What’s the Difference between Designing a Website and Buying a Saree?

Recently I got involved in a couple of projects of website revamping, including the website of the company I work for. I suddenly started to realize how outdated are the websites of most Sri Lankan companies (yes, including our own one). The web has evolved drastically over last five years or so with heavy focus now given on factors such as user experience & user interface, loading speed, navigation flow of the website, mobile responsiveness, singular call-to-actions and many more hot topics.
Sadly in Sri Lanka (and I guess so is the case in most other emerging markets) still the prominence is given for factors such as color theme, special effects (ok.. flash animations are still cool in Sri Lanka), and aesthetics of the design layouts. People still think of their websites as a piece of art to impress others. This is why I always say, designing a website for a Sri Lankan company is more like buying a Saree for your wife (or any other significant woman in your life). It will take enormous amount of time to decide on the perfect Saree to buy. You shop for the perfect colors, perfect design, whether it matches the occasion, whether it fits your budget and all sorts of factors. After going through this entire process (and just as you start thinking that your wife is happy about the Saree you bought), here comes her best friend (or her mother) and make a nasty commentary about how lame that design is.
This is exactly the same thing what happens when you design websites for Sri Lankan clients. As Google Analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik always says, the HIPPO approach to internet marketing is the biggest stumbling block today in creating outstanding marketing results through the web. (Don’t know what HIPPO is? It’s ‘Highest Individually Paid Person’s Opinion’).
People don’t visit your website to solve a puzzle or to critically evaluate your CEO’s aesthetic taste. They come to your website to solve a specific problem, and they will take not more than 15 seconds to decide whether your landing page can solve that problem or not. Within 15 seconds of landing on your website, 55% of the people decide what to do next, and I’m quite sure that, their decision is not to write a review about your website’s color platter or how exciting your flashy animations are (Do something really exciting #ThingsYouHearInAgencies).
Think about world’s most successful websites; Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest (and LinkedIn!). All these websites have no more than 2 colors in their color platter. They are neat and clean (no flashy animations), and very clear about the call-to-actions. For example, “Contact Us” is “Contact Us” on most successful websites. They don’t put an ambiguous icon of a half opened door and expect website visitors to figure out that, it is the contact us link of the website.
Be very clear about what actions you expect your visitors to take on every page. Don’t leave more than 3 call-to-actions on deeper pages. Deeper you go inside the website; more focused your call-to-actions has to be. Don’t try to brain tease your website visitors by trying to be over creative. Tell them what you want to tell them in plain English (or whatever the language your website is in). Use an Analytics software to track behavior of your website visitors, doesn’t matter how small the volumes of traffic to your website. It gives you a clear picture of how people end up landing on your website, what they are looking for on your website, and how they leave your website with or without finding what they were looking for. After doing this analysis for a while you will realize that your CEO’s wife’s opinion doesn’t really matter when taking critical decisions about your company website. After all, you are not buying Sarees. You are building your company’s online branch.
Originally posted on LinkedIn on this link. Please join the conversation on LinkedIn if you have opinions to share.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Google Live Traffic Updates Now Enabled for Sri Lanka

Here is great news for all Sri Lankan drivers who own a smartphone as well! Recently Google enabled their live traffic updates feature on Google maps for Sri Lanka. From now onward, when you check a route on Google maps on a busy Colombo neighborhood, you will see a heat map overlay to signify how intense is the traffic jam on the road you are planning to take.

First, you have to enable traffic updates on your Google Maps app. To do this, open the app and slide the screen from left to right. You will get the detailed menu to enable different features of Google Maps and then select “Traffic”.

Click to Enlarge

I tested the live traffic updates while I was driving to work this morning and found that it is quite accurate. It shows the intensity of traffic jam in Colombo roads on a heat map overlay from green to red, where red being a high traffic situation. This is really useful to plan your route in advance. You can select an alternate route with less red areas in the traffic map, instead of the usual route you would take.

One thing to remember is, the map being red doesn’t necessarily means that the traffic is “jammed”. Basically it’s just an indication of ‘lots of vehicles’ in a particular area, and these vehicles maybe moving in a decent speed. It doesn’t mean the vehicles are in a stand still mode in a traffic jam. For example at this particular point of the route (see below screenshot) my car was moving at an average speed of 25Kmph. This is reasonably a good speed compared to the average speed of vehicles moving inside Colombo city limits during the rush hours.

Click to Enlarge

This can be a handy tool for Sri Lanka traffic police, if they really want to do something about the decreasing average speeds of vehicles moving inside Colombo city limits. Two years ago it took me only 30 minutes in morning rush hours to drive from Nugegoda to Barnes Place (approx 10 KM). Now it takes me average 45 minutes. If Sri Lanka Traffic Police deploy some qualified analysts to look at these stats, I’m sure they can come up with optimization plans for traffic in Colombo city, without just blindly making some random roads one-way.

I’m sure you might ask me the question ‘how does Google predict traffic jam?’. According to HowStuffWork.com Google Maps bases its traffic views and faster-route recommendations on two different kinds of information: historical data about the average time it takes to travel a particular section of road at specific times on specific days and real-time data sent by sensors and smartphones that report how fast cars are moving right then.

This is what Google has to say about how they do this.

“If you use Google Maps for mobile with GPS enabled on your phone, that's exactly what you can do. When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. We continuously combine this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers. It takes almost zero effort on your part — just turn on Google Maps for mobile before starting your car — and the more people that participate, the better the resulting traffic reports get for everybody.” (Google Blog)
Oh! BTW, with Google traffic updates now enabled for Sri Lanka, we will see real conversations like these very soon.
Click to Enlarge

So I’m sure you got a pretty decent idea about how Google Traffic Updates work on Google Maps. Next time you drive to work or back home, make sure to check the Colombo traffic updates on Google Maps. But please don’t use your smartphone to check the traffic updates while you drive! It’s better to get to where you want to go a little late, rather than not getting there alive at all.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Who Owns Digital Marketing at Your Company?

Maybe you are a genius in electronic engineering, and you know how to build a television set from scratch on your own. You know exactly to use which circuit boards, the correct transistors, ICs, resistors, sensors and all other electronic gadgets which make a perfect TV set.
But if I ask you to direct and produce an Emmy award winning Television series, you will definitely struggle, won't you? Emmy Award winning TV directors were not electronic engineers.
This is why a company’s Digital Marketing decisions should better be left with qualified marketers not with qualified IT professionals.
There is a difference between networking your company PCs and Social Networking. Simply because you were an early adapter of internet based technologies, you won't become a marketer on the internet.
Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, for whatever the reason I still can’t understand, IT departments are having a say in the Digital Marketing decisions made by companies. Is this the case with other emerging/less evolved markets?
Originally posted on LinkedIn on this link. Please join the conversation on LinkedIn if you have opinions to share.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Buy 1 Ticket and Bring Along a Friend or a Colleague to the Social Media Marketing Boot Camp

Early this week I shared the news of upcoming Social Media Marketing Boot Camp which happens on 14th November 2015 in Colombo.

I told you the news that EBA is planning to offer an attractive 2 in 1 deal for early registrants to the event :-)

Yes that’s right. You can buy one ticket to the workshop and bring a friend or a colleague 100% free of charge. This will be a limited time offer open for only a few hours on 14th October 2015, and only for a limited number of seats.

You can visit the page http://ebusinessacademy.org/workshops/2in1offer/ on Monday 12th October between 8.00am to 6.00pm and register for this exclusive deal. Yes, you are allowed to share the cost of the ticket with your friend but the payment for 1 ticket has to be made in full within 72 hours of receiving a confirmation of the offer.

Want to get notified when the 2 in 1 offer goes live? RSVP yourself on the below Facebook event page or follow the hash tag #BootCampEBA to stay in touch.

Thursday, October 8, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Social Media Marketing Boot Camp Returns to Colombo This November

After two successful workshops in December 2014 and April 2015, I am pleased to announce the third repetition of the Social Media Marketing Boot Camp program again in this November.

Social Media Marketing Boot Camp I conducted for eBusiness Academy is designed and delivered in a way it covers all the essential things a marketer should know about using Social Media in marketing. It’s a workshop which goes beyond the popular myth that Social Media is all about gaining likes on Facebook, or all about boasting of the number of Social Media platforms one’s brand is having profiles.

This time I am happy to have Milinda Tilakaratne as a co-trainer for the workshop. Milinda had been in the scene of Social Media Marketing for over 6 years for one of the leading telecommunications company in Sri Lanka and is among the elite group of few Sri Lankan marketers who can really boast for having hands on experience in Social Media Marketing for more than 5 years.

Outline content of the workshop will be more or less be the same as in last two versions of the Boot Camp. If you have participated in any of the previous Social Media Marketing Boot Camp sessions I conducted through eBusiness Acadamy, you are recommended not to register for this event. (Instead, I would be really grateful to you if you could recommend this workshop to someone who has not participated in the Boot Camp before). This time too the venue for the workshop will be Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo. Reserve your calendar for 14th November 2015 and wait until EBA opens the registrations for the event.

As far as I know, there going to be an attractive 2 in 1 offer for early registrants to the event :-)

You can buy one ticket to the workshop and bring a friend or a colleague 100% free of charge. This will be a limited time offer open for only a few hours of the registrations opening day, and only for a limited number of seats.

Please keep an eye on all updates coming from me and EBA to know more about this special early bird deal!

Click here to see the workshop details.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Should Companies Restrict Employees Use of Social Media?

I recently met a university batch mate of mine, who is now in the field of HR. While discussing where we are and what we do now, eventually it opened up for a very fruitful discussion on the topic of role of social media in the field of HRM. 

My friend complained social networks as a productivity killer and something, which all companies should get rid of at all costs. This did not surprise me at all, as this used to be the same sentiment I noticed from all HR professionals I meet. In fact, it is not an opinion limited to HR professionals, but also a common belief among most of the senior level executives in many companies I know. Surprisingly enough, these executives somehow agree with me more often than not, about the value of social media as a marketing communications channel. They never show any doubts about using Facebook and Twitter for brand building, customer care or lead generation. They are always very keen in learning more about social media as a marketing tool.
Friday, May 1, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

Five Trusted Ways You Can Help Nepal Earthquake Victims Online

If you are like me, who is saddened by the natural disaster in Nepal and looking for ways you can help the victims, here are five trusted charities you can do online donations.

Help Nepal Network is a local charity network in Nepal operating since 1999. After the disaster strike, they have opened a PayPal donation link on their home page through which you can make a donation starting from US$1.Click here to donate.

Oxfam America has opened an online donation link as well, through which you can make monetary contributions to relief efforts they are rolling out in Nepal. Click here to donate.

Save The Children charity organization has opened an online donation link too. Click here to contribute to Nepal Earthquake victims through Save the Children

UNICEF as an agency of United Nation is a trusted source you may use to make donations starting from US$50. Please click here to accesstheir donation link.

Care International has put up an online donation option on their home page. Simply visit their home page on care.org and fill the donation form.

Yesterday Sri Lanka embassy in Nepal established a hotline for any inquiries about Sri Lankans in Nepal. Call 0097 79851020057 to access this hotline.

A friend on Facebook shared this message. Apparently, Sri Lanka government is looking for volunteers to participate in Sri Lankan help mission in Nepal which is already in operation.
“Volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics needed. [Please share] Prime Minister's Office of Sri Lanka is coordinating the logistics of flying out urgent help to the victims of the earthquake in Katmandu. If you are any of the above medical professionals willing to volunteer please call 071 249 248”
This morning it was reported that the first emergency rescue team of 44 soldiers &4 Doctors, aboard an SLAF flight leaves for Nepal.

Please update in the comments section any other methods people may help the earthquake victims in Nepal.

Sunday, April 26, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

HTC Desire 620G Review – Good Value for Money with Few Minor Bugs

Last month I switched my mobile phone from Samsung to HTC. This was after using two different Samsung devices and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as my tablet (still using it) for three consecutive years since I switched from HTC WildFire to Samsung S-Duos 1 in 2012. This time I bought the HTC Desire 620G, which was officially launched in December last year. Here is my small review about what I experienced and what to expect.

First of all, it’s an Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) device with dual SIM capability. When selecting a smartphone, dual SIM capability has become a mandatory requirement for me as I have to carry around my official phone number (paid by my employer) and the personal one I use for last 10 years. It’s a headache to carry around two phones and it’s too expensive to maintain two different smartphones as well. 
I am not going to talk about the technical specs of the phone as everything can be easily accessed on GSMArena.com. Let me focus more on the usability and other key features.
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

How Do I Change the Name of My Facebook Fan Page? (After Reaching 200 Fans)

The name of your Facebook fan page cannot change once it reaches 200 fans (likes). This is what we all know about changing names of Facebook fan pages. However what if you genuinely want to change the name of your Facebook fan page due to various reasons, including but not limiting to things like a small typo in your page name, or change of business names?

There can be several such legitimate reasons why someone would want to change the name of their Facebook fan page. In my career I have faced this questions multiple times from my clients; ‘How to change the name of my Facebook fan page after it reaches 200 fans?’ or ‘can I change the name of my Facebook fan page?’ I used to say this is not possible, unless you get hold of someone at Facebook directly to do this.

However, lately Facebook has enabled a new option which allows page admins to change the name of their Facebook fan pages. Good news right? Now hear the bad news (read on, I have another good news after this). As of today (21st April 2015), this feature is only rolled out for page admins residing in USA, Canada and a very limited list of other countries. If you are a Facebook fan page admin based in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan or any other Asian country you will not be able to access this facility through your admin panel.

Let’s get to the other good news. I managed to get the name of my blog’s Facebook fan page changed! As you already know, I’m based out of Colombo Sri Lanka but still I managed to get this done. Facebook fan page of my blog used to be “Amis Space – Marketing 2.0” but if you check the fan page now, you will see the page name is now changed to “Amitha Amarasinghe”.
How did I do this? How did I change the Facebook fan page name after reaching more than 200 fans (1,450 to be precise)?

There is a small workaround which I am happy to share with you, but I will only share the trick with those of you who are really interested knowing it. If you practically have a requirement to change the name of a Facebook fan page, all you have to do is dropping me a tweet on @Amisampath. If you are not on Twitter, the second method is to leave a comment or a wall post on my Facebook fan page. If all these two methods are not working for you, the last option (least preferred for me) is to dropping me an email to the address encoded in “Contact Me” tab on this blog. I’m very slow to respond emails, so first two options would probably work faster.

NOTE: I'm not going to charge you a service fee or anything for sharing this work around. You may find this same method elsewhere on the internet. My past experience is, once you share something like those too often on too many sites, 'someone' will introduce a fix for that workaround. That's the reason why I don't want this to be published publicly on my blog.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

How Credible is Brand Finance Lanka Ltd’s List of Sri Lankan Superbrands?

Recently I stumbled upon  this article on Daily FT containing a list of ‘Sri Lanka’s superbrands of the year’. The list was published by a company named Brand Finance Lanka Ltd., the local subsidiary of Brand Finance PLC who claims to be the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy.
On their website they say, the reports they publish are used for various business needs such as technical valuations for accounting, tax and legal purposes, valuations in support of commercial transactions (acquisitions, divestments, licensing and joint ventures) involving different forms of intellectual property and valuations as part of a wider mandate to deliver value-based marketing strategy and tracking, thereby bridging the gap between marketing and finance.

All are valid reasons why the corporate world should access and trust their reports. However, reading through the article on Daily FT I found this interesting list published by them with the title “Strongest Digital Marketing Brands in Sri Lanka”.

Managing Director of the company which published this report comments on the achievements of Kapruka and Dialog.
“Think Kapruka. And it requires a sustained and long term commitment to ensure it continues to generate value. Think Dialog. Taking the long view is key to building brands because of the time it takes to nurture and develop them.”
All this expert commentary is made about a list they composed using Facebook likes! I have no doubts Kapuka is a great local brand which made a massive progress as a dot com business. Dialog, we all can agree is one of the best case studies of how to build a strong brand. But is “Facebook Likes” the only factor Brand Finance Lanka Ltd could think of as proof to validate the success of Kapruka and Dialog?

To compile a list of ‘Strongest Digital Marketing Brands’ a research agency must use better credible criteria than Facebook fan count. Even a grade 10 schoolboy can put up a list like that using the free version of SocialBakers analytics. Is that the quality the corporate world can expect from a world renowned brand valuation consultancy?

Ok, assuming that Facebook like count is a strong enough criteria to put up a list like this, now let’s dig deeper into the fan count reported for few of the brands in top 5 brands published in Brand Finance Lanka’s list of ‘Strongest Digital Marketing Brands in Sri Lanka’.

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From what we can see on this SocialBakers analysis of Dilmah fan base, majority of their fans are from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia and Egypt. Dilmah being a global brand targeting multiple markets is reasonable to have more non-Sri Lankan fans on their global fan page. However, my little knowledge about Ceylon tea tells me the market for Ceylon tea is largely from countries like Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, UK and Australia. Maybe Dilmah’s international markets are different, and ironically their most popular markets seems to be the same list of countries which are famous for Facebook “Like Farms” as exposed on this YouTube video.

That’s about Dilmah and let’s now look at a comparatively a more local brand. I don’t think we have any ambiguity about Mobitel’s target markets.

Click to Enlarge

According to this analysis, looks like 28% of Mobitel’s fans are non-Sri Lankans, quite significant amount for a brand predominantly targeting Sri Lanka. If it was 10% we would have concluded it’s by accident, but 28% fans from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India seems to be something which Mobitel did by choice.

About a year ago a blogger named ‘Veritasium’ published this video titled ‘Facebook Fraud’.

In this video (which was watched by over 3 million people since uploading) he explains how freelancers based in third world countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Philippines, Turkey, India and of course Sri Lanka are making money by selling fake likes to brands world over. Go to Fiverr.com and you will find dozens of freelancers who would offer you 10,000 likes for anything you have on Facebook for an investment of just US$5.

Maybe the brands listed on Brand Finance Lanka Ltd.’s list have not purchased fake likes from these like farms. But there’s another side to it. They would have most probably targeted their legitimate Facebook ads campaigns to one or more of these geographies. When you set your Facebook ads goal to “more likes for my page” and let Facebook decide where to target your ads, the Facebook ads algorithm will automatically deliver your ads to the users who are most biased to click “Like” button on anything they see on Facebook (based on past behavior).  Unfortunately, the fake FB accounts from that third world like farms are doing only one job from morning to night; clicking on “like” buttons. Automatically, your FB ads campaigns now get targeted to the FB accounts created for like farms and they will click on your ad and like your page, just to make sure that there have “variety” in the things that they like (to fool the Facebook system, to show that they are not only liking content from certain FB pages only). In the end, your page will accumulate thousands of fake likes from these farms. If your aim is to achieve that one KPI of hitting X number of fans before your competitor does the same; yes this is an easy tactic to impress your CEO.

It’s obvious that the people who composed the list of ‘Strongest Digital Marketing Brands in Sri Lanka’ at Brand Finance Lanka Ltd, has no clue about this reality about Facebook likes. It’s ok to be ignorant about something but it’s not cool to assume rest of the country is ignorant about it too and that’s exactly what BFL did. They would have thought, nobody will suspect the credibility of our list and simply went ahead and published a report without proper substance.

Bigger issue here is something else. It’s clear Brand Finance Lanka did a low quality job in selecting the strongest digital marketing brands in Sri Lanka. Then, how can we believe their other lists? What if all their other lists too lacking a mix of credible criteria to evaluate the brand worth? What if those lists too are done in a hurry, by just looking at surface level criteria? Should the corporate world base their business decisions on such a substandard list of superbrands? Where is the credibility?

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Posted by Amitha Amarasinghe

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