Marketing in 360° may sound like the obvious choice, but it’s not always the simplest strategy. With the variety and diversity of digital and traditional channels that we now have access to, it’s a small wonder that digital marketers don’t go mad. Quite the contrary, we seem to thrive on the ability to understand, learn and track different platforms and channels to the benefit of our brands and our target audiences.

Joining us for this issue of the Marketing Expert Series is Veronica Sin, a woman who embraces the challenges of brand marketing a fintech company with a 360° approach to reaching audiences in the wake of the pandemic. Sharing her insights into the combining of brand marketing and public relations, Veronica paints a clear picture of what it takes to be dedicated and successful 360° marketing strategies.

Hi, Veronica, welcome to the Marketing Expert Series! Thank you for joining us. Let’s kick off with some history: tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to where you are now?

Hi Olwen! Thanks for having me. I never thought I would end up in Branding or Marketing. In fact, I started my career with a heart to engineer social good through public relations (PR).

My fascination with PR began during college break when I chanced upon WWII documentaries on Hitler. I remember being awed by how the Nazi high command could influence Germany to believe in outrageous propaganda simply through strategic PR campaigns, such that I thought to myself, “If Hitler could use PR to inspire a nation towards hostility, I could use the same (PR) to inspire equally powerful good and change a nation.”

It was an idyllic idea, but I had a concrete plan:

  1. Spend 2-3 years in a PR agency
  2. Take the skills learned to a nonprofit or cause-driven organization and influence social good from there

Sticking to this plan, I started my career with 2 award-winning PR agencies, helping clients like BMW Group and Facebook build their brands through press engagements. Although I enjoyed managing crisis communications and pitching strategic stories to the media, work-life balance was a concern in the agency world.

After 3 years, I joined Projek57 – a social enterprise devoted to building unity in Malaysia through racial harmony projects and unity-themed retail. This was my first brush with marketing: As it was a small team of 5, my role evolved constantly. Although they hired me to manage the Press Launch for the Unity Ribbon, I was soon managing social media, influencer campaigns, retail marketing and even corporate sponsorship marketing. 6 months in, Projek57 gave me a choice: Stay as Inventory Manager or move on, because they do not need a Marketing Communications Lead at that time.

Changes in HR needs like these are quite common in social enterprises and startups where funding and resources may be limited, but I didn’t know that back then. I left with a bitter thought, “I am done with this non-profit or cause-driven plan”.

I began applying to anything but non-profit organizations and landed a role as Senior Brand Communications Executive in iMoney. They were looking for someone with social media marketing experience, and my time with Projek57 – though short – gave me a foot in the door.

3 years and a lot of learning on the job later, here I am in iMoney – still learning the ropes of branding and marketing, but blessed with a team which empowers me to validate campaign ideas and concepts.

You’re the outgoing Group Brand & Marketing Manager at iMoney. Please tell us what iMoney is all about and the role you play there.

iMoney is a personal finance platform which helps people get more out of their money by:

  1. Comparing and applying for the right financial products through our Aggregator
  2. Learning money management via jargon-free articles and initiatives
  3. Planning your finances with insightful tools like our income tax calculator

As Group Brand & Marketing Manager, I manage 3 portfolios: Brand Communications, PR and Social Media. The role also entails proposing and executing strategic marketing campaigns which encompass the 3 portfolios whenever opportunities arise.

To execute these campaigns, I will usually come up with a campaign plan and set up a briefing session with experts from the various teams – ranging from SEO to Performance Marketing and Email Marketing, to get their feedback on how to maximize results and meet campaign objectives by leveraging on everyone’s capabilities.

Marketing financial technology isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. What sort of strategies do you find most useful for marketing iMoney? How do you stand out from your competition?

The difference between sales and marketing is that while the former focuses on selling, the latter focuses on building relationships. Once a relationship between a brand and a target audience is strong enough, the sale will automatically follow.

Of course, building a relationship between a brand and a target audience is not as simple as dating in real life, simply because a brand is not a person and hence needs to be personified through effective marketing strategies – before you can even push the brand or product to be “loved” or “preferred” over its competitors.

While iMoney earns through the application of financial products, content marketing, and partnerships, the brand is ultimately about personal finance – a highly personal topic, as money is central to every life goal. If you can address your audience’s pain and passion points, your marketing initiatives will likely positively impact your brand and ultimately, your business.

This is my usual game plan when building a marketing campaign:

  1. I usually start with our brand purpose: Why did iMoney exist in the first place? What sort of impact does iMoney want to make in our target audience’s life?
  2. Next, identify opportunities within our brand purpose: What’s happening within the personal finance space? What’s bothering our target audience (e.g. single young working adults earning below RM5,000/month)? For example, is price inflation on many people’s minds? Or is it income tax season where everyone is figuring out how to maximize their tax returns?
  3. Key message: Based on the brand purpose and market opportunities, Build a topic which matters to your target audience, be it educating people about scams or discussing investment strategies for newlyweds.
  4. Channels and tactics: Where does your target audience usually hang out? How do they prefer to engage in a conversation? Is it through Facebook Live or email subscription? Do they prefer listening to a certified financial advisor or learning from success stories?

Have the developments of the COVID-19 Pandemic affected your own strategies as Head of Marketing? What challenges and/or developments have you had to adapt to since the start of 2020? How have you overcome them?

Definitely. The 2 biggest marketing lessons I learned from the pandemic are:

  1. Learn from other brands
  2. Be flexible and dare to test out new ideas
  3. You are as good as your team

One of the biggest challenges is content creation during the start of the pandemic, specifically video productions since physical shooting is no longer allowed. Take our 2020 Raya campaign video for example: Instead of the usual physical film production, we’ve had to produce a video by weaving together clips of iMoney staff at home and fitting it into a script.

Funnily, the idea came when my colleague shared videos by Apple and Google who were making these DIY videos, basically just a collage of stock footage fitted to a script and a soundtrack – since the whole world was on lockdown. I remember discussing with my colleague if we could also pull this off, and achieve the same impact that these giant brands achieved.

Themed “i Bersama u” (or “I am with you”), we built a script which heavily relies on the script and soundtrack to tell the story. Next, we assigned several iMoney staff to shoot video clips of themselves at home. These clips will then be woven together to form a video.

While this sounds easy, it took a lot of briefing and coordination with colleagues who were assigned to be featured in the video. To amplify the sombre sentiment of MCO and at the same time instil optimism, our Design Team also had to get creative with the right soundtrack and video treatment, given the limitations to shooting footage and directing on set.

At the end of the day, our #iBersamaU Raya campaign helped us overtake our competitors in the share of voice (SOV), a key metric in brand performance, at a small budget. Our social media pages also saw higher-than-average growth immediately after the campaign. Taking from this success, we have since produced a few more similar DIY videos with decent results.

At the end of the day, I learnt that perhaps the most important thing to succeed, in spite of the pandemic, is having a team who sits down and works towards the objectives outlined – and the graciousness of your superiors to let you test new ideas.

What sort of lasting impact do you believe the pandemic’s forced acceleration of digital transformation has had on iMoney and the industry in general?

  1. Social media is likely to remain a primary touchpoint:
    Although we are slowly easing back to pre-pandemic life, the past 2 years have globally cultivated a collective social-media-first consciousness where social media is not just seen as a space for business updates but concurrently a customer service front, community space, and experiential relationship between brand and consumer. For example, followers of Burger King’s Facebook page are not just expecting updates of the latest promo but also the brand’s responses to trending topics. The more relevant and personal you can be with your followers, the more likely you can build brand trust and top-of-mind (TOM) recall. Consequently, the more likely you are to convert a follower into a potential customer.I think the pandemic has also made brands realize the potential of social media to amplify any marketing initiative – be it a digital campaign or a physical one.
  2. Collaborations not just to survive, but thrive:
    Digital-led efforts are about maximizing the dollar spent. If you execute a campaign by yourself, how many people can you reach as compared to collaborating with a strategic partner with a different sphere of influence? One thing iMoney – and I am sure many other brands – learnt is that “together we are stronger”. Be it through affiliate partnerships, webinar collaborations, or sponsorship campaigns, you achieve more when you leverage each other’s reach, brand associations, and engagements – provided that the collaboration is a strategic one.
  3. 360° digital-first campaign.
    One thing the iMoney marketing team learned during the pandemic was the necessity of working together across different teams. Before the pandemic, many of our marketing initiatives were planned by a single team – only involving other teams to support.But once the pandemic hit, we realized the importance of involving every team in the planning stage itself to leverage each other’s expertise in order to amplify the impact. Perhaps it’s also that added realization that “all we’ve got is one another to achieve this” – the pandemic does have that effect on our team at least. For example, our recent #TaxTalk campaign – a Facebook Live discussion on how to maximize your income tax returns – encompasses Email marketing, Learning Centre articles from our Editorial Team, engagement posts from the Social Media Team, and even the Affiliate Marketing Team and SEO Team who advised us on the forms of content to prioritize during this season.The stellar results of such a cross-team campaign are a testament to the importance of such holistic campaigns, and definitely, a motivator for us to continue such collaborative efforts in the future.

Do you think that this impact has permanently changed how you and your team go about your work? Where do you see your strategies going in the next few years?

Definitely. Personally, I see our marketing strategy going more towards a 360° approach – where any initiative will be conceived with a view of maximizing the impact by involving all relevant teams from the planning phase itself. Naturally, the primary objectives and key message will be set by one person – who will then consult experts from every team on how we can collectively amplify the campaign results.

Again, this is based on the discovery that no marketing channel exists in a silo – especially in the digital world where the effective touchpoint is two devices at most per person – a laptop and a mobile phone. The more coordinated your campaign efforts, the more amplified your impact will be.

Any advice you’d give to young and/or aspiring marketers?

Marketing may seem all glitz and glam from the outside – with the flashy film productions, influencer campaigns, and Facebook Live giveaways – but what translates the glitz and glam into meaningful impact are:

  1. Excellence: If you are planning a Facebook Live webinar, it goes beyond engaging the right speaker and promoting your event. Do you keep a timeline and event checklist? Do you brief your guest speakers and provide them with scripts? Do your research and prepare for all anticipated questions that may arise during your Live event? Have you assigned people to manage the comment section? In short, have you given your best to ensure that the event is airtight? It will make a difference to the outcome of your initiative. Having said that, it is ok to make mistakes as that is where you will be learning many of your lessons.
  2. Critical and strategic thinking: Marketers are essentially strategic communicators. We need to anticipate how our target audience can interpret a piece of content. It is never just ” simple or fun ” even for something that seems simple or fun like preparing a meme or social media series, it is never just “simple or fun”. What is the key message you are trying to convey? What is the marketing outcome you want to achieve? Are there possibilities this could be misinterpreted, and if so, what is your rough contingency plan?
  3. Attention to detail: The brand is built in the details. One of the hardest things to enforce among junior marketers – myself included when I first started my career – is keeping the format. If your Facebook banners all have different alignment and font sizes, how unprofessional will that reflect on your brand? If your campaign report has different font colours, what does that say about you as a communicator? Can I trust you with 14 Facebook ad banners in the next credit card giveaway campaign if you can’t handle font sizes for an internal report?
  4. Being organized: Marketers are underrated master organizers who often need to work with people from vastly diverse backgrounds to make “marketing magic” happen. To execute a holistic campaign that spans 5 different channels and at times even stakeholders from different teams and organizations, you need to be chronically organized – equipped with a timeline and campaign checklist whilst keeping an eye on the budget and deliverables. At the same time, you must ensure that people from different backgrounds understand your marketing campaign brief.

If you want to excel as a marketer, start honing your organizational and people skills. At times, you may even need to describe the same thing in 3 different ways – one for the tech people, another for the non-profit partner, and yet another one for the SEO team.

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The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in the next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

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