The CMO's MO: 9 questions with dynamic APAC marketing leaders, insights and personalities revealed.
With a career in economics and a passion for crafting compelling narratives, Abdul Sani Abdul Murad, the group chief marketing officer of RHB Bank is no stranger to industry accolades.
Armed with a customer-centric approach, data-driven insights, empathetic solutions, and a commitment to sustainability, his marketing efforts have helped RHB Bank become Malaysia’s 11th most valuable brand in 2023, according to Brand Finance's Malaysia 100. Most importantly, under Sani's leadership, RHB recorded its best financial performance ever in 2019 and while the pandemic did dampen its financial results, it is continuing to see significant improvements in many brand metrics.
We recently sat down with the ace marketer to understand the challenges and the opportunities for his brand. More importantly, learn his strategies for making an old financial institution stay current and relevant to a younger audience, the role of AI, sustainability and authentic storytelling. And the fascinating part - at one point, Sani was on the brink of soaring through the skies as a commercial pilot. Fate had other plans.
1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now?
Building trust: In a world filled with scepticism and trust issues, we’re working hard to show our customers that we’re not just another faceless bank, but a reliable partner who genuinely cares about their financial well-being.
Differentiation: Let’s face it, banking can sometimes feel like a sea of sameness. To stand out in the crowd, we’re laser-focused on highlighting what sets us apart from the rest. Whether it’s our innovative products or superior customer service, we’re crafting a unique brand identity that resonates with our customers.
Navigating regulatory landscape: While we understand the need for compliance and ensuring the security of our customers’ assets, we’re also determined to find creative ways by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to navigate the regulatory landscape without sacrificing innovation and customer experience.
While these challenges keep us on our toes, they also fuel our passion for marketing.
2. What are the three biggest opportunities for your brand?
Digital transformation: The shift to digital is a chance to connect with our customers in cutting-edge, innovative and seamless ways. We’re ready to be the bank that fits in the palms of your hand, quite literally.
Personalisation: Each customer is unique and has specific financial needs. The personalisation opportunity can only be leveraged through tailored solutions that cater to individual preferences, goals, and aspirations.
Sustainability and ESG: We see ESG targets as an opportunity to align our brand with the values of our customers to make positive impact on society. By integrating sustainability into our business practices, investing in green initiatives, and supporting local causes, we’re not just doing good, we’re also attracting a new generation of environmentally and socially conscious customers who want to bank with purpose.
It’s exciting because these opportunities allow us to evolve, innovate and make a real difference beyond just financial transactions.
3. Are you missing the AI boat? What’s your C-suite AI strategy?
Without doubt that AI has the potential to revolutionise the industry. For us, it means enhanced CX with AI-powered chatbots, leveraging it for data analysis and insights, utilising AI for fraud detection and security, implementing marketing automation and personalisation through AI, and exploring voice and image recognition technologies… and the list just goes on and on.
However, it is crucial to strike a balance between AI implementation while maintaining a human touch when engaging with customers. While AI can improve efficiency and personalisation, it should complement, not replace, human interactions and the emotional connection that customers seek from their banking experiences. The AI boat is sailing and thankfully we have jumped on board to help navigate the waves of innovations that we could leverage for our business to better serve our customers.
4. Give us one example to convince our readers that your brand is walking the talk on sustainability.
I'll share two examples.
We’ve introduced Asia Pacific’s first recycled plastic debit card that allows customers to actively participate in sea conservation efforts by reducing waste and protecting the environment when they use the card. The introduction of this innovative product gives us the opportunity to educate people about the importance of waste reduction, so we could collectively work towards bringing life back to the ocean.
The other example is in our ‘Spark for Change’ Chinese New Year campaign, where we featured 10 children who cleaned up their fishing village. The true story of their selfless act has inspired adults to manage waste better. To engage the public, we take the opportunity to organise the RHB Clean-a-thon event (basically collecting garbage marathon activity), where employee, customers, and the public cleaned up 2 villages, collecting over 3,350 kg of waste.
These initiatives demonstrate our commitment to sustainability, providing tangible ways for customers to make a positive impact to the environment. By offering innovative products like the recycled plastic debit card and organizing events that inspire action, we aim to create a platform for environmental change and encourage others to be mindful of waste.
5. Complete the sentence: “Today’s CMO must be ...”
I am going to be quirky with my response here. Today's CMO must be like a superhero, with the ability to transform marketing campaigns from ordinary to extraordinary with a single marketing strategy. They must have the wit and creativity of Deadpool, the agility and quick-thinking of Spider-Man, and the strategic mind of Iron Man. Basically, they need to be a marketing superhero that can take on any challenge and come out on top!
6. What kind of a CMO are you? Answer using a maximum of three adjectives.
A customer-loving, data-devouring, and creativity-spewing CMO.
To elaborate, those attributes come with a borderline-obsessive focus on customer satisfaction, the ability to crunch large amounts of data with ease, and a knack for coming up with creative solutions that make even the most mundane marketing campaigns come to life. Just call me the marketing version of Cupid—always looking to make that perfect match between brand and customer!
7. Tell us one personal thing about yourself that others might not know.
Sani: "I unexpectedly piloting my way into the world of marketing, which inspires me to empower my children to soar high and chase their dreams."
Believe it or not, I was close to becoming a commercial pilot for two major airlines. I had a love for flying, however, my passion for economics led me to pursue further studies in the field. Eventually, I discovered my true calling in marketing. The ability to craft narratives and influence minds fascinated me more that flying. Armed with my knowledge in economics, I embarked on a new adventure in marketing, using data-driven insights and innovative strategies to connect brands with their audiences. While I may not be soaring through the clouds as a pilot, my journey in marketing has taken me to unimaginable heights. It’s a reminder that unexpected detours can lead us to incredible destinations.
8. Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you really admire. Why is it great?
One brand that fits into my admiration bill for having an exceptional customer experience would have to be Grab. From ride-hailing they’ve expanded to include food and parcel delivery, catering to unique needs of the market. The brand’s user-friendly app, reliable service and commitment to safety have contributed to its success.
I like their emphasis on convenience, affordability and a wide range of options that resonates with the Malaysian consumers. With stringent safety measures ad responsive customer support, Grab has established itself as a trusted and reliable brand. Its continuous innovation and dedication to customer satisfaction have made Grab a leading brand in transforming transportation, dining, and on-demand services in Malaysia.
9. What keeps you up at night as a CMO?
There are several factors that can keep me awake at night. Firstly, continuously having to prove marketing’s value to the organisation is a concern. Meeting growing customer expectations is another challenge and the lack of control over the brand message also bothers me.
However, by embracing data-driven decision making, staying agile, and proactively managing the brand’s reputation, I am able to address these concerns and find peace of mind. Regularly reviewing and adjusting strategies based on market insights allows me to sleep better, knowing our marketing efforts are effective, aligned with customer expectations, and contributing to the organisation’s success.