Never lose focus on consumers and their needs

Telekom Malaysia Bhd vice-president and head of marketing for unifi Lai Shu Wei (pic) holds strongly to this marketing philosophy, which he attributes largely to his background and a decade spent in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector.

PETALING JAYA: While advanced technology has enabled the development of new consumer products and offerings, a good marketer should not lose sight of basic consumer needs and behaviour.

Telekom Malaysia Bhd vice-president and head of marketing for unifi Lai Shu Wei (pic) holds strongly to this marketing philosophy, which he attributes largely to his background and a decade spent in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector.

Lai, who was named “Malaysian Chief Marketing Officer of the Year” at the Malaysian CMO Awards 2019, said: “There are a lot of technology out there, but the principles of marketing never change.”

As an example, Lai spoke about ride-hailing apps which have improved mobility and connectivity for commuters.

“In the past, we had to walk out to the streets, wait at the stand and hail a taxi.

“Now, with the ride-hailing app, the driver or taxi comes to us.

“However, the consumer behaviour of wanting to move around or commute never changed.

“So, the idea behind this innovation still came from very basic marketing needs, ” he explained.

Lai pointed out that while technology is an enabler, a successful marketer still needs very in-depth understanding of consumers.

“Good marketing is about looking at what your customers need, and their pain points and using available technology to stitch a solution.”

He noted that nowadays, the narrative tends to be on what technology can do, rather than how relevant it is to the consumer or user.

“We need to go back to basics.

“Before the technology boom, marketing insights were driven by consumer behaviour, understanding them and what they need – the FMCG people did it very well, and they built a lot of products based on needs.”

Lai started his career with the Lam Soon Group in 1995, where he spent four years before moving to Johnson & Johnson, and later, Nestle Malaysia.

The ubiquitous hair shampoo is a favourite example that Lai uses, when he explains product development based on consumer needs.

“Look at how hair shampoo formulation has evolved into new categories, all based on consumer insights. There are different needs. Some people wanted to address dandruff, hair drop, oily scalp, etc. And nowadays, it has become very sophisticated with moisture, thickening, nutrition, volume care, etc. These are all consumer insights that led to successful product development and marketing, ” he said.

Lai observed that oftentimes, marketers and product developers build something which fail to take off with their target market segment, and end up blaming the consumer for their lack of or slow adoption of new technology.

To illustrate how new technology might not be relevant to certain consumer profiles, Lai cited his 81-year-old father.

“My father doesn’t like to use online banking or banking apps, despite benefits like saving time and convenience.

“Why? As a retiree, he likes to spend his time walking to a nearby bank outlet, and have people interacting with him. Working people are different – we have deadlines, traffic jams, meetings to attend, etc.”

Yet, Lai pointed out that his father’s data consumption is higher than many people’s.

“He has time to spare, to consume online entertainment, browse YouTube videos, read news on his tablet, create playlists for movies and music, etc.

“So, I think most people know how to adopt new technology.

“We just need to understand why they do and don’t do certain things.”

He also pointed out that the results of consumer surveys needs to be dissected, and looked at via various perspectives.

Recalling his experience in baby product marketing, Lai said: “Let’s say there is a distinct baby product brand, that everyone identifies as being synonymous with babies.

“We used to ask mothers in focus groups, would you use this brand? The answer is always ‘yes’ even if they don’t use the brand, because by saying ‘no’, it is akin to saying you may not be giving your best to the babies.

“So, if you take the survey results literally, everyone is using the brand, although that is not the reality.”

He likes to use the “So what?” question, in interpreting consumer data.

“Insights are driven by understanding what survey respondents are really saying. Using the “So what?” question can gain you real insights.

“We have to go beyond just the surface, ” he said.

Lai also recalled that when he first joined the telecommunication industry, he was surprised at how companies were pushing new technologies to consumers.

“A lot of marketing money were spent and brands were trying to outshout each other, in hopes that people would adopt new technologies.

“I found this to be quite an eye opener, as in FMCG, consumer behaviour dictated product development.”

Lai said he continued to apply marketing basics in the telecommunication industry.

“A lot of it has to do with the philosophy of how you look at things.

“For example, you don’t market a product that is priced at such a level because your product margins are designed that way.

“You should market the product at a price point, which is relevant to who you are selling to.

“How many times you have seen great products, but priced wrongly?

“It is not about being cheap; it is about the right price point for the right people with a clear value proposition.”

Lai who has been with unifi for over three years said the basic philosophy is to put consumers as the starting point.

“The movement control order (MCO) forced a lot of re-thinking about how to respond to customers’ needs.

“For example, during MCO, our stores cannot be opened.

“But we were still able to do package upgrades and attend to customers’ needs through many forms of digital mediums with tweaks in processes and policies to cater for the situation.”

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