Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

Branding in a modern economy

Three leading marketers on brand leadership in a modern economy.

In a changing, technology-driven marketing landscape, successful brand leaders are compelled to invest their time in exploring new ways of adopting technological advancements. The anatomy of a modern brand is now backed by technology that combines superior consumer understanding, unique brand experiences and smart selling. This is way too easier said than done, and requires brand leaders to navigate a complex relationship of data, creativity and technology, while shedding legacy boundaries and motivating people to collaborate. To better understand these challenges, I sought the opinion of three of the sharpest marketing minds in our industry. They are Sheikh Adil Hussain, Founding Partner, Wundernerf, Adnan Shahid, Chief Commercial Officer, PTCL and Sadaf Zarrar, Head of IMC, Coca-Cola Pakistan & Afghanistan.

KHURRAM MAHBOOB: In your opinion, what is the key driver for successful brand building in today’s digital world? Is it:

a) Technology, because without the right data, marketing organisations have no way of understanding their customers and building meaningful brand experience?

b) Creation, because brands that don’t understand how to create impressive communications will not be able to connect with their customers?

c) The company culture, because without the right spirit in the organisation, neither technology nor creation will achieve the right brand strategy?

SHEIKH ADIL HUSSAIN: The company culture. Unless there is a genuine understanding and willingness to change across the company corridors, no amount of data or technology will suffice in enabling a company to tackle the new battlefields. It is the culture of the company that stitches together the required technological skill-sets and the tools that facilitate availability of real-time data and investment in analytics. Unless a company is motivated to keep on learning and adapting, it will be left behind.

ADNAN SHAHID: Technology. The days of traditional brand building are gone. We live in a digital world where a fundamental yet basic step to brand building is getting the attention of the Millennials (who are nearly two-thirds of Pakistan’s population). This is an audience with the shortest span to gauge interest levels. Marketers need to apply behavioural relevance to become part of their conversation.

SADAF ZARRAR: The answer would safely be ‘all three’. Having led the recent digital transformation of my company, I can vouch that the fundamental driver is technology, but understanding the data alone does nothing unless the company and the content is geared to deliver the same.


We picked up the insight that people who watch cricket change channels between overs because they like to see the last ball or replay, and this is when channels inject advertisements. We used this insight to offer, for the first time in Pakistan, ‘ad-free’ subscription-based service where fans could enjoy an ad-free World Cup or Champions Trophy.


KM: In today’s ‘always on’ world, are you challenged by having to sift through enormous amounts of data coming from infinite sources (social listening, online/offline interaction and ever increasing touchpoints)? What is the key to excelling in digesting so much data in a timely way and cultivating action-oriented insights?

SAH: Simple: good old-fashioned ‘time’. That is the qualifying tool available to the brand managers of a modern economy. However, the caveat is to use it effectively. Change is the bloodline of creativity and excellence in marketing. Brand managers need to be more disciplined in their daily routine. They need to set aside time to explore and learn about latest trends, sharpen their analytical skills to sift through data from new formats and still find time to bounce off ideas. One may argue that all the above can be done by hired help from third-party agencies, but in my opinion, the tools of today are within everyone’s reach, thus making it the responsibility of the brand managers to be hands-on so as to take decisive and bold decisions.

AS: The challenge is to separate the noise from genuine feedback coming in from consumers.

SZ: At Coca-Cola, we have devised a structured process to address this. The days of one big TVC alone are gone, and while TV remains a key reach medium, digital is becoming more and more critical for a quality connect with consumers. The Social Interaction Centre we have put in place is constantly monitoring conversations. With so much additional information at hand, traditional agency centres no longer work and training has to be imparted both at the brand and the agency end. We have a set protocol for listening, where all types of queries are classified and stakeholders identified. While the agency is fully empowered to respond to some, other queries may require the company’s intervention and these are directed to stakeholders in real-time.

KM: Are data sciences or creativity – or a combination of both – the skill sets most required by brand leaders of the modern economy? How are the challenges of today’s heads of marketing different from those of an earlier era?

SAH: Today’s heads of marketing cannot wait for two to three months for research output when a quick online survey is available for analysis in less than a week. They cannot plan innovation pipelines that take 18 to 20 months for implementation. When it comes to the skill sets required, creativity ranks highest as it applies across the board and is key to everything we do. You need to be creative in analysing, reading, deducing data and applying learnings in a creative manner. Data sciences may seem intimidating but as with all things unknown, the first step towards knowing it is the hardest to take.

I wouldn’t decree that all brand managers be digital experts, but I would strongly advise them to be completely comfortable with all the relevant tools and platforms. Brand owners must retain the big picture because it is easy to get lost in the fancy graphs and bar charts doled out by Google etc.

AS: A combination of data sciences and creativity – where big data paves the way to explore new dimensions in creativity. Big data-led insights are potential seeds of magic and are unleashing a new kind of creativity.

SZ: I wouldn’t call it a challenge as much as an opportunity. Marketers have worked for too long on delayed feedback or small samples of friends and family providing feedback. Thanks to changing dynamics, the biggest change is the type of real-time feedback any piece of communication can get and the opportunity marketers have to fine-tune live campaigns. While the transformation to such a mindset may be hard, once deployed, it is much simpler. The only ask is for the modern day manager to be more responsive, more creative – more frequently. Too much data is never a bad thing, provided the system is agile enough to handle the information. While both data sciences and creativity are as important as they always were, the winning stroke is speed to market.


There is no better example of data-driven creativity than the Coke Studio roll out each year. As the biggest digital asset in Pakistan for the last 10 years, Coke Studio sentiment is tracked in real-time – episode design, artist selection, genres mix and more, are created keeping in mind the data and feedback and built on year-on-year.


KM: Can you highlight any recent work that was a classic marketing outcome of data driven creativity?

AS: We picked up the insight that people who watch cricket change channels between overs because they like to see the last ball or replay, and this is when channels inject advertisements. We used this insight to offer, for the first time in Pakistan, ‘ad-free’ subscription-based service where fans could enjoy an ad-free World Cup or Champions Trophy. We used ATL advertising during matches and people who wanted to watch ad-free matches, watched them on PTCL’s Smart TV app. Another example is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to match the customers calling at our call centres. Traditional call centres have a queuing system to connect the caller with an agent. PTCL was the first company in Asia to use Afiniti AI to do better pairing between callers and agents.

SZ: There is no better example of data-driven creativity than the Coke Studio roll out each year. As the biggest digital asset in Pakistan for the last 10 years, Coke Studio sentiment is tracked in real-time – episode design, artist selection, genres mix and more, are created keeping in mind the data and feedback and built on year-on-year. It is probably because Coca-Cola is so sensitive to evolving Millennial attitudes that the show has carved a niche for itself and continues to grow even a decade later.


Khurram Mahboob is a telecom professional based in the Middle East. [khurram.mahboob@gmail.com][2]