Ekundayo: E-mail Marketing, Real Currency in Digital Advertising

Ayeni Ekundayo is the Chief Innovation Officer, BusinessPlus and primarily a digital and transformation expert who supports a lot of organisations with their digital plans and execution. In this interview with Oluchi Chibuzor, he speaks on the potential of e-mail marketing as the digital revolution continues to drive the advertising industry.

Some years back digital transformation was not this pace, and it was not a sector greenhorn could venture into, how were you able to gain the foresight to this million dollar sector?

We stand as one of the reputable digital agencies whose clientele base span across a couple of high network individuals (HNIs) – elaborately managing topmost accounts in Africa, with a large team that comes on board to work and have done very well for ourselves. In 2012, I did some start-ups that failed, but as of 2009, I started a company, we were doing property listings for a lot of organisations. At that time, what we did was too early to be adopted by businesses, due to a lack in distribution of technology as modems were still actively being used.

With no fibre optics, we struggled. There was a lot of email exchange; making phone calls was difficult because we were inter-phased with Indian developers back and forth. We had a major investor at that time on the project then, and the entire project went down the drain because the market was not really for the kind of support we were trying to give. That is how my digital marketing started and my business at it were. I had started while as a student on campus, done a lot of things and between that time and now I have done over 42 certifications in digital marketing and I had always tried to push beyond the limit. So, in 2009 when we started as a full blown agency, we picked accounts like Daystar Christian Centre, Trinity House, Sovereign Trust, and a couple of laudable organisations that people want to work in today.

We launched their digital campaign following a market design strategy. As the tasks multiplied, we resolved to develop a mailing platform. As mailing became a big deal as an organisation, I co-founded two mailing platforms – one is called Mailng and Emailforest -because Nigerians and Africans in general, have always been seen as scammers and online fraudsters through email props, which is not true as we have changed that narrative. In 2012, I went to the Mailchin office and also ConstantContact, while travelling all around the US to get organisations to partner with us in Africa, for us to own mailing platforms and use their services in Africa. However, they put us aside, and were not interested in the African market because, first, it was not a big sized market. Secondly, fraud was in existence and there were a lot of issues around it. I picked up the challenge and built the first indigenous mass mailing platform which was Mailng. As at 2014 when we went live, we had over a thousand customers on it and now we have almost 10, 000 customers with close to 4 million emails being sent from the platform daily.

So, with the terrain not yet feasible and profitability almost not certain, why did you and your team push further to establish Emailforest and subsequently sell it off?

At that time, no one believed that a local firm with no business template or infrastructural base could be noticed by international companies. This made us more determined to succeed, break more grounds because all odds were against us.
When we moved from that, we needed something more dynamic; we opened the door for Emailforest. Emailforest had more features as compared to Mail.ng. It was built as a complimentary service for Mailng. We pushed further on its launch and found ourselves in a position of being bought over by some organisations in Dubai. We sold it at a price I cannot disclose here. Though we still earn royalties on a yearly basis and provide support to its new owners – ensuring that the platform is used at its optimum; it can show that it was possible to break out and do things in Nigeria, despite the impossibilities- and this begins with our mindset.

As a budding entrepreneur, I had to clean my office, I did everything myself- clean my windows, drive myself to work. There was a day I drove, I was so tired; I packed the car somewhere, slept off and continued again. There was a time I had done a presentation. I would carry my laptop to a barbing salon and beg the owner with N200 and he would allow me to charge my laptop and phone. This was one of the ways we used to grow and scale. There are things that may block you along your way; and this requires you looking for ways around it. No one is readily available to give you a soft landing; so you must keep pressing. Your breakeven point may take one year, some six months, or even two years, but stay the course, don’t change or get distracted by the next shiny thing.

How does your organisation support businesses in achieving increased productivity and better results through their human capital?

Our approach to your business is in the form of partnership, not as an advertising or digital talent organisation. We sit down to diagnose the exact solution or skill the customer wants as it pertains to the kind of talents they want to deal with, how they want the talents to be and what is exactly their desired result. So, clarity on the vision on both ends is key in every session with our clients, before activating any campaign, hence the end results are predictable.

At the end you will see us more like a business partner just like Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP), we understand your vision before we start any campaign. Our ideology is centred on helping you reduce your cost, increase inflow, increasing your market share and its control and lastly, to strengthen the brand by making sure that the brand remains top of mind. This is our main core objective.

As the Chief Innovation Officer of Businessplusng how are you changing the narrative in the space you operate?

We once had a baker pay for our training, and through it, changed his business approach. The bread he was selling by the roadside for N500 now sells so much. He also sells special banana bread that customers pay N5,000 for. He is selling well and making more. We have graduate trainees who now write content and are with Upwork. I can count over 20 people that we have trained that are thriving in the industry as a digital marketing agency, aside from having over 287 people working directly or indirectly with us. We have stories of trainees who now do Internet of Things (IoT). We manage those conversations; teach them practically how to engage the market, manage people above them, because employability is another key thing entirely. We train people on employability and not just digital skills alone.

We show them how to run ads, how to engage, do presentations, how to interpret the data collected. Having reports from every campaign, interpreting the reports, project based on a report, and bring it management to make plans.

Can you tell us about your background?
I am an alumnus of the Harvard University Executive Program. My wife took the funds for our rent and paid for my admission into Harvard University where I took training in digital marketing. My going to Harvard was because I had a presentation-pitch for a business proposal; I had to submit all my certifications; in which I was informed that there was no international certification that I sat in class after submitting about 12 certifications. This paid off as I have worked with numerous brands across the world as a digital marketing consultant to deliver revenue growth from content-focused inbound marketing campaigns. Also as the CEO of BusinessPlus Services, I lead a digital marketing and transformation agency in Africa, focused on helping organisations and companies in public and in private sectors to produce results; by presenting them with an extensive range of business solutions to adequately generate traction, interaction, and conversions for clients who make use of digital media. All these numerous achievements have brought me into the spotlight within and outside Nigeria.

Why will Email marketing be a force to reckon with in the advertising space globally?

Email is not going anywhere, the only challenge this market faces is “Notification” – this is “push notification”, not the email notification because email comes in different types. These are some of the things you will discover that you need as a businessperson to succeed. I still believe that bulk email things work; because that is the only time when you as a person own the platform, you are the owner of the product, the engagement, conversation. There are consistent changes and transformations on all these social media platforms that people do not know.

They can come up with policies that can limit your interaction with customers, friends or associates because they control the algorithm. However, email is a guarantee, people do not just change their emails like that; you can keep top of mind by reaching out to them or your customers. Influencers today, with 2.5m, or 7m followers on those social media platforms, can wake up tomorrow and notice that their account has been shut down and all those followers are gone. SMTPs is a big service that we have not looked at. People are not focusing on that part of the service yet, as email itself is the real currency in this era of digital revolution that most people do not understand.