, find relevance and grow in a challenging environment?

Firstly, the situation is unprecedented. No one has ever experienced the challenges we have been grappling with since the outbreak of Covid. If there is one constant, it is this: challenges and change would always remain, forcing us to reset, rethink, strategize and envision bigger.

Today, Sri Lankan businesses are labouring under tremendous stress to retain healthy cashflows and profitability, and marketing budgets are the first to get a haircut. So how can a professional marketer be relevant under these trying circumstances?

I believe a marketer should never feel constrained but assume leadership over the brand, collaborating across functions and teams to manage resources across the organization and strengthening bonds around the shared vision and purpose of the company. Remember always that marketers build bridges between a business and its consumers and building bridges between departments within an organization is integral to that function.

From a leadership point of view, marketers can align other departments with the brand objectives, contributing to reinforcing the shared vision and culture around the brand and customers. This alignment and strengthening bonds around the brand and culture are vital for survival and growth, with teams spread apart due to WFH and other challenges.

Ideally, businesses should keep investing in brand building and creating great campaigns to get closer to consumers. However, what do you do when they decide to cut marketing budgets?

You will not be able to spend as before because of the current challenges, so you must reimagine your goals, optimize the limited budget for marketing and explore other alternatives such as social media. You have to back your decisions with data. Data will help you make allies, sharpen decision-making, and help articulate an explicit vision for the future. Even as a country, if we can reimagine the next five to ten years, we will be better positioned to counter the unfolding challenges and revive the economy faster because everyone can aspire to a common objective.

As a professional, I believe this recession will not last forever, but we fail to invest enough resources and time in research and development during such transitionary phases. Those investments are crucial. After all, when the growth wave picks up, a business must be equipped and ready to grab opportunities early.

I also believe marketing professionals need to step up. Why shy away from talking about ROIs when it is so crucial to decision-making? We need to start talking about ROIs. We need to build that discipline. If we take that approach, marketing and what it can do for the brand will find universal acceptance in an organization.

I only see tremendous opportunities for marketers to be the best they can be, helping their organizations and communities to steer through this difficult period and grow. So, as a marketer in these challenging times, believe in yourself, be brave, envision the future, prepare yourself, invest in the right things, challenge the norms, and explore alternatives. It can come from new product development or new process improvement. From a banking industry point of view, digitization took on rapid growth during Covid, aiding marketers to reimagine banking brands in more relevant and novel ways.

What role does the professional have in taking this country out of this crisis?

In terms of envisioning the future – marketing is built on economic theories, wrote Philip Kotler, an economist, and the Father of Modern Marketing. Right now, we need to pick up the areas that can generate increased revenue, cut costs, and bring in foreign exchange. In all three areas, if you think of marketing from a product development point of view, invest in ventures which can bring in the cash flows Sri Lanka needs so that we are doing what is required to gain momentum.

Sri Lanka is a resilient nation. We have emerged from many other crises, including a 30-year war, so we have proven to ourselves that nothing is impossible if we work together. The marketing fraternity can make a significant contribution to reviving the economy.

Effective communication is crucial for a smooth transition as we embark on debt restructuring, economic reforms and repositioning Sri Lanka as a dynamic, enterprising destination. So, there is a tremendous prospect for the marketing fraternity to share its expertise, be influential and make a difference. All we need to do is step up and do the right thing wherever we are