We must learn to see ourselves as our customers


23 years ago, when Apple launched its tagline Think Different, it was a response to IBM’s slogan Think.

My first encounter with Lai Shu Wei, TM’s VP & Head of Marketing (Commercial) also began when he responded to a word I had used in an email to him: Stealth.

I had written about stealth marketing and he was fascinated enough to call me over for a meeting at his Packet One Networks (P1) office where he was the CMO. Readers may remember the colourful building, a larger than life concrete rainbow, at the interaction of Jalan Templer and the Federal Highway in PJ.

The company was founded by an amazing man called Puan Chan Cheong, better known as CC Puan, who I remember loved to shake everybody’s hands.

…. the man remains a marketing powerhouse having done ‘time’ in StandChart, Maxis, Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson during his ‘baptism of fire’ days…

The rest is history as Telekom Malaysia bought a majority stake in P1 for RM350 million named it Webe Digital and added Shu Wei into their management fold.

While Shu Wei’s career went from stealth to stellar, the man remains a marketing powerhouse having done ‘time’ in StandChart, Maxis, Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson during his ‘baptism of fire’ days.

In a truly historic achievement last year, he was voted Malaysia’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of the Year, leading a field of more than 60 CMOs in the race. He’d also clinched Gold as Telco Trailblazer for two years running.

My confession for the week: this story is a first-person narrative paraphrased by me after a long lunch with Shu Wei last Wednesday. There was no wine involved, but a lot of fish (brain food).

I have also chosen to write his thoughts in the way I prefer; no holds-barred, and to my readers’ delight.

In fact, Shu Wei is actually reading this story for the first time too…

On Marketing ≈ Life

Shu Wei believes brands and marketing approximate life for what it is. A strategy that misses reality is just a piece of paper with fancy words. Today’s marketers are too caught up in jargon and being influenced by many stakeholders in the decisions made.

Lai Shu Wei winning the ultimate prize in marketing – the Malaysian CMO of the Year Award!

…. Always remember to listen to them, figure out solutions that address their pain points or improve their life and deliver them in the most simplistic manner…

A great marketer should always remember the only true north is the customer. Always remember to listen to them, figure out solutions that address their pain points or improve their life and deliver them in the most simplistic manner.

On drowning in data

If there ever was a convincing scam in marketing today it has got to be data and what it misrepresents. Most data is a wasteland and until the machines mine it with your brand’s algorithm in mind, it will remain the romantic bogeyman of marketing.

It satiates members of the board who don’t deep dive into the real work of marketing. It legitimses a CMO’s role in the organizaion until the next job offer or the next sales slump whichever come first.

Data is still very much in its infancy and we overlook the biggest data analyser in the world: the human mind interacting with the universe at large.

Instinct, intuition and insights seem less sexy than anayltics, anarchy and automation.

On Reporting

In most of the organisations I have worked with, we tend to mix up the reporting of data and calling them insights. Data points are just information. They do not tell the full picture. The ability to understanding the data points with other information surrounding it (it could be trends, competitions, consumer behaviours) gives us the hypothesis to what may have happened, ie. the insights.

I always ask the same questions when doing campaign reviews.  

They usually start with
“So what?”.

Why are the numbers the way they are?

Why did they go up?

What does a higher result mean to us?

On Flip Thinking

We should commandeer digital machines and not the other way round. Machines can handle the relentless ambition of marketers and should be at the mercy of brands, instead of brands playing victim to their well-articulated unknown.

Open your door to data when you think it works  and close your doors when you sense it is nonsense.

Too many brand custodians prefer to become prisoners of their own conscience, which is probably the most valuable commodity on the planet. Their conscience should be a compass for the brand.

If you can make it in Manhattan you can make it anywhere.
If you can make it in Bukit Bintang…

But one must also know when to pull the plug. Sometimes we can get it so wrong that it requires a major re-think. There is no shame in doing so. It just makes us come back stronger.

One upon a time I was determined that having an ice cream with “cold beverages” on Friday after work get-togethers was a winning idea. But the combination was too taxing for the average stomach. Bad idea!

On being a jargon-slayer

Let’s look at the term New Normal. It is far from normal when the WHO says we have to brace ourselves for two years. And when it is back to normal what do we called it then, the Old Normal? Truth is, we are living in the abnormal and as social animals this is a major life-shift. Sugar coating reality as the new normal gives a false sense of security. 


In our industry we have many technical buzzwords,  ie. FTTH (Fiber-To-The-Home), VDSL (Very-High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line), WTTX (Wireless-To-The x) and the list goes on. These become products we bring to customers and the right way to look at this is a complete flip, starting with the customers.

On going crazy…

In a previous role back in 2006, we ran a football campaign for a full month. And for the grand finale, we closed down the entire stretch of Jalan Bukit Bintang and turned it into a fiesta from 6pm onwards until the football finals started at 2am.

That particular game ran into overtime and then a penalty shootout. By the time the game was done, Monday morning traffic had resumed. Prior to the event, everyone was sceptical if we could pull it off and that included me, since it had never been done before.

But we pulled it off!

On great stories…

Last year, TM heeded the call to lower fixed broadband and mobile packages by approximately 25%. Analysts said the reduction would significantly impact TM’s performance in subsequent quarters.

Nevertheless, unifi disproved its naysayers and it grew out of the initial teething process of its price reduction – fending of eager competitors to turnaround a positive growth of 10%.

Our defence strategy was to hijack Maxis’ advertising by mirroring its TV buying strategy during the most critical period (i.e. first 6-weeks of its launch campaign). After studying their buying patterns – channels, programs and even down to the timebelt – we optimised the plan on a bi-weekly basis.

Whenever there was decrease/increase in competitor spends for any particular program, we would adapt our buying strategy and counter-attack accordingly.

By acting with speed, agility and a little ingenuity, unifi beat the bleak forecast and managed to halt the slide amidst aggressive competition. In this regard, keeping the status quo had never been more celebrated.

In 2016, we launched a new mobile offer. And it was 100% online. We had no physical stores. The portal and the app was crucial to the success of this mobile offer. We had to repeatedly correct the user and customer interfaces to ensure a dynamic yet simple experience to on board seamlessly.

At one point, I was challenging the team to test out the design of the app using only one finger to navigate the app while driving. If we could do this, it would past the user test and set out a new standard on design.

And we did. It took only three finger clicks.

On results….

Results come in the form of happy faces of people we have impacted. Then comes revenue and fair profit.

I always share the measurements with the various stakeholders. It is important they know the thinking behind it, the behaviour that comes out of it, the results that correspond with it and the contribution it does to the organization.

On insights…

Durian = expensive

Cars = fumes

Moon = Mars

Politics = old

Malaysians = hopeful

Fashion = masks

Internet speed = global weddings

Millennials = a-ha moment

Gen Z = Respect

On COVID, he adds that as the disease moves from siege mentality to herd immunity, peer to peer marketing will rule.

The Hammer is fully booked for lunch till October 2020.

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