Twelve years ago, Rajitha Dahanayake began eMarketingEye in a small office room tucked away in his parent’s house with four other people. In 2018, eMarketingEye’s annual revenue was $2.5 million and it is now one of South East Asia’s leading digital marketing agencies. It specializes in the hospitality industry with some of the world’s most renowned hospitality brands as clients.
eMarketingEye carved its niche in a competitive space by zeroing in on its forte and through its openness with clients. In the company’s formative years, digital marketing was replete with the potential for multiple industries but the company refused to lose focus at the dizzying digital options at the table. eMarketingEye dove deep into digital marketing solutions solely within the hospitality industry. Founder and chief executive, Dahanayake’s early experience was in hospitality and the company’s first customers were international clients who followed him to his new venture.
Around this time, Sri Lanka was grappling with the civil war and its hospitality industry was at a nascent stage. However, digital for the travel trade was one of the more competitive and promising areas in e-commerce overseas, so eMarketingEye began growing through its international clientele.
“We didn’t go on the line that we were cheap. We emphasized how much value we can add,” reflects Dahanayake, tracing how a Sri Lankan company cut through the competition and consolidated itself through a consultative approach. “We are not merely a digital marketing agency, we are a partner. We work with clients to specialize and increase their revenue. The challenge is to retain your clients and build long-term relationships in a competitive environment. Lots of our longstanding clients still work with us because of the value we add.”
“We do what we do seriously. We are very transparent. When we first went into the market, we looked at things that others were not doing,”
It offered refreshingly open transparency to their activities, with ROI-centric solutions catered to customer requirements. The company also wasn’t ashamed to own up when things went wrong. The work has paid off and eMarketingEye and its chief executive have been recognized for their entrepreneurship and business leadership, garnering over 200 local and international awards in a little over a decade.
Rajitha has won “Entrepreneur of the Year” at the National Best ICT Awards (NBQSA) and several national and provincial awards at ‘Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the Extra-Large Category for ICT Services, organized by Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), in 2012, 2013 and 2018. In 2019, eMarketingEye rebranded, moved to a state-of-the-art office and inaugurated the EME Digital Academy, a program that will initially specialize in digital marketing for hotels and the travel industry. Plans are on the cards to subsequently expand this program overseas and into other industries.
“The importance of digital for hospitality is growing, and we have an advantage due to early adoption,” explains Dahanayake, mapping the future in digital marketing. He foresees new competition but embraces the challenge: “what shapes the industry is the competition. When international players come in, we have to level up. When there is no competition, we don’t improve.” Another challenge, he observes, would be to coax clients to try new things as the landscape shifts swiftly.
“We do what we do seriously. We are very transparent. When we first went into the market, we looked at things that others were not doing,” emphasizes Dahanayake. “There weren’t enough reporting and analyses in the market. We built our own systems, and we were giving more information to clients on how things work.”
With mobile use growing, digital habits are changing and an ageing demographic which is far more digitally savvy, Dahanayake places even more importance on these systems to give clients timely information to develop sophisticated marketing campaigns. “You need to be ahead of the trend and prepare your people accordingly. Data also plays a huge role. We are investing a lot of time and effort into coming up with insights for our customers,” he says.
The business is currently poised to expand to new verticals such as education, finance and real estate through a new adjacent brand within the company —a marked shift for a company which had a zealous focus on its niche. But Dahanayake is confident that the past decade has set the foundation for the necessary processes and human resources required to scale and expand the business.
As a company, some of eMarketingEye’s highlights were when the agency won the title of ‘Overall Best Digital Media Agency’ at the SLT ZeroOne Awards in 2017, while also being named the ‘Best Digital Media Agency for Travel & Leisure Sector’ at the SLT ZeroOne Awards in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, eMarketingEye was awarded Best Agency Runner-Up at the Horizon Interactive Awards.
For Dahanayake, the emphasis on data and voice search holds exciting possibilities for the future, but he’s firmly kept his eye on the basics. The allure of SEO, for instance, may have diminished to clients who may be blindsided by shinier trends. However, Dahanayake avows that most businesses in hospitality still get at least 50% of their revenue through it.
But what excites him most about the future, is the molten nature of digital. “The advantage of digital is that it goes with everything. It works when things are bad, and it works when things are good. It’s a wonderful industry to be in,” Dahanayake smiles.