“Marketing is a business about people and insights.”

By Delani Philips

When Datuk Lai Shu Wei graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Tri-State University in Indiana, he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do for a career.

As fate would have it, he landed a job at Lam Soon as a marketing executive.

“I was so young that I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. It was a bit of everything really, and I was always volunteering whenever there was a special project, even the office renovation because I just wanted to be a part of everything!”

“My bosses must have found my eagerness amusing and they let me tag along. I didn’t realise how much I had learned in my five years there but I amassed a fair bit of knowledge from how the products were made to how they were shipped out.”

This foundation was something he carried with him throughout his career.

A marketer is a master of (almost) everything

When Datuk Lai moved on to Johnson & Johnson, all the bits and pieces fell into place.

“The stuff that you do, it becomes relevant at some point in your life and then you have an ‘AHA’ moment. All the random things I was doing at Lam Soon suddenly made sense to me.”

Johnson & Johnson offered Datuk Lai a vastly different perspective because of its global brands and high advertising standards.

“I learned a lot about leveraging insights and translating them into compelling propositions. A good marketer has to be a master of (almost) everything – hence it is important to have the right exposure and career movements to create this balance.”

“Much of what I know today in terms of brand building and marketing processes, I picked up from the School of Johnson & Johnson.”

Insights-Driven Solutions

Datuk Lai stresses the importance of writing good briefs that will allow your agency and cohorts to deliver compelling and relevant work.

He added, “I’m still very insights driven. I’m always saying ‘What’s the hook? How is it relevant? What are the consumer insights?’ If the work isn’t compelling, why even bother?”

When he worked on the Nestlé ice cream brand, Datuk Lai learned just how far he could push the creative envelope.

“Ice cream is a dynamic category and purchase is often spontaneous. We were one of the first to explore a lot of guerrilla tactics like replastering freezer boxes overnight to create high visual impact, essentially turning the city blue to boost brand visibility.”

He also cited a successful Hotlink campaign that was driven by consumer insights, “We were trying to get people to download our caller ringtones but were not making much headway. So we went back to the drawing board, and asked ourselves ‘Why would they want to?’

We came up with the proposition that our customers could entertain their callers. Different songs could reflect the facets of their personality, their mood.”

Once again, success came from shifting the narrative from a product-centric perspective to one that leveraged deep consumer insights.

Never lose sight of the consumer

“Keep yourself up to date, try new things… but never lose sight of the consumer and the fundamentals.”

“The property industry has operated the same way for the longest time but our customers are doing things differently because of technology. I pushed for a platform that would not only allow us to launch our homes online, but also make it possible for our customers to purchasing them online through our finance partners.”

It’s a new way of marketing that is led by the customer’s shifting behavioural patterns, and today, the new platform accounts for almost 100% of Sime Darby Property’s sales.

Leveraging Technology

A seasoned marketer, Shu Wei is a thought leader in marketing management, business planning, consumer products, CRM, brand management, communications, content businesses, and go-to-market execution.

Datuk Lai’s ability to leverage AdTech and MarTech tools was evident in the ‘Serasi: Gone in 60 minutes’ campaign, which achieved a remarkable 100% take-up for Tower One of Serasi Residences within minutes of its launch.

The campaign won Gold at APPIES Asia-Pacific and APPIES Malaysia 2023 Awards in the AdTech/MarTech category.

Leadership and values

Under the leadership of Datuk Lai, Sime Darby Property has gone from being perceived as ‘just another developer’ to a well-recognised and respected industry leader.

His strategic brand vision is centred around reinvigorating the SDP brand by unifying its products and townships across all development projects. He worked to establish a clear and unifying theme with the SDP name at its core to ensure a consistent and common message across all projects, reinforcing the strength and reputation of the SDP brand.

Datuk Lai Shu Wei is a double winner of the Malaysian CMO of the Year Award – in 2019 and 2023 (Best of the Best).

He is also a double Gold winner of the Malaysian CMO Telco Trailblazer Award – in 2018 and 2019.

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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