“If I can visualise it in my head, I believe the right collaboration can help me make it happen.”

By Delani Philips

All she wanted as a young advertising executive was to work on the client’s side of the business.

After eight years at some of Malaysia’s top ad agencies, May Ling got that long-awaited call.

“I had a stint at Marlboro doing some interesting dark marketing, but I still had only one foot in the advertising door. Then Digi called and it was the biggest shift in my career.”

In her nine odd years at DIGI Telecommunications, May Ling breezed through the corporate ladder to Head of Marketing Services, before she moved to Myanmar as Telenor Myanmar’s Vice President and Head of Brand.

A new marketing challenge

“Being a brand person in a foreign country, I needed to understand the language, the insights and the social hierarchy. It’s hard when you’re a foreigner.”

As someone who thrives on challenges, the move to Telenor Myanmar was exactly what May Ling craved. Despite language and cultural barriers, May Ling helped reshape the Telenor brand, moved them into the digital stratosphere with their first app, and facilitated a Guinness World Record.

And she did all this in a little over three years.

“With an incomplete understanding of cultural insights, it’s hard to influence and motivate someone. And this applies both to new markets and new organisations.”

When I move to a new organisation, the first thing I do is to try and understand their working culture because whatever may have worked in one place may not work there.”

That’s exactly what May Ling did when she took on the role as CMO of KFC Malaysia, a company built on decades of legacy.

“I went from selling SIM cards to fried chicken but the marketing principles were the same. I also needed to understand what the company culture was in order to produce good work.”

At KFC, May Ling migrated the KFC app onto a totally new e-commerce stack within 10 months.

“It was a very humbling experience because I don’t build stuff, I don’t code. I had to sit down with the junior tech guys and have them explain what everything meant. But it was also exciting and I learned so much by working on KFC’s digital transformation.”

Culture and collaboration.

“To me culture is a very big deal especially when you’re dealing with something as soft as a brand. The culture at DIGI was transparent, open and dynamic. Every day we were challenging ourselves to do better and I never felt stuck.”

That’s the main reason behind her return to DIGI in 2020 as their Digital Customer Experience Transformation Lead, and again in 2023. She was responsible for two of DIGI’s brand launches.

First, when they rebranded themselves from a challenger brand to a more mature player in the telecommunications industry.

And again, with the merger of CelcomDigi.

“Optically, we did a logo launch, but what it actually meant was that we had to build a new brand narrative that would inform how we communicate and behave to internal staff and our customers.”

For the 2023 CelcomDigi launch, May Ling and her team facilitated a customer engagement day of 3,600 people, a fully immersive projection map townhall, and a nationwide logo launch that involved thousands of employees, various internal departments, regional cohorts and their various agencies.

“My approach stems from my ability to listen across all rank and file staff, whether it’s receiving instructions from a team member or even listening to the problems from a fleet guy. They need to know that I will support them… and I need to make sure that the team is aligned with our common goal. I firmly believe in collaboration.”

Facing the future.

“Always be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to learn something new and relevant in a constantly shifting landscape. She even watches TikTok every night just to understand what’s happening with the algorithm.

She believes in being constantly involved in developing her knowledge bank.

One of the reasons May Ling participates in jury work is so she can see first-hand what the world is doing, and to be inspired.

She is also a judge at the coming APPIES Conference next week.

Chan May Ling won CMO of the Year at the prestigious Malaysian CMO Awards 2023 for Best In Telco 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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