Change or Be Changed: The Marketing Mantra in Today’s Business World

First published in EFY Magazine Vol.3 2016

Adapt, or lose out. This is the philosophy when it comes to marketing in today’s world, according to Celcom Axiata Berhad chief executive officer Dato Sri Shazalli Ramly. Speaking during the recent Asia Pacific Marketing Congress (Appies), he shared his insights on marketing in a fast-driven, rapidly changing consumer market.

By Eris C

Business today is not like it was twenty, ten, or even five years ago.

Relating how much the landscape has evolved, Shazalli recounted his days while working at Unilever, managing a ‘big change’ from bath soap to shower gel products. Back in the days, the market was 90% bar soap and only 10% gel – the opposite of what it is today. But in today’s world, thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the speed at which consumer trends change is staggering. And for companies to stay on top, they have to be faster and better than ever.

“Many apps are coming up, killing earlier apps. Now (at Celcom Axiata), we deal with app development for about 35 apps at the same time. Back then, I hardly handled the marketing of one shampoo product a month!” he chuckled. He cited some examples of how technological advances have displaced older consumer models over the years.

“Just five years ago, the day before Raya saw some 185mil SMSes sent out. This coming Raya, you’ll be lucky to get 1mil. Things change very quickly,” he elaborated. Another example was vape, which Shazalli pointed out holds 16% of the market share, a significant dent in the tobacco industry. “Back then, nobody would have imagined you can smoke a steep pipe,” he mused.

But were these technologies disruptive? Gel displaced soap, the same way it did with film and digital cameras. New consumer driven apps like Uber are driving some taxi companies into a corner, while crowd sourcing has helped self-made entrepreneurs remove the need for bank loans. Do they spell the death of conventional marketing as we know it?

Gone are the days of waiting for data to be keyed in and taking years for results and trends to come back to you. Today you have data scientists and analysts at hand, and a small window of opportunity as with so many choices, consumers get bored fast before they move on to the next shiny new thing.

“You can only convert them when you’re at the right place at the right time; and in most cases, consumers behave in a completely different way than what you expect them to be,” he said. To lead the charge for change, Shazaly stressed on the importance of good marketing, with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of a company taking the helm.

Some of the traits that a CMO must have, he opined, was the ability to be dynamic. While acknowledging that tech plays a crucial role in today’s markets, he emphasised that it was equally important to go back to basics.“As a marketer, you have to really understand what your job is about and not get drowned in the latest apps. One should have clarity of vision, and know it better than you know the technology,” he quipped.

A word of advice from the man himself: don’t let ego get the best of you.

“I have 35 years of experience, but learning is synonymous to my name. When you’re agile, you embrace new living better.” He added that he did not look to hire people who claim to be experts, as those are the ‘building blocks of ego’. “I’d rather look for interesting characters who are willing to learn,” he said.

Shazalli believes that as CMOs, it’s a balancing act: being sensitive to unserved customers’ needs, plus being aware of tech trends and how it can help to serve a business. “It’s no longer enough to simply look at a customer’s needs. Marketers and businesses need to respond to things faster than ever before. New products can be replaced instantaneously because tech is made available so quickly,” he said.

Granted, there are still some which combine the best of both: such as the conventional bookstore and Amazon, or patients going to doctors for check-ups whilst monitoring their own progress with Fitbit devices. But Shazalli’s point is clear: it’s sink or swim and for folks who have missed the boat – like Nokia’s inability to provide data plans, which provided an opening for iPhone into the market – it spells bad news.





Business With Heart: Ricoh Malaysia’s Peter Wee

*first published online at on September 10 2015. 

Despite his lofty position as Ricoh Malaysia’s managing director, Peter Wee comes across as a humble and approachable man. His passion is infectious when he speaks about the printing industry and how he runs the business.

“Our philosophy isn’t just profit,” Wee told EFY in an exclusive interview. “We make profits, but we have a responsibility to plough them back into the people and the planet.”

The company’s commitment to green initiatives are one of their core values – proudly displayed on their website in a series of badges. These include Green Office Certification, Gold Medal for International Achievement in Sustainable Development and numerous awards from the US Environmental Protection Agency.Their corporate profile proudly lists Ricoh as one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World, as well as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the past three years. But these achievements were not easy to achieve or maintain, as Wee pointed out.

“When we design our machines, we always look at our carbon footprints. If it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements, we go back to the drawing board and redo it.Being eco-friendly is not only through our manufacturing. It’s a holistic system, from production to procurement and transportation to the things we use,” said Wee.

Protecting the environment goes beyond mere corporate responsibility – it’s also a point of differentiation.“For example, our gel jet printers use eco-friendly gel jet made from vegetable compounds,” explained Wee. “We can’t sustain all our badges through a single effort alone, which is why we adopt a holistic system, from our production to procurement to transportation and the things we use. That is the soul of Ricoh, and I’m happy to say we have been in the forefront for the past 15 to 20 years,” said Wee.

In Malaysia, Ricoh does it’s part for a green cause through CSR projects, such as the Mangrove Forest Recovery Project which aims to rejuvenate the mangrove forest at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park by promoting understanding of biodiversity conservation and mangrove forestation. In all seriousness, Wee said that the programmes were not about “going there to kiss the babies and look good while we do it.”

“These are projects which we do for many years,” he reiterated. “And this commitment permeates in a lot of the things that we do.”

Leader by example

Wee is no stranger to leading businesses; having been with PricewaterCoopers (PwC) for over 19 years. He was appointed Ricoh Malaysia’s chief operating officer in 2012, overseeing everything from sales and finance to administration, and bringing double-digit market growth for the company within a short span of three years.

Taking on the mantle of Ricoh Malaysia’s managing director earlier this year was no easy task, he shared.  “It’s challenging. As MD, I’m responsible for the well-being of the 533 people under me. Each person has a family and mouths to feed, which essentially makes me responsible for 2,000 people,” he said.  “It’s important for me to look at how to find new values in the market, so that my people can grow,” he added.

On what helps Ricoh stay fresh and competitive in the market today, Wee shares a few nuggets of wisdom.

Wee believes in building entrepreneurs, adding that in today’s competitive business environment, it was no longer about simply selling a product. “Businessmen today are always looking for differentiation,” he stressed. “What can I do that is different from my competitors? Anyone can give you a machine, but what we’re giving is value added products and services.”

An example, he cited, was Ricoh’s recently launched C7100X series, which offers a fifth colour station – clear gloss and white toner – for a smoother, more beautiful printing finish. “When people buy a machine, it is an investment. With added value, it allows them to expand their horizons. The slant should not be simply about product selling,” said Wee.

“You must bring new values and innovation, all the time,” said Wee, who staunchly believes in the company’s tagline, ‘Imagine. Change.’ “We have to change as a person, a company and a nation. We have to compete in the arena with everybody else, but also amongst ourselves,” he said.

Like the general who leads the charge, Wee believes in being a good example to his staff.“As a leader, I have to make sure that I am at the forefront so that everybody moves forward to becoming a better organisation,” he said.

On his upcoming plans for the company, Wee aims to position Ricoh Malaysia as a services-led organisation, to become a total office and business solutions provider. “I acquired an IT company in July. Why? To add new propositions and values for our customers and to complement existing businesses.”

“If you look at it, all of Ricoh’s hardware are network-connected. So how do I build value for my customers? I manage the network for them. That’s why I’m venturing into providing IT services, as well as surveillance and communications – it’s the highway that connects all the hardware,” Wee explained.

But despite all these grand plans, Wee said that the driving force behind it was simple: to see the company grow. “I’m just a custodian, but whilst I’m here, it’s my responsibility to see that my customers and my people are happy,” he said with a smile.