Asih Wulansari, Multi-Segment Product Marketing Head at Mashreq Bank, on how getting an executive MBA in the middle of a pandemic only made her a better marketer.
The role of marketing is evolving and I’m consciously pushing this transformation through to drive impact.
I’ve been working as a marketer for more than 15 years, jumping from advertising to in-house marketing consultancy to, eventually, banking. Each of these moves gave me the opportunity to expand my business development skills and got me closer to being the business driver.
In the local advertising agency that hired me after my stint at OgilvyOne (my first job in Dubai), I started my secondment in the Group Strategy department, managing merger communications for Emirates NBD before I moved on to support the launch of the bank’s first brand campaign. I got closer to my objective when I joined the Business Marketing team, moving from wealth to SMEs to the personal banking & cards segment. Then came an opportunity at Mashreq, where I’m managing Multi-Segment Product Marketing.
Throughout this journey, I have observed a recurring pattern: marketing is seen as a support function only. But is it? Sadly, yes, in most industries.
I try hard to change this perception, and it has gradually evolved for the better. But 2020 was when the true shift happened.
On the one hand, 2020 was the year when I started my Executive MBA at London Business School, mainly thanks to the scholarship that I was fortunate to get from Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund. In a very short time (business-school kind of short timeframe), I had to digest all aspects of business and general management beyond marketing, such as business analytics, finance, strategy, economics, organizational behavior, and even entrepreneurship – to develop an entrepreneur mindset. Yes, I could have gotten exposed to all of these outside of a business school, but I would have missed out on the skills and wealth of knowledge that LBS has to offer – not just from the faculty, but also from my inspiring classmates with many different industry backgrounds. LBS equipped me with the necessary business skills to help me drive marketing in the right direction.
On the other hand, the whole focus on digital accelerated at the beginning of the pandemic, forcing financial institutions to shift almost entirely from offline to online models. Customers expect brands, banks included, to be accessible from the safety of their home. Digital marketing has the benefit of being at the right place and at the right time, by understanding the dynamics of various customer touchpoints. At Mashreq, we were already prepared for digital progression; but, in March 2020, marketing was put in the spotlight and I had to deliver, learn, and achieve business targets really fast. The almost overnight push to move from the regular sales approach to end-to-end digital acquisition driven by marketing, put my own drive in an accelerated mode.
I have also taken advantage of Mashreq’s digital transformation and agile way of working. I embraced the UI/UX debate, the development of a digital acquisition journey, campaign analytics, and customer experience as ways to shape a more holistic version of marketing. The bank has also exposed me to management and strategy.
This combination – an Executive MBA at London Business School and the digital acquisition opportunities at work – happened at the most challenging time. To say that I was busy leading product marketing across the bank’s retail segments while juggling LBS’s demanding core courses is an understatement. I had to sacrifice my weekends and most of my weekday evenings for an entire year. But don’t underestimate how resilient your mind can be. I struggled, I felt exhausted and yet, I picked myself up with the help of the people who are closest to me and pressed the accelerator pedal hard with the right engine and fuel. What I get from this experience is agility and fresh management expertise to handle new demands.
I’ve repurposed my marketing role from support function to key sales driver for the bank’s various products. At Mashreq, marketing is now a partner to the business and has become the growth engine during the pandemic. This requires constant push and exploration, but there is no going back.
We have come a long way, but still haven’t reached maximum potential. The business school has given me the agility to ride the wave and make marketing closer to what I aspire it to be. Now, I’m focusing on retaining and building on this.
Continuous learning is key and I am fortunate to be part of a Group Marketing department that understands how important it is to aggregate insights from global marketing associations. I combine it with learnings from experts within the organization (spot the gems within the company), agency partners, and cross-industries (yes, e-commerce); while also keeping a close watch on fintech companies in various markets, not just as the near future competitors but to look at financial services from unconventional points of view and borrow the relevant insights when I’m at work.
It is a continuous struggle, and I will tell you more about it when we finally get there.
Till then, stay curious, and stay safe.
Follow Asih Wulansari on https://www.linkedin.com/in/asihwulansari/