5 Myths about Digital Marketing in Sri Lanka

Did you know that if Facebook is a radio station, it will be the No 1 or No 2 radio station in Sri Lanka? (With over 3.9 million listeners). Did you know that internet can reach up to 50% of the total TV viewers in Sri Lanka? Did you know that some of the niche websites operating in Sri Lanka can reach a bigger audience than some of those niche print magazines in Sri Lanka?
These are only some of the lesser known facts about how powerful the internet as a mass communications medium in Sri Lanka. Even though the numbers reveal this, the popular belief among marketers in Sri Lanka is that the internet and digital channels are way too insignificant in their impact, in comparison to the traditional channels of mass communications.
Here are some of the popular myths about Digital Media and Digital Marketing in Sri Lanka.
1. Digital is a Low Reach Medium
I’ve already debunked this myth in my opening paragraph. Internet as a medium has grown at a significant rate of 20% to 25% year over year during last 5 to 6 years, but the awareness and knowledge about digital media among our marketers hasn’t grown that fast. That’s why in people’s perception, the picture about the media landscape in Sri Lanka is good five years outdated. In fact, Facebook can do a bigger marketing impact for your brand than the top 5 English language radio stations in Sri Lanka, if your target audience is SEC A,B English speaking Colombo upper middle class. But yet, some companies are spending 20 times bigger budgets on these radio stations in comparison to what they spend entirely on digital. There are estimated 7.4 million internet users in Sri Lanka, and 3.9 million of them are engaging with Facebook at least once a month.
2. Social Media is a Youth Phenomenon
“ My TG is more matured and affluent people. I don’t want to waste my budgets on Social Network sites frequented by a bunch of teenagers who live purely on their parent’s money”. This is a common expression I hear when speaking to people about Social Media, and this is the no 2 most inaccurate assumption about digital media in Sri Lanka.
In reality, 53% of all Facebook users in Sri Lanka are aged 25 or more. Only 19% of all the Facebook users in Sri Lanka are aged 13 to 19 (teenagers). Contrary to popular belief, housewives are one of the most active content contributors on Facebook who shares lots of content on public Facebook groups.
We ran a lead generation campaign for one of our clients, targeting Sri Lankan pensioners (aged 55+). That Facebook campaign was performing better in terms of generating inquiries about the service offered by our client, than the newspaper ads they published for the same campaign. They spent 10 times the budget they spent on Facebook, to buy these newspaper space. There are over 100,000 Sri Lankans aged 55 or more active on Facebook.
If your audience is the “achievers”, aged 39 to 50 to sell your high value high involvement product (a luxury car?, a luxury apartment?), then there are 340,000 Sri Lankans in that age range active on Facebook. If you convert 1% of them to buy your high involvement, high value product, it would easily hit your annual sales target wouldn’t it?
3. Digital Can Only Reach the Urban People
This is another popular myth about digital in Sri Lanka. “My TG lives in Kakirawa or Bibiley. Those people aren’t on Facebook”.
Did you know that 63% of all Sri Lankan internet visits happen on a mobile device? Did you know that Sinhala language websites attracts more traffic in the recent past than English language websites? The reason is quite simple. With the mobile devices and data prices becoming lower and lower every day, more and more rural people can afford to have internet connectivity. A recent chat I had with few top executives from Ikman.lk (Sri Lanka’s most popular classified site) revealed to me that most of their newly acquired users are increasingly from out of Colombo or out of Western Province. A quick search on Facebook for the keyword “Matara” returns more than 100 groups, and some of them are having more than 20,000 members and highly active. If a brand can get into some of these communities, they can reach to these rural and sub-urban markets through social media led word of mouth.
4. Digital Media is Cheap
Despite the fact that internet can reach up to the 50% of total audience of TV in Sri Lanka, less than 3% of the size of the TV ad budget is allocated by brands for digital media. The reason is, there’s this popular belief that “Digital Media is Cheap. You can reach the entire internet with couple of hundred thousands of rupees”.
I see this as people confusing “scalability” for being “cheap”. There is a fundamental difference between a medium being ‘scalable’ and being ‘cheap’. A scalable medium is something you can start with a total budget of US$5 and then scale it up to US$5 million. In fact, you can run a Facebook ad campaign with a total budget of 5 dollars, but it won’t obviously give you the same results as a campaign done with a 5 million budget. Whereas on TV, the station will laugh at you if you say your total ad budget is just 5 dollars. TV, Radio, Print…. These are not scalable mediums. You need a certain minimum budget commitments. But on the internet, most advertising tools are scalable. You are not committing a certain amount of money to anyone.  You can start your campaign with a decent budget, and if you see positive results you can scale it up by adding more budgets on the go. If you see your campaign doesn’t deliver what you want, you can immediately pause the campaign and invest that budget in somewhere else it can work. There won’t be anyone to hold you against the wall saying “you committed for a minimum 10 million budget!”.
5. Social Media is Free
Most people believe in this notion that ‘social media is free’.
“Facebook doesn’t charge for having a brand page on their platform, so why your agency charge such a high fee for maintaining our Facebook page?”. This is a feedback I usually get from new clients we approach.
Most people believe, simply because the platforms are free on Social Networking sites, the marketing activities on such networks have to be free too. The reality is far from this. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and almost all Social Networking sites have deployed strict guidelines and policies how you can use their platforms for marketing activities. For example, if you are accessing the Facebook or Twitter API for a social media monitoring process or post scheduling, there is a limit you can use their API’s completely free. Beyond that point they charge the tool vendors a fee, and that fee has to be incorporated into a client’s Social Media marketing spends. On top of this, managing Social Media for a brand requires qualified people. People qualified in branding and marketing, who has a proper sense to use Social media in a marketing context. Such competent talent is hard to find in Sri Lanka, and obviously such talent doesn’t come cheap. These are the reasons why a decent Social Media agency has to charge a sizeable fee to deliver a good quality service to their clients.
These are just five points I noticed over the time, working in the field of digital marketing in Sri Lanka for over 10 years. Are there any more myths like these? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment with your experiences.
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