New Technologies Have Changed E-payment System- Cherry Eromosele, CMO, Interswitch
Cherry Eromosele is the Chief Marketing Officer of Interswitch Limited, in this interview with Brand Communicator, she talks about e-payment system, e-commerce, marketing communications and other sundry issues.
With your career spanning various sectors of the economy and having related with agencies through the years, how will you assess the quality of craft of Nigerian marketing communications agencies?
The pragmatic answer to your question is that it is really a mix of sentiments…Personally, I don’t think we have reached a point of utopia yet, but at the same time, we have quite a number of agencies who are doing great work out there. My general perspective is that agencies still need to up their game particularly in a landscape that’s becoming much more demanding of strategic input, analytical thinking and accountability. The good thing is that access to best-in-class knowledge and global best practices is easily available due to increasing globalization, so we have no excuses as marketing people not to benchmark ourselves with the very best from anywhere in the world, this is not to discount certain environmental challenges that are peculiar to us in emerging markets, but then again this is what some agencies in other emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Mexico have turned into opportunities and are thereby able to compete toe-to-toe with agencies from the West, so there is still a lot of opportunity out there for local agencies to shore up.
As a professional on the client-side, what are the key areas of improvements for Nigerian agencies to meet up with global best practices?
There is indeed room for improvement in terms of both the strategic and execution/implementation-related capabilities. Intrinsic understanding of the clients’ business has become imperative, which means that more is expected of an agency today in terms of marketing and competitive strategy input. I should also say at this point that it is not only about the agencies….marketers on the client side also need to re-appraise and re-tool for the future, as an agency invariably is only as good as it’s client can get.
As a seasoned marketing professional, what is the most effective tool for consumer engagement in the 21st century?
I wouldn’t like to restrict this to any ‘one-size-fits-all prescription’ or suggest there is a ‘silver bullet’ kind of tool, and this is because marketing is so dynamic and many dependencies come into play, which is where strategy and differentiation become relevant. Speaking about consumer engagement, what I would rather advocate is an approach, or if you may, a philosophy, rather than a tool/channel. Once you get the over-arching philosophy right, then it guides you in selecting the most effective array of tools/channels to drive optimal returns. One clear thing I can say however is that it is more about co-creation and a collaborative approach to marketing and brand management, that is also essentially built around a deep and compelling brand philosophy that can then be brought to life with inspiring stories and tools/channels that are relevant and interesting to the target audience. Like they say, the message is becoming the medium!
With the evolution of digital media and the gradual shift in marketing spend in that direction, some school of thought has it that traditional media (especially print media) might go to extinction, what is your take on this?
Absolutely not! No pragmatic marketing person will categorically assert that traditional media channels/tools will die just like that. Advertising will continue to remain relevant not only because it continues to have an ‘entertainment’ value, but also because it remains effective in reaching certain consumer segments depending on their characteristics/location etc. For example, take a look at the ‘Super Bowl’ Adverts in the U.S.A…this is traditional advertising at its best…it’s become a historical event and will continue to be, with major brands investing millions of dollars in creating content for it….Global brands, even as they continue to re-appraise their marketing mixes will continue to utilize traditional advertising to complement new/digital media – in the end, the ideal goal should be meaningful integration of what goes on both online and offline. While traditional media will not ‘die’, what is happening is only that more integration, more effectiveness and more accountability is being demanded of it, which is only perfectly normal given how things have evolved in marketing science and practice.
The e-payment solutions industry was almost non-existent prior to 2002. How will you assess its stride over the years?
Indeed the growth of the e-payment industry in Nigeria is closely intertwined with our brand story at Interswitch. Interswitch started business in the year 2002. About two years before our arrival on the scene, the ICT landscape was still virtually untapped with relatively dismal technology adoption a meagre estimation of only about 200,000 Nigerians connected to the internet. Banks moved money at high costs and, this stimulated attendant risks as individuals were still disposed to carrying large amounts across short and long distances via various means of transport. Such a culture was rather baffling given the successful implementation of cashless cultures in other countries, and that is where Interswitch succeeded in gradually helping to re-define the disposition of Nigerians towards transactions. Today, the game has been remarkably changed with the consistent introduction of new technologies and processes that have oriented Nigerian customers, companies and the government on the advantages of a cashless system. We are relentless at Interswitch on our mission of facilitating the electronic exchange of money and transfer of value among all and sundry on a timely and consistent basis.
What impact has E-commerce made on the business climate in Nigeria?
I think it has definitely made great impact. Even though research reveals that most Africans still prefer to pay for goods and services at sight, the number of customers who now believe in e-payments has definitely increased, and even more are now comfortable to at least shop online…Aside from generating employment, this has had tremendous multiplier effects on many sectors of the economy – on the logistics/delivery industry, on the advertising/marcomms industry, on fashion etc. What it is now is that the advent of e-commerce is lowering the barriers to entry for many start-ups and SMEs, enabling them to compete more effectively and even to disrupt more established businesses
With the influx of multinational e-commerce companies into the Nigerian market, there are speculations that their presence in the country will affect the local e-commerce companies. Do you agree with this?
(Laughs) This is not unlikely, because the word ‘affect’ which you used can be dimensioned along either positive or negative lines – so while it would definitely affect local e-commerce companies, the impact will be positive or incremental for some, and may be unavoidably negative for some others. There will definitely be mergers and acquisitions for instance. It’s like when they say the character in written Chinese for ‘crisis’ is the same as that for ‘opportunity’.
Does the growth of e-commerce portend an end in sight for traditional buying and selling?
Not at all, in my estimation. It is interesting to note that what goes on behind the scenes of the ‘e-commerce’ transactions is still at it’s very basic level traditional buying and selling…it is just that at some strategic points in the trade and distribution value chain, innovation has occurred and technology is being used to optimize processes all to the benefit of consumers and customers. Again, not every single member of the population will adopt e-commerce, and even when they do, it is not at the same pace, so traditional buying and selling would still have a place in the scheme of things.
With the dwindling ad spend locally and internationally, what do you think are the implications of this on the Integrated Marketing and Communications business in Nigeria?
I may have touched lightly on this in the earlier parts of this conversation, and I’ll re-iterate that the implications are not far-fetched. Today, the ‘A’ in marketing, more than ever before has come to stand for ‘Accountability’. More often than not (and this is an unfortunate aberration based on gaps that exist in understanding of the strategic importance of marketing and brand-building by organizational leadership), allocation of resources to marketing and communication are viewed more as expense than investment…so the onus has become more impressed on brand custodians to find empirical tools and evidence to justify that the investments in marketing campaigns are indeed paying off and contributing to business growth.
What are your projections for the electronic payment industry in the next few years?
Some industry analysts are estimating that globally, e-commerce is set to grow by about 25% over the next year, and indications from what’s playing out in emerging markets (like Nigeria, and of course China, with Ali Baba) make this projections fairly believable. Any serious player in any sector of the Nigerian economy will therefore be looking to see what implications this realization will have for their existing business models. The trend in the e-payments space will definitely be moderated by what happens in the larger e-commerce space, as both are closely inter-twined, so there will definitely be a lot of innovation as far as e-payments will be concerned, and that’s the space in which we play at Interswitch. This realization has been the impetus driving some of the new solutions you have seen from us in recent time.