Exploring the reasons behind the acceleration of digital innovation in Sri Lanka

While the world was embracing digital innovation and e-commerce, brand marketeers in Sri Lanka have been slow to embrace technology and invest in digital marketing.

[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]Although a highly developed mobile market (120% penetration and 5G) the irony is our marketing activities were not geared towards mobile-first communications; from my own experience, most of our clients pre-covid spent very little investment on digital marketing, in fact, on average spends were locked in at barely 3% of overall declared ad budgets. Social media likes and video views were the key performance indicators of a successful digital-first campaign. Overall there was a hesitancy to look at large-scale digital and technological solutions along with data-driven insights, one that would put the consumer at the heart of their activities. [/box]

In fact, 90% of Sri Lankan Facebook users access this popular platform on mobile. Facebook is heavily relied upon as an advertising channel; as a result, most digital campaigns are content-focused. Google is also heavily invested in but from a YouTube POV. These channels are essentially used like TV – for broad reach. This is a great foundation for digital marketing activities, and with the advent of the pandemic, we watched the acceleration of brands moving from using these platforms as broadcast mediums to sales channels. Housewives in urban and metro areas were the fastest to convert, using Facebook to procure goods and services during the multiple lockdowns.

However, was that a quick-fix approach to sell through a difficult time or a concerted effort on the brand’s part to change the way they interact and sell to consumers? Did they do enough to retain their consumers to continue to purchase online and not revert to their traditional purchasing habits when the pandemic showed signs of easing.

In Q1 of 2021online sales experienced a downward shift when Sri Lanka returned to ‘normal’ and life had opened up again. This signals that we as a marketing industry need to spend more time looking at our plans and work with product teams to create technological solutions that streamline our marketing and product development activities to create easy access to purchase and drive more demand for our goods and services.

In truth, this kind of business transformation is not out of reach, and it does not have to be complicated or costly either. When looking at best-in-practice brands, [highlight color=”yellow”]one of the standouts is PickMe, a local taxi and food delivery app. They were able to look at the challenges of the pandemic and restructure their business with some key decisions. During the first lockdown in 2020 PickMe transformed their taxi app within 48 hours to a marketplace app to enable delivery of a range of products to their customers.[/highlight] Their priority was to keep their taxi drivers employed. They partnered with a variety of vendors, including supermarkets, domestic gas suppliers and restaurant food deliveries. But most importantly small start-up businesses that created popup shops overnight to sell products to meet the needs of people locked in their homes.

PickMe also partnered with Sampath Bank a leading local bank to offer one of the most innovative solutions to get cash into the hands of their customers during the first lockdown as they were not permitted to leave their homes. Sampath Bank and PickMe created an online service where customers could withdraw cash from an ATM through a PickMe driver who would receive a special code and then deliver this cash to their customers.

This was truly innovative considering the trust factor involved in allowing a stranger to collect your money – but both brands benefitted immensely. Soon PickMe covered over 400,000 households across the country supported by over 2000 vendors who used their delivery app. Due to the sudden growth, they also increased the uptake of female drivers, many of whom were university students and needed extra income. Even in this dark time, PickMe was able to diversify in every sense and this has paid off massively for the company.  

If anything, this pandemic has meant that marketers, advertisers, brands and online delivery apps were baptized with fire. In under 12 months, we have seen a 50% increase in internet users and for a population of 22 million people to see 19.2 million internet users today is not only a significant shift but a huge opportunity for brands.

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]My advice is not to use this as a short-term solution, but really look at how we change the landscape of digital marketing and innovation moving forward. Embracing a digital-first approach at the core of our activities and at the heart of our organizations is the first and foremost step; then spearheading innovation will be a part of our agenda for all the stakeholders to enable a future-proofed brand moving forward. [/box]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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