December 31, 2017

In Conversation With Zaved Akhtar, Director,

Market Transformation, Unilever, South Asia

Zaved Akhtar has been working for twenty years as a career marketer and has been in places between British American Tobacco and Unilever. But his experiences are not limited there. As a graduate of Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka, Zaved Akhtar has had profound experience across CPG (Home Care, Personal Care, Foods, and Refreshment). Strong consumer centricity and design thinking have set him apart. Alongside, managing change, and driving new business models are some of his other notable fields of expertise.

He has extensive international experience from working in regions such as, South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan), North Asia (China, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan), South East Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore & Vietnam) and The Pacific (Australia & New Zealand). It also extends to communication and innovation management across different geographies garnering him international awards for various campaigns.

During the Digital Marketing Summit 2017, Bangladesh Brand Forum (BBF) had the opportunity to have Zaved Akhtar as a keynote speaker and to engage in a face to face conversation with him.

BBF: What are the differences in approach when it comes to marketing based on different locations?

Zaved Akhtar: I think there is no difference in marketing. I mean the fundamentals of marketing are similar but I think what’s different are the people and the consumers, their needs and what they do and our ability to understand that. Making sure that you are adapting your overall marketing activities based on your consumers’ needs and that you keep updating yourself. Make sure that you are connected to them and understand them better. Or else the principles of marketing are very similar.

BBF: How would you differentiate traditional ways of marketing from digital ways?

Zaved Akhtar: The traditional way of marketing is that you actually don’t know whether you connect to the right people but in digital marketing, you can truly reach out to the right people and get involved with. So in traditional marketing, you are unsure and only hoping that your consumers are watching but in digital marketing you really know whether you have connected to your targeted consumers, involving them and converting them into believers of your business.

So the ability to really get to the right audience and convert them is something you cannot get in traditional marketing. A connected world works better in today’s world.

BBF: Bangladesh is actively involved in all media platforms but which one has worked the best for Unilever and its consumers?

Zaved Akhtar: In Bangladesh’s context, the best platform today is mobile and it is because everybody has them, it is used all across the country. It is because, what the telecom industry has done in terms of driving the product, has made itself a media. And that is a media that we yet haven’t tapped into. We normally send messages through our mobile phones, but beyond that, if you look around, there is a lot of other stuff we can do using a mobile.


BBF: Do you think digital disruption has an impact on consumer purchase decisions? If so, what are some of the ways in which Unilever has acted in these scenarios?

Zaved Akhtar: There is absolutely a lot of disruption. During my keynote speech, I talked about the Dollar Shave Club which was an online subscription service for people. So the traditional ways that we would have thought people bought phones and other commodities through, are changing the ever-changing world. People now just say they want something and they can just get it then and there, and that is how the whole concept of doing things digitally has come from. The reality is, this is how the world will move into a different space altogether. There will be more shared economies, there will be more subscription-based solutions and there will be more requirements for mass customization. So which means Unilever in the next generation, will be a very different Unilever. Instead of selling mass marketing products, we will be selling product clusters for each and every individual.

BBF: Can AI take marketing decision for us? Assuming that AI will play a role in marketing decisions, do you think the global marketing industry is prepared enough to make new rooms for the next generation?

Zaved Akhtar: It is something that is being talked about, what AI can do and what AI can replace. Can an AI just start painting? Imagine trying to replace a painter with AI. Can AI technology do something similar to what Leonardo Da Vinci did? Technically it is possible for an AI to be able to do these things but the jury isn’t out yet, so we don’t know.

But to tell you the reality, these are all capabilities that will enable us to operate efficiently, but then we must have the skillset to be able to transform ourselves and adapt to changes that are going to take place and change our abilities to look into that. Through using AI or machine learning, you will be able to do much more complex things at a faster rate and in fact, we already do that in terms of analyzing making it a less tedious and a much faster process. But at the end of the day, it will still require human intervention and decision-making because you are understanding and more experienced. I hope there won’t come a time where machines will start understanding consumers and people better. You understand consumers so you will still have to do that.

BBF: We hear a lot about the fact that, we have to think mobile first in order to reach out to the customers. However, let’s say the small screen cannot attract enough attention and we need a plan B. What are some other ways of going digital?

Zaved Akhtar: You actually do not just use a mobile phone to reach out to your consumers. What’s important to understand is that you actually design something that enables you to connect with your mutual consumers through multiple screens. Because technically, mobile users use the screen as a television, as tablets, and as a general viewing platform. So people are actually going to multi-screen and the next evolution will be more wearable variants. And they have already started entering the market; wearables are coming up very fast. You still have a television of course; even in North America and Europe, though internet penetration and digital viewership have gone up, there are still people watching the television. So you will have to have the ability to go multi-screen.

BBF: How important do you think product innovation is for better marketing practices?

Zaved Akhtar: Innovation is the lifeblood which tests consumer pretention and consumer satisfaction. What happens every time is that you take in a consumer and you lose a consumer, the best thing to achieve through that process, is to renovate further. So it is a lifeblood, especially for an FMCD company, and the more disruptive the innovation, the more you can ensure better growth.


BBF: Keeping in mind the fast-moving digital trends, what kind of skill set do you think the next generation marketers would need the most?

Zaved Akhtar: There is an ability for us to become properly skilled. Earlier, I used to get information from books or somewhere far, but my son, he gathers information from everywhere. There’s the television, the mobile phone and when they are watching the screen, they are gathering information from multiple sites. The ability to really understand cross-sectional data and to assimilate is a very important skill that you need to have. The ability to really understand how things will run in the future is a key component as well. You need to understand the basics of the algorithm. And once you understand that, you will be able to connect the algorithms with the needs of the customer. So fundamentally, the capabilities that they need to have will be dramatically different than the ones required today, because these concepts are old. The whole scenario will change and our ability to cope with these changes is vital to our growth.

Interviewed by Afraim Karim

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.