By Ishan Sheriffdeen
Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM), which is the national body for Marketing in the country, has taken educational products, training programs and consultancies options for the first time beyond the boundaries of Sri Lanka. In an interview with Mirror Business, SLIM President Tilan Wijeyasekera spoke about the historical initiative, social media marketing, marketing research, future plans and much more. Excerpts:
Q:How do you assess the recognition for Marketing profession in Sri Lanka?
I think Marketing is well recognized in Sri Lanka. When you compare it with other professions such Finance, Engineering etc, it’s a relatively new profession. Marketing has really come into the fore within last 20-30 years. Today, I could definitely say that Marketing is at the peak of recognition it ever had both globally as well as locally.
Q:Marketing as a subject is not covered enough in the local school curriculum. What are your thoughts?
Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) as the national body of Marketing believes that more exposure, curriculum space has to given to the subject both at O/L and A/Ls. Our challenge is really to increase the weightage as Marketing is a vast area with so many different facets such as brands, brand management, strategy, sales, business development, B2B marketing etc. We have made several representations to the government in this regard.
Q:What are SLIM programmes implemented at school level?
We have introduced a project called “Marketing Roks” to take Marketing to schools. Here, professional marketers speak to O/L and A/L students about Marketing, how it evolved, why one should select it as a career, the future, how one should plan the career etc.
Now we have evolved Marketing Roks with a high emphasis on education and engagement. This year, we developed it in a form where ‘case study’ presentations were introduced to a competition among schools (predominantly in the Western Province- in English medium). By next year, we will definitely have many outstation schools, because it drew lot of interest.
Besides, we participate in forums where school children attend, and try to inspire them highlighting success stories. Today there are so many marketers who are CEOs and business leaders.
Q:How’s the rapport between SLIM and state-sector institutions?
The rapport is constantly developing. We are working with several ministries at the moment. Right now we are working with the Economic Development Ministry on a Tourism project, another project with the Export Development Board (EDB) to assist small and medium exporters develop marketing strategies and also one with the Trade and Commerce Ministry. We worked in the past with State Trading Corporation.
When Philip Kotler came here last time, we had a separate forum for the state sector.
Q:What made SLIM to venture out of Sri Lanka?
There are so many foreign universities, foreign educational bodies coming into Sri Lanka where we study what they offer, and our money keeps on going out of the country. We thought it’s time to bring an end to this. We took a bold step to go international offering our educational products, training programs and consultancies options, and tied-up with Focus Education Center in the Maldives. We will be targeting several other countries as well in the future. Education can be made a top foreign exchange earner to the country.
Q:Any other moves to popularize Sri Lanka internationally?
. Yes, we are trying to make our “Brands Excellence” awards show an international event by making foreign companies vie for awards. We want to start it with South Asia.
We are trying to do it this year, and have already spoken to some companies in the region.
Q:Social media marketing is catching up fast. To what extent is it utilized in Sri Lanka?
If you compare Sri Lanka with the West, Social media marketing is still catching up here. We have not exposed ourselves very much.
However, mobile and internet penetration are growing tremendously in Sri Lanka at the moment, with improving infrastructure. There are some organizations using digital and social media marketing in the country at the moment. If you look at the advertising agencies, most of them have started to launch their digital and social media arms. This is a good trend, and the two will get due recognition in the future.
Q: There is very little marketing research happening in Sri Lanka. Why is that?
Research has grown. We have some of the top global research agencies operating in Sri Lanka. About 10 years ago, we saw research agencies doing everything. But now there are research agencies specialized in quantitative and qualitative research. With Sri Lanka developing as an economic hub, the importance of research may grow even more in the future. But if you look at who uses it, traditionally the multinationals were the ones that used research most. It was part and parcel of their culture, the philosophy of their business. They had to backup their decisions with research whereas many local organizations had an entrepreneurial approach. This is now changing drastically. Organizations today have adopted a very professional approach towards developing business or marketing.
As a marketer you have to strike a balance. You have to look at research as well as understand the market/customer to make a decision. You have to do your own research.
Q: Commitment to “Environment Sustainability” is a big topic, when it comes to marketing products and services worldwide. To what extent is this practiced in Sri Lanka?
There are a couple of very good green initiatives in Sri Lanka by organizations like Brandix, MAS… But it is not at all wide-spread and has to be promoted from the grassroots level. Organizations are not doing enough at the moment. Commitment to environment also comes with pressure, and Sri Lanka has no ‘pressure groups’ to do that.
Q: Is ‘Environment Sustainability’ included in the SLIM’s awards criterion?
Right now we don’t have a category for “Green Marketing”. But we have a “CSR” category, where Green Marketing and Environment sustainability are evaluated.
Q: Any programmes to rescue dying industries in the country?
Yes, through our “Gamata Marketing” project we do exactly that. At present, we have been working with weavers, designers, producers in Wevaldeniya to uplift the cane industry. Most people in that area are staying away from manufacturing cane products because there is no demand. The demand has fallen because there is no proper marketing.
We linked them up with the Design Faculty of Moratuwa University. The university provided new designs for the producers and they came up with modern innovative products. The next step is to go international by developing a website. This year we are also stepping into the handicrafts industry.
Q: What impact has the presence of eminent marketers to the country made? Is there any long-term associations with them?
What we do is bringing knowledge which is out there into Sri Lanka. We give the exposure. By bringing down high caliber people, we help proliferate the know-how on the subject.
There is indeed a sustained approach. In the case of Philip Kotler, many marketers personally communicated with him, got contact details and they continue to interact.
Q: What marketing alternatives in Sri Lanka are very effective for brand support?
It all depends on the target market. If you have a premium brand (an exclusive brand), it is necessary to use direct marketing such as internet/social media marketing. In case the product is for the mass market, the traditional tv, media and press will be effective.
Q:As a marketer, do you think the present environment in Sri Lanka is conducive for doing business?
Yes, there is lot of hope and confidence that we will move forward. If you look at the organizations, they are performing fantastically well, though the stock market doesn’t reflect it. However, we also need more foreign investments to the country.
Q:How effectively is the Sri Lankan tourism sector marketed overseas?
What’s the point of promoting tourism if we don’t have the infrastructure in place? Infrastructure has to be developed first and then the country has to be marketed. If we have extensive promotions and there is a huge influx of tourists to the country, where are they going to stay? At the moment, development of tourism infrastructure is happening. All the big names are gradually coming in now.
Q:Any other key initiatives in the pipeline?
There are very successful Sri Lankan marketers who have become CEOs. We are thinking of initiating a programme called “CEO maker” (name not finalized) where we would hope to give marketers the guidance to go up the ladder and become CEOs, along with financial, operational and technical support.
Furthermore, we hope introduce a “Mentor” scheme for young budding marketers where they will have people to go and get advice on career advancements. We will assign top marketers for this purpose. We are still developing the operating model of the scheme.
Q: Tell me about your career in Marketing.
My career spans about 15 years. I started in Finance. After one year in Finance, I started Marketing. My first Marketing job was at Darley Butler, followed by Reckitt & Coleman, Lion Brewery, John Keells Group, Janashakthi and now Seylan Bank.