#MarketingExcellenceAwards spills: RHB CMO Abdul Sani on what makes a good marketer

RHB Banking Group's CMO Abdul Sani Abdul Murad is no stranger to the marketing scene, having worked in companies such as Unilever and HSBC. Armed with two decades of experience, Sani (pictured) is constantly pushing the boundaries and attempting to humanise the banking industry. Safe to say, Sani has excelled in this aspect by constantly showcasing the challenger spirit in its marketing campaigns and including real individuals and stories in the videos to help humanise RHB in a highly commoditised industry.

According to his LinkedIn, Sani said he is most inspired by today's challenge of defining brand's unique purpose, then acting on that purpose to create fluid, meaningful interactions across complex touch-points. His willingness to think out of the box impressed the judges at A+M's Marketing Excellence Awards 2020, resulting in him bagging the gold award for CMO of the Year (Individual) and bronze award for Marketing Innovator of the Year (Individual). These two new categories were added to the awards to pay a well-deserved tribute to some of Malaysia's top marketing talent and recognise their outstanding leadership amidst challenging times. 

Sani shares the areas of marketing which most excite him and the skills required to be a great marketer today.

This interview is done as part of A+M’s winners and finalists’ interview series. To find out more about the awards, click here.

A+M: Tell us what your philosophy is to marketing?

Sani: Brands have the social responsibility to deliver positive impact that is tangible and lasting to the society. When this is done well, the brand will stay relevant and be welcomed to play an important role in people’s lives. Therefore I’m a firm believer that the role of marketing must be related to social improvement that addresses peoples aspirations beyond just fulfilling their needs and wants.

At RHB, it has been our practice to always place great importance in providing value and improving our customers’ and society’s well being in everything we do. It is a continuous process to keep learning the ever changing needs of our customers and have the ability to evolve quickly to solve issues that are important to them. We may not have the perfect silver bullet to effectively address these issues in a single stroke, but the sincere efforts undertaken to provide one solution at a time will be recognised and appreciated by our customers.

What are the areas of marketing that most excite you?

Sani: The thing about marketing is that there is never a dull moment and the job is never done. What excites me most is that every day is different. You get to wake up to a new challenge and discover new creative ways to do something different in addressing business or marketing challenge. It is fun, albeit challenging at times, to be able to strike the right balance between being creative in ideas generation that drive your business growth, while at the same time having the ability to understand data, connecting the dots and discover insights that enables us to reach and engage the customers effectively.

Being able to affect change and seeing the value of marketing work in helping business growth, and ultimately being able to help the community at the same time is truly fulfilling for me. You could say marketing injects the soul in the business and makes it more human.

What do you think is required to be a great marketer today?

Sani: Apart from having a severe customer obsession, a top-notch marketer of today has to be an empathetic storyteller and be a growth-minded, data-driven, and creative full-stack expert. He or she is relentlessly focused on getting better, building upon successful tactics, and driving incremental growth, as opposed to resting on the laurels. One must not afraid to try and fail and regard failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Therefore, to be a truly extraordinary marketer, one has to be an avid learner, continue to stay on the cutting edge and is always looking to discover new marketing strategies, tactics, channels and tools.

The true litmus test of a great marketer is when crisis strikes. How they choose to steer these crisis moments defines the true character of the marketer.

Whilst some of the tactics may inevitably change during a downturn caused by the pandemic, a solid marketer will have the gut and the perseverance to continue to do things that are daring, different, boundary-pushing and, perhaps above all else, have the potential to cause a bit of a stir. Shifting gears to a much more conservative, short-term results focused strategy seems rather tempting in a time of crisis, but a great marketer needs to have a clear head, steady hand and focus to continue delivering the long term view of their big-brand ideas.

It is no doubt that deep scrutiny of marketing spend from the boardroom and the finance department is often much more intense than usual during crunch time. The marketing greats will exhibit the above attributes to convince and get buy-in from internal stakeholders by showcasing the economic worth of their marketing efforts in driving business growth by staying invested in their customers and the community.

What is one new technology that has captured your attention that you think will revolutionise the marketing scene?

Sani: Thus far, the rise of digital allows us to be incredibly fast. We have witnessed radical change in a few areas of marketing which have been transformed by digital. Notably the ability to drive speed, relevance and reach for our campaigns. No one could deny the explosion of technology will continue to reshape the practice and discipline of marketing at warp speed.

As marketers, we need to learn to anticipate and adapt to these changes. We need to be fearless to test and learn in order to keep up with the pace and gain new knowledge on its possibilities in delivering valuable brand experiences for our customers.

If there is one new technology that captures the imagination of any marketers, at least for me personally, it would have to be the immersive related technology. The adoption of VR and AR at scale would certainly alter how marketers construct their marketing mix. The inclusion of this extended reality technology would allow marketers to be in full control of creating a better and meaningful customer experience.

To top it off, marketers would be empowered to give customers what they want at the exact moment and the exact location where they need it. Undeniably these immersive technologies bring a new dimension and perspective to marketing and that’s something to look forward to.