Marketing in Post-Colonial Asia-- An interview of Joy Abdullah by Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson


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Industry insights that aid companies in developing sustainable brands

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Marketing in Post-Colonial Asia-- An interview of Joy Abdullah by Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson

  1. 1. AESTROAESTRO 076 // SEP 2014 // THE-MARKETEERS.COM Joy abdullah is head of marketing & communication at INCEIF, which is a global university of islamic finance, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I caught up with joy, in order to get some industry insight - asking him to cast his mind back on his career in advertising, and advising companies towards developing sustainable brands. POST-COLONIAL MARKETINGINASIAAn interview with Joy Abdullah
  2. 2. JONATHAN(BILAL)A.J.WILSON SENIORLECTURER&COURSELEADER, UNIVERSITYOFGREENWICH,LONDONUK EDITOR:JOURNALOFISLAMICMARKETING, EMERALDGROUPPUBLISHING. THE-MARKETEERS.COM // SEP 2014 // 077 Joy, you’ve had a long career in advertising and marketing communications; can you share some of your highlights and lowlights “At times I miss the agency life from back in the early days of my career - full of crazy deadlines and punctuated with informal and sometimes clandestine corridor chats. Here are some of my favourite moments: Working in advertising in Bangalore, India in 1991.There were long nights, innumerable cups of tea, and one tough creative director, who simply refused to understand the brand insight from one of the campaign briefs that I’d prepared. In this case, I was battling to manage a tea brand that needed to be launched within 120 days, from scratch. Getting the agency team and client to work in harmony on packaging and got the product out and into the market, was an exhilarating learning experience. I learned that capturing retail trade knowledge and buy-in from your colleagues were key; but also that these necessitated more than off the shelf textbook management activities – we had to create a culture of constant mentoring to get the best out of everyone, so that we could gel. In 1996, cellular telecommunications had just come into India. I moved to Kolkata, India, where I had the opportunity to go where it seemed like no man had gone before. I managed what ended up becoming the largest cellular operator account in India.Then, mobile phones were seen as a status symbol for the rich, famous and powerful. Getting this business to roll out across 43 towns was a major operation, management experience up several notches. In 2002, I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a more entrepreneurial role; where I set up a start-up operation for a multi-national agency. Given the extent agency’s threshold, they decided to start a local version of the agency - targeting government and large national businesses. I had to wear almost two hats –the entrepreneur and the salary man. Then in 2009, I skipped between Kuala Lumpur and London; quitting a well- paying job in order to set-up shop in the totally unrelated Halal industry. Given my mainstream brand management and business planning experience; I felt I had a set of competencies that I could bring to the Halal industry. So I set up a brand consulting start- up that focused on developing value-based to the community. Perhaps the concept was a bit ahead of its time; just as a lot of Sci-Fi gives us food for thought and then years later arrives in industry helping to advance technological innovation.What I found was that the Halal industry, unfortunately, was still at a very basic B2B level of business planning (then). So in order to move on, I had to jump back into the corporate arena.” Simply put, these experiences provided me something that you can’t learn in B-Schools – professional wisdom. That’s the knowledge of brand building; importance of consumer behaviour; the importance of employee engagement; project management; and most importantly, a strong understanding business centre. Coupled with this technical knowledge came the whole area of soft skills - people management through teamwork and team leadership. Now lest you feel it’s all been upwards, let me share a couple of the low-lights that I’ve experienced: People as assets: Having worked across a few global agencies and a couple of localised national agencies; one thing that really irks me is the fact that people are their last priority (or so it seems) in agencies. High performance is rewarded with a move (and a fancy designation), to manage either a troublesome client business, or bring into the blue a country aspirations are not taken into account. Non-performance, on the other hand, needless to say leads to you receiving your marching orders. Lack of cross-functional opportunity: Organisations, by far, are still pretty stereotyped when it comes to providing cross-functional opportunities. B-school grads. are good business managers (or suits as they are called), and thus go into either strategic planning or client account management – and not the creative area of developing communications.Yet, they need to provide the creative stimulus to their counterparts; so that the creative guys can crack a new communication idea – this is often an area of disconnect. These two factors made me move out of the advertising industry and into a totally unrelated sector like education
  3. 3. AESTROAESTRO management. I came to realise that education is the only way to have a able to develop a brand that questions all the known paths and provides tangible value is what makes me tick.” You’ve worked in several countries; could you give us a snapshot view of some of the differences in working practices amongst them? “I believe I’m one of the lucky few in this world to have had the experience of learning in multi-cultural environments. They have provided me with the ability to be culturally adaptive, respectful and open to experiences – and to learn from them. Living in the UK, India and Malaysia are each very different. Each country has its own sociocultural background and certain social nuances that they bring to business practices; and these have impacted on how I am today (and I’m still learning, still adapting). As you know India is a vast country. I worked across four cities in the early part of my career there; and I’ve had the good fortune of managing projects in Pakistan & Bangladesh, whilst being based in India. In terms of work practice across this region, two phrases come to mind: not what you know, but who you know’. The second - will, there is a way’. Business happens based on who you know and if you are someone with a pretty decent set of connections socially (thanks to family) and they can open doors for business, then you’ll very much remain a favourite with the bosses. The second practice has to be having a mind-set of there always being a way to either overcome obstacles, or maximise opportunities, and for more than what are apparent. curve that covers street-smart, respect and humility; and most importantly, the trust created through the spoken word.Add to this the value of networking, and you have an individual with a very competitive nature who can function anywhere in the globe under any circumstances.Which probably could be the main reason why Indian managers are now running global organisations in various industry sectors. In comparison across ASEAN, a key is never let down or sullied. Let me explain that. Culturally,ASEAN has a lot of respect in its DNA - perhaps a bit too much.The classic family patriarch structure of the colonial days had resulted in a behaviour where elders are never questioned and youngsters, seen but not heard [much more than in the sub-continent].This what we see is a sort of deference and reluctance to question the status. Executing orders and working hard had been the mantra till very recently. With millennials hitting the job market, and the growth of social media; this behaviour is now slowly showing signs of change. Importantly, across the sub- 078 // SEP 2014 // THE-MARKETEERS.COM
  4. 4. continent and ASEAN, a common theme emerging is the need for organisations to be more transparent in their interactions with society.This is impacting on how organisations engage with their employees and provide value to them.” If you could wind back the clock on your career again to do some nips and tucks; where would you wind back to, and what would you do differently? “Interesting that you bring this up.To answer the question: I wouldn’t want to do any nips and tucks.Those would only show up with age! But let me rephrase that question: if I hadn’t started in advertising and communications what would I have done? If I could turn the clock back (by a couple of decades), I would have gone into the earlier, and worked my way towards being organisations in the Halal services sector So what are you up to now? “I have a great day job as a marketing head honcho for a specialised academic institution; which is in the process of establishing a global footprint and its persona as a knowledge leader.This takes up close to 80-85% of my time.The other 15-20% of my time, I write and speak on brand sustainability; for online magazines Halal industries. My objective is to bring about a change in the way businesses approach doing business.After all doing the same thing over and over again will not bring different results. Given the changing social and economic landscape for businesses today: sustainability, the soft-skill areas of leadership, communication, employee engagement, and behaviourial competencies are very important. I look to bring the how and why to the table - through my writing, speaking and training.” What take-aways would you give to us? “Three take-aways I’d like to leave you with: Listening: Don’t just hear, but listen to what is being said; in order to understand what the real reason behind the issue is. Always be an attentive listener and be in the moment. If you listen carefully and attentively enough, more often than not, you’ll know the pulse of your audience. That’s half the job done when identifying where the problem is. Adaptive: Be culturally adaptive and not judgemental.Allow yourself to feel the emotions you experience when going through a new cultural experience. that you can.Then, utilise them in ways that strengthen your persona within that culture. Value Oriented: Always seek to provide clear and perceived value. Be it a business, or just a network contact, always deliver value - even if it’s just making someone smile. When you listen attentively, adapt to a new culture, and deliver authentic knowledge value: you will be sought after by people (and their business) - who will add value back to you, and help you achieve your goal.”
  5. 5. AESTROAESTRO 080 // SEP 2014 // THE-MARKETEERS.COM This summer in July, the Rt. Hon. the Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, hosted a black tie dinner, in the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich; where Professor David Maguire,Vice- Chancellor, presented me with the award for Staff Member of theYear. I beat off stiff competition from academic and non-academic staff across the faculties of: Business; Architecture, Computing & Humanities; Education & Health; Engineering & Science.The panel said: “Jon’s impressive research output and his equally strong commitment to teaching make him a worthy winner. His community are substantial and he has secured extensive media coverage, raising the public engaging as a teacher and highly valued by his students in terms of unrivalled support, motivation and guidance.” Apart from sharing the good news, I also wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone at MarkPlus. Pak Hermawan, team have been instrumental in helping me to connect with people across the globe, providing me with a platform to share my ideas; and more importantly, all of their support, hospitality, and friendship are priceless. It’s also good to receive recognition for my work, where I’ve tried Muslim world - and to get the West to sit up and take notice.Thank you for helping this Scottish guy from Manchester - and thanks for spreading WOW! JOHNNIE-BOY, ORBILALTOHIS FRIENDS,PICKED UPANAWARD