“I’ve always wanted to do things no one else has done.”

By Delani Philips

We shine the spotlight on Fernie Jasmine Abdul Ghani, Head of Group Strategic Communication & Marketing at Axiata.

“I studied psychology as one of my majors and was intrigued that the power of words could influence the way people act. Marketing just seemed like a natural fit.”

The new Pay Day 

Her education, coupled with a strong inclination towards technology, led Fernie to the IT industry initially. Along the way, her career has been peppered with many impressed firsts.

These include a collaboration with the Ministry of Education to supply 10,000 PCs to public schools, something that had never been done before; and being part of the team that launched Malaysia’s first internet banking site, Maybank 2U.

“In those days, you would have to physically print out your payroll, go to the bank and then only would money be paid out to your staff. We made it possible for them to send an email to the bank with the details so the bank could transfer salaries immediately.

It was such a big thing then and we had to consider the security, the entire journey. It had never been done before.”

Maxing out Maxis 

When Fernie moved to Maxis in the early 2000s, the telecommunications industry had started to boom. Smart phones had just been introduced, but no one really understood them. Fernie was the Product Manager for the new Blackberry phones that Maxis launched.

“I did the first BlackBerry campaign featuring CEO testimonials and it was hugely successful.” Because they exceeded business case targets by 150% in the early years, establishing Maxis as the undisputed leader for BlackBerry in Malaysia.

As Fernie moved on to product manage Maxis’ Postpaid business, her love for brands remained strong.

She recalled a pivotal moment, “Our new CEO was a brand advocate but he made a decision to remove the iconic Maxis green squiggle from the logo, and it really disturbed me. How could they remove something so essential to our brand?”

After much internal debate, Fernie shot off an email explaining her perspective, and cited relevant brand examples. “I didn’t expect anything to happen, but I had to speak my truth. The next day, I received a reply and my CEO told me that I was right, and he reversed the decision.”

What Fernie didn’t realise was that her initiative had imprinted her value into the mind of her CEO, and much later when Maxis restructured themselves internally, she was invited to join the Brand team in 2010.

Following the launch of the first iPhone, Fernie said that the industry was irrevocably changed, “Consumer behaviour changed, content was being consumed differently and people started favouring peer content.”

The Malaysian story

Committed to the “game”: in 2010, Fernie spearheaded what she feels was the last truly “epic campaign”, a 360° affair that inspired the nation and content creators alike. “Maxis had sponsored the 2010 World Cup broadcast and we decided to tell the story of the only Malaysian team who qualified for the games in in 1980.”

“I have always felt that storytelling is important. The format might change but at the end of the day you need to be telling something that connects to people.”

Fernie eventually left Maxis to fulfil her promise of working with her first boss, Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim, again. Within 3 months, she orchestrated a revitalisation on brand asset management by implementing a standardized Voice of Customer measurement comprising Brand Health Tracker, Social Listening and Net Promoter Score.”

“Axiata didn’t have a direct link to the consumers, so the challenge was to build Axiata’s brand so it would be known as one of Malaysia’s leading corporate brands.”

Within 6 months, Fernie secured Malaysia’s first-ever event venue naming rights and launched Axiata Arena ahead of the 2017 SEA Games. “People remember Axiata for all the events held at that stadium.”

Fernie transformed Axiata from a faceless, corporate entity, into an engaging, socially-responsible persona, launching Axiata’s Facebook presence and growing the fanbase to half a million followers within a year.

Pulse of Merdeka 

“I’m also very proud of our Getaran Pertama campaign for Merdeka. I remember asking my kids if they still sang the national anthem during school assemblies, and I realised that we needed to bring it back.”

The agency tracked down the original composers and the story of the first multinational RTM choir commissioned by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman; it was a compelling story that Fernie knew they had to tell. The campaign won many awards, including Silver at APPIES Malaysia 2020.

Ultimately, our job as marketers is about making meaningful connections with people. Care about your consumer and offer them something of value.

The communications we put out there, be it through clever storytelling, beautiful visuals, or entertaining videos…what we’re really saying is, “I see you. I hear you. I understand you.”

She consistently pushes the boundaries of her own marketing beliefs, placing courage at the core of her approach. She is responsible for 10 Axiata brands across the region and is the architect behind their award-winning campaigns.

Fernie 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/

MARKETING Magazine is not responsible for the content of external sites.

Subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates in the marketing and advertising scene