COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on markets and people’s lives on a global scale. This upheaval was unusual and underappreciated, forcing marketers to rethink how they reach out to customers and market to them. After months of being in lockdown in most parts of the world, brands face a harsh reality: the impact of the “new normal” – which is far from ordinary – on markets and human behaviour is considerable, and there will be a long time of uncertainty. 

In an era of homebound clients, physical separation, and an unstable environment that forced many businesses into crisis management, marketers have had to rethink their techniques. Shaminda Perera, Head of Marketing at Reckitt Benckiser Lanka Limited is here to tell us how even the most sought-after brands during the pandemic had to reinvent their strategies to be closer and dearer to their consumer base.

Shaminda holds a Masters Degree from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayawardenapura. He is a life member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM). Having been an Executive Committee member for five years, he has held the position of Project Chairperson for Effie Awards Sri Lanka from 2016 and 2017. He was the Secretary and Treasurer for SLIM previously and is a certified professional marketer from Asia Pacific Marketing Federation. Shaminda is also CIMA qualified professional, demonstrating his ability in both marketing and Management Finance. In addition to his extensive experience and qualifications, Shaminda is also a keen wildlife enthusiast. 

What may one discern from a marketer as Shaminda? There’s plenty! To begin with his odyssey, he has worked in marketing for over two decades and has extensive knowledge in consumer marketing. In his marketing journey, he has worked with organisations such as Sunshine Holdings, Hemas, and Fonterra. He started his career at Reckitt as a Senior Brand Manager and has held positions such as Category Head, Marketing Manager & finally leading the marketing function of the company as Head of Marketing.

Reckitt’s brand portfolio is expansive with stakes in Health, Hygiene, and Nutrition categories. The company has established itself as a trusted brand in the eyes of Sri Lankan customers, with most of its brands being market leaders in their respective categories. Brands like Harpic, Lysol, Airwick and Mortein are bedrock in the hygiene sector, and Dettol, Veet, Strepsils, Durex and Gaviscon are some trusted names in the health market. Additionally, it is noteworthy that the brand ‘Sustagen’ has become a staple on grocery lists across the country. In addition, the leading child nutrition brand of Enfa is also a growing segment within the nutrition portfolio at Reckitt. In this context, as Shaminda mentions, most of Reckitt’s brands have become genericized, appearing in the everyday vocabulary of the average Sri Lankan, demonstrating the company’s global reach. 

Shaminda recounts Reckitt’s journey and outlines the key milestones along the way to his accomplishment. One such milestone, he claims, was Reckitt’s acquisition of Mead Johnson Nutrition known for its portfolio lead by Sustagen & Enfa and establishing the brands in the local market under the Reckitt banner. This allowed him to support establishing similar business models in other neighbouring markets. 

During the pandemic, most individuals placed a high value on the fact that their brand prioritizes the health and safety of their families. As a result, their brand’s consumption increased dramatically. According to Shaminda, Reckitt having a product portfolio that directly supported the health & wellbeing of people, primarily focused on ensuring that the supply and distribution of their goods ran well, and their primary motivation was to help the country’s population in times of need, Reckitt has a rich 60-year history in the Sri Lankan market and has proven beneficial, offering clients a safe and healthy solution to offset the threats they face. Reckitt’s mindset of enhancing health and hygiene extends beyond its business model. Reckitt’s business ethos includes corporate social responsibility. Mission Wellbeing lead by Harpic, has been supporting in enhancing the hygiene standards in rural Sri Lanka with its house to house program. The ‘Dettol Clean hands, Clean Nation’ project proved crucial during the pandemic, educating and empowering Sri Lankans to battle COVID by practising good hand hygiene. 

In a time of exploding choice and unpredictable change, marketing is the answer. With so much choice for customers, companies face the end of loyalty. However, the real solution, of course, is not more marketing but better marketing. That means marketing finds a way to integrate the customer into the company, to create and sustain a relationship between the company and the customer. In this context, Reckitt is active in several other social activities across the country, having set up hand washing stations in places where crowds congregate, such as railway stations, bus stops, schools, and marketplaces. They’ve also partnered with the Sri Lankan Public Health Institute to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety equipment to front-line employees and crucial institutions fighting the pandemic. Reckitt has also taken the initiative to enhance sanitary standards across the country, providing sanitation facilities during the tourist seasons in identified locations in partnership with local authorities through their stewardship of Harpic and Dettol. Harpic mobile toilet program also provided relief to many people during the pandemic with its installations at Bandaranayke International Airport and selected hospitals in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak.

The true value of innovation, according to the brand, is its ability to help people and the globe. For nearly 200 years, this has been the driving force for their research, development, and partnerships. Reckitt is proud of its history and the sustainable method in which the firm has evolved and thrived to become the world’s top consumer hygiene, health, and nutrition company.

Rendering his passion for marketing, Shaminda sets forth his enlivening guidance to young and upcoming marketers, “Times can be frustrating but don’t give up! Keep challenging the status quo and be prepared to grab opportunities.” In summation, marketing is no longer a function; it has evolved into a manner of conducting business. That is why marketing is everyone’s job, why marketing is everywhere, and why marketing is everything. The lesson for marketers is much the same as that voiced by Shaminda Perera. He makes it a point to keep his brand in front of every household in the country that has consistently trusted them over the years. Reckitt is a multinational organisation employing over 43,000 people globally and Reckitt Sri Lanka intends to uphold the great consumer acceptance of their product portfolio as being the most loved and accepted brands in their respective product categories.