“I believe ‘The Last Mile’ is fundamental to delivering the brand experience.”

By Delani Philips

Zalman loved art and planned on being a Graphic Designer, but his father gently nudged him towards more marketable career options.

“I didn’t last two weeks in my accountancy course, so I quickly switched to marketing. At least, it had some sort of creativity to it.”

“When I graduated, the telecommunications industry were rushing to hire but marketing for telco products then was quite plain, everything was aligned to what was happening in Europe. I realised then that my creativity was an asset because I could do things a little differently and stand out. If you do things the same way all the time, it will just lead to the same kind of results.”

Zalman’s first job was with Digi, back when they were just establishing themselves.

“We didn’t even have a proper office, but we operated from the back room behind a steamboat restaurant.”

As the youngest person in the marketing team, Zalman was enlisted to work on Digi’s business plan, mainly because he was the only person who knew how to use the computer in those early days of technology.

“I got very interested in what I was doing and my bosses saw that I had a keen eye to work on products, more so than the technical people who were selling the technology and not really understanding what the consumer needed.”

Navigating change

With 28 years of experience under his belt, Zalman has witnessed both a changing landscape and new approaches in the industry.

He mused how everything from developing campaigns to working with agencies was done at a much slower pace when he started.

“It’s so much faster now and marketers must be more agile and aggressive. You need to think out-of-the-box but

I still believe that you need to make sure you are on brand. So even if you expedite things, it’s dangerous to forget what your brand stands for.”

The shift from the telecommunications industry to banking might have thrown most people off, but Zalman has taken it in his stride.

“I’m a true blue marketer, I think I can market anything. Both are selling services, products, and tariffs. In either case, you still have make sure you comply to regulations. If you’re smart about it, you can figure out how to work within the guidelines.”

With the constant evolution of technology and consumer mindsets, Zalman stressed the importance of understanding these changes and their corresponding needs.

“I try to make sure I know a lot about my area but you can’t know everything. No one can do this alone, especially in some of the newer areas, so I’m a firm believer in brainstorming with small groups of people who can contribute to what I want to achieve.”

Marketing for financial institutions can get very technical, but Zalman believes the challenge is to translate that in a way that makes sense for the consumer.

“It’s important to keep everything consumer friendly. Over this last year, I spent a lot of time revamping all the corporate communications from Hong Leong, turning ‘banking jargon’ into consumer friendly communications.”

You have to say what you mean, and mean what you say. And carry that through in everything you do.”

Winning over the Malay Segment

In a milestone move in 2023, HLB unveiled its first celebrity brand ambassadors, Lisa Surihani and Alif Satar, signalling a strategic alignment with the bank’s strategy of growing market share in the Malay segment.

HLB’s strategy revolved around Lisa Surihani and Alif Satar’s roles as entrepreneurs and community contributors, aligning their ethos with the bank’s values.

The Meet and Greet event held to introduce the ambassadors to the media and select customers and HLB staff garnered impressive media coverage and HLB saw an uplift in its brand health towards the targeted segment.

In addition, the Malay customer base saw a positive growth rate.

“Don’t take the easy way out, keep challenging the norm. As a marketer, your function is to deliver a promise to the consumer. To make an impact on the consumer and change their life in some way, even the smallest act can make a difference.”

Zalman won CMO of the Year at the prestigious Malaysian CMO Awards 2023 for Best In Financial Services Marketing.

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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