“I believe marketing is the heart and soul of an organisation.”

By Delani Philips

The man in the news is Abdul Sani Abdul Murad, Group Chief Marketing Officer of RHB Group.

For the past seven years, Sani has been overseeing all aspects of the company’s brand, media, consumer research, marketing strategies, programs, customer growth, and marketing operations. His efforts have helped RHB Bank become one of the most valuable brands in Malaysia, achieving record financial performances under his leadership.

But in the beginning, he was set on flying as a career…

Abdul Sani always dreamed of becoming a commercial airline pilot and he even secured a scholarship to start his training. However, he decided he was too young to take up flying and opted to continue his higher education, studying economics under a scholarship from Unilever.

The scholarship required him to return to Malaysia during summer break every year to be an intern at Unilever. Sani recalled being placed in departments which had nothing to do with marketing and eventually being “discovered” by the Marketing Manager.

How it all began

Upon joining, Unilever put Sani through their own marketing academy programme which taught him how to do marketing in a holistic way.

“I fell in love with marketing after I began working on projects.”

His first break came when he was given the opportunity by his department head to work on a major product launch for Breeze detergent tablets, while still a management trainee.

Another success story in his book was the brand refresh for Sunsilk shampoo, which at the time was seen as a brand used by older people. In order to connect with the younger market, Sani explained, “We needed to understand what teenagers, especially girls, were going through in their lives.”

The campaign took the form of a drama serial called Impian Illyana which featured story lines dealing with those issues. The programme had quite an impact on parents as well because it gave them an insight into their daughter’s own lives.

“Some parents even wrote letters thanking us for bringing them closer to their daughters.”

From FMCG to Banking

In 2008, Sani was offered the position of Head of Marketing at HSBC. He described going from FMCG to the financial industry as a big decision, but at the same time, an interesting challenge.

HSBC then had an image of an international bank catering to a higher social bracket, and the challenge was to make it more attractive to the local consumers. This was where Sani’s experience with Unilever came in handy.

The launch of their Islamic banking arm, HSBC Amanah, was a worldwide first for the bank… what Sani calls its crowning glory.

“All my marketing life, it was about helping global brands gain a stronger local presence. So I thought, maybe it’s time for me to make a local brand gain regional presence.”

Sani’s next move was in 2017 when RHB Bank came knocking, offering him his current position as Group Chief Marketing Officer. His first task was reformulating the brand purpose and position and instilling it throughout the organisation.

Led by Sani, RHB solidified its organisational purpose by defining a clear brand purpose statement. The introduction of RHB’s 3-Year Corporate Strategy, “Together We Progress 2024”, is geared towards establishing the Group as a frontrunner in service excellence, aligning with its purpose statement, “Making Progress Happen for Everyone”.

Sani has also been accoladed as Asia Pacific’s Top 50 Most Influential & Purposeful Marketer 2023 by Campaign Asia Pacific.

CEO of the Brand

On the holistic approach to marketing, Sani believes that marketing is the heart and soul of an organisation.

“You have to know about all the other aspects of it, from production to shipping, pricing, legal matters, even the profit and loss for the company.

It’s almost like being the CEO of the brand you handle.

RHB has developed memorable brand films that were built around key festive occasions in Malaysia.

It showcased the transformative effects made possible by the efforts of ordinary Malaysians in championing sustainable progress, demonstrating RHB’s vision to be an ally for any Malaysian who wants to achieve progress in their life.

RHB has utilised generative AI to create personalised promotional content featuring Sazzy Falak, promoting local SMEs in the #JomSapot BeliLokal campaign.

This initiative encouraged RHB customers to support local SMEs by making purchases. The campaign resulted in over 810 promotional videos and an 18% year-on-year growth in RHB card-supported purchases for these businesses.

Abdul Sani Abdul Murad is a double winner of the Malaysian CMO of the Year Award – in 2022 and 2023 (Best of the Best).

This article is excerpted from the coffee table book Who’s Who In The Malaysian Marketing Landscape – a ready reference to the leaders who are making a transformative difference in the industry. Available at https://marketingmagazine.com.my/shop/books/cmo-coffee-table-book/

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