Marketing professionals shouldn’t undervalue their roles

Mahesh Swar is the President of Nepalese Marketing Association (NMA) and Chief Executive Officer of Kantipur Publications, the country’s leading publication house. Swar, as a management professional, believes in dynamism of the leadership in institutional building. He is the founding president of NMA – umbrella network of marketing professionals – established two years back with an aim to enhance the capacity of marketing professionals to advance their personal and professional career, and to promote the integration of ethical issues and general marketing practices in the country. The HRM caught up with Swar to learn about the different dimensions of the marketing profession in Nepal and how NMA has been prioritizing that. Excerpts:

Q: What is the main objective of uniting marketing professionals under the umbrella of Nepalese Marketing Association? What are the major priorities of the organisation?
A: When we started NMA our primary objective was not only to integrate the term ‘marketing’ but also to ensure that the fundamental importance of marketing is acknowledged by everyone, especially the policymakers, bureaucrats, and organisations. Marketing plays a crucial role in developing any economy and fostering its growth. Despite the pivotal role marketing plays in shaping economies, its recognition is still lacking in the context of Nepal.

In every type of organisation, there is an individual, directly or indirectly, holding the position of the business leader. However, these individuals often find themselves undervalued in their roles, leading to the organisation missing out on realising its full potential. Recognising this gap, we thought why not bring together professionals from diverse organisations including those involved in teaching at various universities and colleges? Our aim was to create a collective force that could collaboratively brainstorm, discuss and work towards bringing marketing into the limelight.

Q: How is Nepalese Marketing Association different from other professional organisations?
A: Unlike professions such as doctors, chartered accountants and engineers, where individuals sign up and earn recognition in their respective fields, marketing professionals often work in diverse organisations or run their own businesses. In contrast to professions like doctors and engineers, who are widely recognised by the general public, individuals with an MBA in marketing do not enjoy the same level of visibility. NMA recognises the unique challenges faced by marketing professionals and seeks to address this disparity. Marketing, as a discipline, extends beyond the confines of individual organisations or societies; it is a driving force for the overall development of the country. NMA recognises that marketing’s influence is not confined to individual careers but has a significant role in shaping the economic landscape of the entire nation.

Q: What are the emerging challenges and also opportunities that you see in the marketing profession?
A: One of the primary challenges facing the marketing profession is the lack of recognition of the profession as a key discipline. Despite the universal need for marketing professionals across various sectors such as hotels, travel agencies and hospitals, there is a pervasive undervaluation of the importance of marketing. Here, maybe creating that importance is one of the big challenges and at the same time creating that importance within the owners and employers is another obstacle. Moreover, marketing professionals encounter the challenge of having to strengthen their proficiency and efficiency. Marketing is not merely a theoretical subject; it involves extensive research, tracks global trends and foresees future developments in businesses and markets. Unfortunately, the gravity of these responsibilities is often underestimated. Regretfully, people tend to underestimate the importance of these responsibilities.

The world is becoming more complicated these days, with audiences becoming more complex, consumers becoming confused and manufacturers unsure of what to produce, who to produce it for, and how to produce it. Additionally, manufacturers are unsure of what to serve, whom to serve it to, and where to serve it. Fortunately, all these uncertainties give opportunity to marketers. Furthermore, new opportunities are being created by the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in the digital sphere. AI can be used by marketers to improve their abilities and expertise, giving them a competitive advantage in the market. The fusion of marketing acumen with AI capabilities holds the potential to revolutionise the way businesses understand and connect with their target audiences, making marketers instrumental in navigating the evolving landscape successfully.

Q: How do you see the impact of technological disruptions in this profession; for instance, digital marketing has set a new trend?
A: I believe disruptions are not necessarily negative. Amidst the digital transformations, the integration of AI serves as a beneficial tool for professional marketers. It is not hurting me but is complementing me to be a better person to drive positive outcomes. Ultimately, what manufacturers, service sectors, and employers seek is an improved outcome. They require a deeper understanding of the market, customers and products. The incorporation of AI in digital processes is set to alter the dynamics and individuals armed with both technological tools and marketing expertise can wield a transformative influence.

Q: In your opinion, how should the private sector/companies treat this job?
A: It is crucial to take marketing professionals seriously and provide them with opportunities to conduct research, acquire practical knowledge and encourage innovative thinking. Marketing professionals play a pivotal role in building and maintaining a brand and their primary responsibility is to understand consumers. Their decision-making is integral to the success of the company, as the livelihood of the business depends on their choices. Companies must recognise that the stakes are high for marketing professionals – a misstep in decision-making can have adverse effects, potentially resulting in market setbacks. While these professionals strive to stay updated and make the right decisions, it is essential to acknowledge that, like any other field, mistakes can occur.

Q: Are there any policies that you would like to recommend to the government to strengthen this profession?
A: I believe something else holds more importance before formulating policies. When devising Nepal’s budget, engaging in discussions at the Nepal Planning Commission, getting into conversations at the Finance Ministry, and exploring perspectives at the Ministry of Tourism, it is essential not to overlook the significance of involving marketing professionals in these crucial decision-making processes. Neglecting the team responsible for planning the future of businesses is counterproductive when aiming for economic development.

Hence, I urge the government, particularly the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, and National Planning Commission, to recognise the importance of marketing professionals. These professionals should be taken seriously and given a seat at the table in these discussions. Consider, for instance, the scenario of an Investment Summit in Nepal – the input of marketing professionals becomes indispensable in such events. Ultimately, whether it is a product, service, or the country itself, effective marketing is crucial. Therefore, I say before the policy, the mindset needs to be changed.

Q: Advertisement is one of the major components of any media house’s revenue however, the businesses have started push selling by incentivising their distributors (providing incentive tour packages and others) instead of advertising. As someone who has been involved in the media sector for quite a considerable time, how do you observe this development?
A: This is indeed a tool. Two commonly employed strategies are push and pull. The push strategy engages intermediaries, retailers and traders by offering incentives such as discounts or overseas opportunities. Consider a product priced at Rs 100, a scheme is devised where Rs 20 is taken, additional expenses are incorporated, and a promotional offer for travel is added. Although the retail price remains Rs 100, the manufacturing and intermediary costs decrease. Eventually, manufacturers receive the final price, making traders influential in this scenario.

Another example involves Trader A selling noodles in six community shops with a 25% commission. When Trader B enters, offering a different product with a 40% commission, the trade-oriented push factor activates, making the trader switch. As consumers are unaware of the variety available, they accept whatever the shopkeeper provides. This dynamic is evident in the oil market where consumers ask for sunflower oil without specifying the brand, enabling trade-oriented push strategies to dominate. In such scenarios, product quality and service suffer due to consumer price sensitivity. The absence of a pull factor, where consumers actively seek specific brands, contributes to this issue. If the emphasis remains on the trade-oriented push factor, the product cost increases as trade dominates.

However, Coca-Cola employs a pull factor by promoting its product directly to consumers. It prioritises consumer preferences over trade, recognising that consumers are the true influencers in the market, not traders.

Q: Is the business model adopted by media companies, where they offer products or services to consumers for free and offset the costs through third-party sponsorships, sustainable in the long term?
A: Media generates revenue from two sources: subscriptions, contributing 20%, and advertising, accounting for 80%. Presently, Nepali media is predominantly driven by advertising. Recently, a noticeable trend has emerged with sponsors becoming more prevalent, especially in events and reality shows.
Previously, events or reality shows could be sold for Rs 50 lakhs, but now they are being sold for Rs 2 crores. In this scenario, sponsors paying a premium receive Free Commercial Time (FCT) or free paper space as an additional benefit. Media meticulously calculates the cost of the event or reality show and simultaneously evaluates the cost of providing FCT or free paper space. Advertisers perceive this dual-component approach as a win-win situation. They believe that sponsoring such events or reality shows is highly worthwhile.

Modern media employs a platform-based calculation strategy, considering radio, TV, print, social media and more. If sponsors view the value provided as mutually beneficial, they are inclined to establish a more collaborative relationship with the company. In the current challenging times, delivering substantial value, attracting advertisers and engaging the retail sector signify success for a media entity.

Q: What role can marketing professionals or NMA play in ensuring/enhancing quality of products and services?
A: It is a little early for NMA to offer guidance to manufacturers, advertisers and service sectors, given that we are a relatively young organisation, having been established only two years ago. Our strategy involves collaborating closely with influential bodies such as the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Nepalese Industries and Nepal Chamber of Commerce. Regardless of the nature of activities within the service and product sectors, consumers play a pivotal role and their significance cannot be overlooked.

When striving for quality and promoting products to consumers, the involvement of marketing professionals becomes essential. The challenge for investors and manufacturers lies in retaining their buyers and consumers. During such critical times, NMA’s role is to ensure that the reputation remains intact. Achieving this objective requires enhanced knowledge and understanding, a task made possible by leveraging the collective expertise of various organisations. The disseminated information becomes a valuable tool for organisations and service sectors alike.

Although our organisation is currently in a position to assist entrepreneurs by providing databases, we acknowledge that we have yet to reach a stage where we can fully fulfil this role. We anticipate evolving to a more comprehensive capability in the future.

Q: As a marketing professional and President of Nepalese Marketing Association, what are your recommendations for creating an environment where more enterprises can be established and operated?
A: Let us take tourism-related enterprises for example. I would characterise our country as an organic boutique in itself. While we travel to Israel to obtain Fuller’s Earth multani mitti, our own organic dust remains an untapped resource. The entire environment in Nepal is inherently organic. In this context, individuals are spending significant amounts abroad without exploring the beauty within our own borders. After exploring the breathtaking Sindhupalchowk Raithane valley, a mere two-hour drive from Kathmandu, I find myself pondering: Why not invest my 20 lakhs here? By doing so, I could actively contribute to the local community while keeping a watchful eye on potential returns.

Q: Tourism stands as one of the most lucrative revenue streams for Nepal. As an entrepreneur, I see potential in introducing tea or coffee in Kathmandu. Considering that 12-15 flights depart for the Middle East from Kathmandu daily, with both manpower going and returning, it is evident that they have explored that market. Why haven’t we tapped into that market yet? Why limit ourselves to India and China when the Middle East represents a substantial market with a familiarity with Nepali people?
A: Imagine the sales potential of dalle khursani (fireball chilli). While the Middle East has a taste distinct from ours, it aligns with the Indian taste, providing an opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop small enterprises that cater to the Middle Eastern market. Although we may not have an abundance of agricultural items, we possess unique and limited products that we should appreciate and value. A consumer in Dubai should feel that what they are consuming is a limited edition product from Nepal, elevating our products to a customised series collection of international standards

Q: What advice would you like to give to youths wanting to join this profession?
A: This is a profession that finds its place in every type of organisation, including hospitals, nursing, travel agencies, colleges, media, manufacturing, service sectors and even I/NGOs, where individuals working in business development are indispensable. Almost every organisation prioritises revenue generation, and to achieve this, the expertise of a marketing professional is essential. In this regard, this versatile professional can seamlessly fit into various industries. However, it is crucial to emphasise the importance of possessing the requisite knowledge and understanding in order to excel in this role.

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