| Innovation is About solving A Human Problem |

Mr. Zaved Akhter is one of the thought leaders in marketing in this country. He is currently the Marketing Transformation Director of Unilever’s South Asia region. In his marketing career spanning more than 20 years, He has worked at Unilever for more than 17 years. Prior to that, he has worked for British American Tobacco.

In an era where technology offers many opportunities and solutions, we all too often forget to focus on the needs and pains of people. It doesn’t matter if you are building an app, making a product or developing marketing strategies, every solution should address a human problem.

This was a key realization of one of the inspiring thought leaders of our generation, Mr. Zaved Akhtar, Director, Marketing Transformation at Unilever South Asia, who shared his journey with us, talking about innovation and how marketing has changed in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In his vast experience of 20 years in marketing in Bangladesh, Mr. Zaved has nurtured several brands and has experienced the change in people’s mindset, lifestyle and most importantly impact of innovation in their lives. After completing his Bachelor’s from IBA, University of Dhaka, Mr. Zaved joined BAT and was associated there for 3 years. He then left BAT to join Unilever, where he has been working in the marketing department for the last 17 years. According to his experience, marketing has changed dramatically since his early days: marketing has become extremely digitized and consumers are now exposed to many different media platforms. “At one point I had only one challenge which was to spread commercials on television. Now we also have digital media: we’ve got Facebook, we’ve got Google, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter… Now how do you really do marketing in a connected world?” The world is moving so fast now and people have so many options available that marketers often struggle to understand the right strategy to win their mind space. Continuous innovation is the only way to have competitive advantage in the market. But often our innovations fail because we fail to address the right problem.

Traditional marketing revolved around television and radio, whereas now in the era of innovation marketing teams have to plan for mobile communications, social media and e-commerce and every other way possible to reach the target group. But the rise of digital media, or any other tools are not the only challenges for marketing. Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and predictive analytics are also having a huge impact on marketing. These emerging technologies mark the advent of what is called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to Mr. Zaved, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just coming, it’s here already. Many companies like Google and Facebook use artificial intelligence and big data, and the question is how to use the enormous amounts of available data to find trends for marketing.” Mr. Zaved himself is leading a team at Unilever and working on projects that analyze large amounts of data and environmental cues to understand the next big trend. He believes that digital platforms on e-commerce and social media could make use of algorithms and analytics to provide more powerful marketing campaigns. “Many companies are already working on this,” he said, “and this will change the face of marketing within the next 5 years.”

How can one prepare for such rapid changes? The lead time for innovation has diminished significantly – what used to take years to innovate now takes months. “There was a time when innovation was only for the R&D team,” said Mr. Zaved. “You needed a PhD to innovate. Now innovation is coming from every corner of the world.” He believes that innovation is no more just about developing the technology. It is fundamental that innovators address a human problem: “If you can solve a human problem, then you will be a successful innovator, and you don’t need a degree to do this anymore.” Technologies will continuously evolve, offering new solutions and opportunities, but it is important to understand the consumer problem and doing so will naturally lead to a proper solution.

This philosophy of understanding and solving a human problem is a key part of marketing. Mr. Zaved elaborates on this, “We used to think that marketing is all about how you sell a product to a person. Today, a large chunk of marketing is about purpose. Each and every brand makes a promise and has a responsibility. You cannot run a business without delivering on the promise of your brand.”

Good marketing strategies rely on understanding core consumer needs, which Mr. Zaved learned from many challenges during his work at both BAT and Unilever. “When I was at BAT as a brand manager, I launched a brand called ‘John Player Newly Cut,’ but it was not successful and I had to withdraw it from the market.” He attributes the failure to not being able to understand his target consumers. “When I was launching the brand, I was the most confident person. I was excited with what I had, but the reality is unless you know and solve the consumer problem, you will never be successful.”

His experiences have taught him to stay humble: “Humility is an important trait to have in the innovation space. At one point I thought I had acquired enough skills and there was nothing left for me to learn. But reality is different.” In every kind of innovation where the challenge is to create something for the unknown, one should keep their feet on the ground and stay connected. “There’s always something to learn, and that is what drives me on.”

His opinions on innovation and future of marketing were a great learning for us. We believe the future is bright if we adapt with change and learn the skills required for progress. At Toru we say that in the future, to lead from the front, one must nurture the innovator’s mindset. This will help them understand the right human problems and solve them based on empathy and experimentations.

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