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AirAsia's Rudy Khaw on big ideas: 'I'm all about gut feel, which could make me a little bit traditional'

AirAsia's Rudy Khaw on big ideas: 'I'm all about gut feel, which could make me a little bit traditional'

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Not always one to bank on data in the world of numbers is Rudy Khaw, CEO of AirAsia brand co. In fact, he still banks on gut feel and intuition for his big fresh new ideas.

“I think people who know me very well know that I'm all about gut feel, which could make me a little bit traditional. It doesn't mean I hate data. But for me, I guess, I am slightly more creatively minded and I find that data can sometimes be a barrier because it actually makes a creative person second guess their own work,” he said at a fireside chat at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s inaugural Content 360 conference in Malaysia.

He added that to be a trendsetter, you might need to go beyond the past, which is what data represents, to be more forward thinking and a visionary. Of course, data then is used to support that idea prior to execution, and to make sure it will resonate with audiences, he said. 

Commenting on the conference tagline “Where content comes to life”, Khaw said that he is a big believer that any aspect of life can be turned into content. Jokingly, he said, “Who doesn’t enjoy seeing Tony [Fernandes] dancing.”

He added, “Everything around us is content. This conversation we're having is content, me driving in my car this morning could have been content if somebody wanted to film that and put it on YouTube. So, for me, content really is everyday life.”

Given that netizens today also consume a lot of content through social media nowadays, he urged brand marketers to be more human as consumers are always looking for authenticity.

When asked what marketers can do to deal with reluctant revenue driven management teams who don’t want to take risks and bank on tried and tested methods, he says to just accept that management is just doing what they have to do.

Below, we find out more about Khaw’s view on content and revenue:

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What advice would you have for marketers in the room who need to show the value of their content executions in a bottom-line driven world?

Khaw: This is basically every brand person's worst nightmare, because it's almost impossible. Okay, not impossible, but it is tougher compared to immediate ROI [from performance marketing].

Actually, I don't have advice because it never changes and there will always be leaders out there, management level especially, with this view. It's not wrong because management has to do what management has to do. But when it comes to, looking at numbers versus understanding something that's nontangible, such as a brand, not everyone gets it.

So, you're just going to have to spend your whole life selling what you do. Just deal with it.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: We know you are very passionate about pop culture, and it's a great way to ensure relevancy when it comes to content creation. How do you know what to bank on given that there are so many trends that go on simultaneously?

Khaw: That’s a tough one. I wouldn't say I can spot trends or decide what's going to become a trend. But sometimes, if you know it, you know it, if you don't, you don't. And if you don’t know it, it doesn’t mean you're bad at your job because some people just have it, some people don't.

Ultimately, regardless of that, what's most important is that you know your brand first because I've seen a lot of brands falling into this trap of trying to jump onto a trend and try to make it work for the Instagram account or TikTok, and fail miserably.

I'll be honest, sometimes I even see content on our channel and cringe a bit but it's fine because people actually interact with it. At the end of the day, I think if you really know your brand, you'll know what's the right content to put out.

And sometimes you don't have to always follow trends to get the right content out. A perfect example would be Tony Fernandes dancing. That's not a trend but it works.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How do you balance the noise of customers complaining about AirAsia with branding and content?

Khaw: That's a very tough one. I like to look at negative things and think of it positively. So, you know, if there's positive noise, that's a good thing, if there's negative noise, I look at it and think of it from the perspective of volume.

We fly a lot of people in a year. The last I checked, pre-COVID, I think we flew close to 100 million people in a single year, or something along those lines. If you think about that number, and you think about the percentage of people that can have a negative experiences versus a positive one, obviously, negative content might be bigger compared to potentially another airline that might have flown less passengers. So naturally, the volume of what you hear is going to be that much louder.

Another problem is that nobody celebrates the positive, right? People always complain, but nobody says, “Oh, this is great”. Which is why as a brand it's very important that the moment somebody celebrates your brand, you milk it. And you milk it like crazy, because that's the best time for you to make sure people know that you are loved.

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