BANALI MALHOTRA, LinkedIn, Women In Marketing
Women In Marketing

Women In Marketing | Banali Malhotra from RAKBANK

“Innovation and creativity are a part of the marketing culture at RAKBANK. It has been through a combination of purposeful creativity and data-driven technology that we have sustained a competitive position in the category

Banali Malhotra

Banali is Director of Marketing for the award-winning UAE based bank, RAKBANK. With vast experience working in the financial sector, she explains how she carved her own path and won a slew of awards along the way! Welcome to this segment of Women In Marketing

THE JOURNEY TAKEN 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at RAKBANK?

While I was studying Sociology at Delhi University, I discovered my love for communications. I am a natural orator, had a knack for analytics and was keen on finding solutions to complex concepts; marketing became a natural choice. After graduation, I completed an MBA in marketing.

Banali 1, Women In Marketing
Banali Malhotra
Source: Supplied

I was keen on taking up a communications role. However, when the opportunity to join the Corporate Sales team at American Express came along, I grabbed it. Over almost a decade at AMEX, I moved from a manager in the corporate sales team to becoming the Head of Strategic Alliances In this role, I worked with Indian and global brands to bring unique experiences to AMEX customers

When we relocated to Dubai, I decided to move to a marketing role. I joined RAKBANK, a leading UAE-based bank, as their Head of Marketing. Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed leading the brand’s journey from a local challenger brand to a dominant retail brand in the UAE. 

As Director- Marketing at RAKBANK, I am responsible to grow RAKBANK’s brand dominance and drive innovative marketing strategies. Along with my team, I have rolled out several campaigns and products that have earned many international accolades like Summit International Creative Awards and Advertising Campaign of the Year award by the Asian Banker. 

One of the big personal achievements for me was when RAKBANK’s brand success story was featured in Oxford University’s Marketing textbook along with my interview. I have served on the juries of awards like Effies MENA, Festival of Media & M&M Global. My story was also showcased in the inspirational book “Break the ceiling, touch the sky”. I was also presented Asia’s Most Influential CMO award two years in a row.

Today, my focus is to continue spearheading RAKBANK’s Digital-first strategy through innovative data-driven marketing strategies.

What have you learned at RAKBANK that you had not learned at previous companies?

To punch above your weight! 

When I was brought on board, RAKBANK was a lesser-known local retail bank. Over the years, I worked closely with the management & the agency to establish RAKBANK as a challenger brand. While we couldn’t match the huge media spends of leading banks, we increased our share of voice by developing a brand personality that cuts through the clutter.

All RAKBANK communication had to tick 4 boxes – Cheeky, Combative, Confident & Clear. The communication was very ‘un-bank’ and hence became the talk of the town. So our communication style was fresh and unique which meant the consumers and the competition could love us or hate us, but definitely not ignore us!

Several studies reveal that women account for the majority of purchase decisions including traditional male products such as automobiles, consumer electronics as well as home improvement products. Despite this, surveys show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change?

I believe the stereotype of men holding greater purchasing power has not completely been erased from the marketing sphere as of yet. However, we see an upwards transition of media recognition of both genders and a shift in target audience focus towards women.  To aid this transition, we require more women to take roles within marketing and for advertising agencies to steer away from stereotyping women.  

For example, the majority of primary account holders in banking are men, however, our product solution and communication are designed keeping in mind both men and women. In fact, data suggests that there is higher spending across categories influenced by women.  

What does the word feminist mean to you?

Feminism to me means recognizing the differences between the genders and providing equal opportunity to all. 

At work, in my team, I have ensured a well-balanced approach where the men and women bring their strengths and perspectives that complement each other and form a more holistic approach.  At home, we have a gender-neutral approach to parenting. No stereotyping of the roles of mother and father. For example, when my child was born, she had jaundice. While I was recovering from the delivery, it was my spouse who assumed the parenting role and stayed back at the hospital to take care of our baby.

As a woman in the marketing and communications environment, what challenges do you face within and outside the organization? What message do you have for other female professionals in the fraternity?

Like in any other business function, the management team is predominantly male. While most of them are gentlemen, I have faced my share of challenges in my early days making a mark in the boys club. 

My mantra for success has been to command respect through my work. I believe in speaking-up on issues that I am passionate about.  

What made you fall in love with the world of marketing? What particular moment in time pushed you to pursue this as a career? After all, we all wanted to be Doctor growing up, right? 

I have always been fascinated by human behaviour and how it can be influenced by habits formed over a period of time. And most interestingly, how communication and marketing can change existing habits and help form new ones. This helped me study marketing and then pursue a career that involves building brands and understanding the ever-changing consumer insights landscape.

As a kid, I enjoyed watching TV commercials, perhaps more than the show itself! My favourite pastime was to create jingles to sell anything at home for extra pocket money.

ENTERING THE WORKPLACE

What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?

I start my day with some meditation and healthy breakfast. 

I then grab my green tea and head to work. I start each morning with a review of the previous day and create a to-do at the beginning of each day that I must complete. I am generally a green tea person, but the days at work with one too many meetings and brainstorming sessions call for a replacement to a cup of coffee.

COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. How has your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?

During these times, communication is key. Sharing information is crucial. With my team, in addition to the regular daily work-related discussions, we have a weekly all-hands virtual meeting which is an opportunity to interact and chat about everything from family to hobbies to keep morale high. We also participate in regular mindfulness sessions conducted by professionals.

Remote work and video conferencing have become proverbial overnight celebrities. Some say that it has been long overdue whilst others are struggling to adjust this new normal. What is your take on this and how have you structured your work accordingly?

My team has been efficiently working from home for almost 3 months without any impact on creativity or timelines. I have seen an increased commitment and zeal from the team during these testing times. We’ve always relied on our ideation sessions to ensure creativity.

RAKBANK team 1, naughtybanana
Banali and the RAKBANK team
Source: Supplied

The lockdown couldn’t stop us. We just ‘zoomed’ on. 

Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the RAKBANK story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?

Story-telling is at the core of all communication strategies. Studies show that the right brand narrative has the potential to increase the value of a business by over 20 times. 

At RAKBANK, our communication strategy has always been guided by the 4Cs – Combative, Cheeky, Confident & Crystal clear. The brand is built on communication that was very ‘un-bank’. 

RAKBANK has been a David against the Goliaths in the UAE banking category. We have always kept the interest of the common man at heart when designing our products and services. While offering unmatched value, RAKBANK has managed to evolve into a financial institution that offers a full gamut of products and services through a network of group companies. 

We have now evolved our communication strategy to appeal to different customer segments. But at the same time, we continue to challenge the status quo. For example, RAKBANK Elite Banking which is the premium banking segment, the communication has been designed to reflect the slice-of-life situations which are more relatable and create a connection. This is a total shift from the usual premium banking imagery of mahogany furniture, luxury yachts, and gold plated cuff-links!

We recognized early-on that empathy in brand communication is the need of the hour. To capture this for RAKBANK, we have introduced an additional pillar – CARE – which adds a humane element to the brand narrative.

As a mother, how has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the way you work? Furthermore, should organisations be cognizant of mothers? Is enough being done to cater to new parents, specifically mothers?

The pandemic forced the organization into situations that they would never have considered. One such aspect is the flexibility of working from home. Over the last few months, it has been proven that employee productivity is not affected by working from home.

Malhotra family, Women In Marketing
The Malhotra Family
Source: Supplied

I believe organizations should take this as a learning and incorporate work from home options as a part of their HR policy. This will give flexibility to the employees on days they need to multi-task & ensure a better work-life balance. 

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS 

What have been some of RAKBANK’s biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?

Recently, we launched an integrated campaign to promote RAKfoodie – a platform that offers curated dining experiences to all RAKBANK customers. It is also available as a mobile app.

Download the RAKfoodie app today

Google Play Store, Women In Marketing

Apple App Store, Women In Marketing

The launch received recognition across multiple industry awards. Most notably, RAKfoodie campaign dominated the MMA MENA Awards (Smarties) winning five golds, one silver and 2 industry awards.

Banali 5, Women In Marketing
Banali at an award ceremony
Source: Supplied

The success of RAKfoodie campaign at the MMA awards are a testament to RAKBANK Marketing’s approach to adopting cutting edge technology like location-based and smart targeting techniques like Polygon Mapping. Our key focus is to use data effectively to improve customer experience that goes beyond just banking and enriches their lifestyle. 

What makes something innovative? How do you define innovation at RAKBANK?

Innovation and creativity are a part of the marketing culture at RAKBANK. It has been through a combination of purposeful creativity and data-driven technology that we have sustained a competitive position in the category. An example that illustrates this approach is MemoTraits.

Memotraits (Memory + Portrait): 

This social experiment involved capturing the fond memories of watching an FC Barcelona match live. Postgame, the fans were connected to an EEG headset. As they re-lived their memories, the headset captured 3 types of emotions – Concentration, Excitement, and Relaxation.

The data was then converted to patterns that evolved in FC Barcelona brand colours and were eventually transformed into art. These art pieces were then printed, framed and handed over to the participants. With this, we combined creativity and innovative technology to immortalize them. This experiment was highly appreciated globally and was featured by some of the big names in the industry – Ads of the world, CampaignMe, WARC, etc. 

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Social to media to connect with friends

Flipboard + Harvard Business Review for my news

Spotify for my music and meditation

FitBit to keep my fitness in check  

How is RAKBANK changing the approach to marketing, growing brand affinity, user adoption, and engaging consumers living a digital lifestyle?

At RAKBANK, we’re leading the way in this space through our digital-first approach, brand engagement & experiential marketing. Brands will have to continue to stay relevant and play a meaningful role in the consumer’s life by creating authentic experiences at every consumer touchpoint. 

Martech and Adtech are at the core of the communication strategy. We are already witnessing a transition to a cookie-less approach by the leading browsers. We have already invested in CDP & DMP to collect first party data which will provide us with the information needed to make strategic decisions. I see an increased shift towards data-driven prediction models built using AI and ML. These will empower marketers to make smarter decisions in real-time. 

How do you leverage data to inform your decision-making?

As a bank, we have rich granular data about the customers. However, the challenge with this data is that it resides in multiple silos. Through our DMP and other tech platforms, we have consolidated the data which has enabled us to get a single view of the customers. The insights from these tools help us in effective real-time decision-making. 

Our MarTech ecosystem is designed around 3 core Components:

IBM Unica which serves our Website and emails

Lemnisk – Personalization focused Customer Data Platform (CDP) – Using first-party & CRM data we can personalize user experience on the website through relevant messages via push channels (Web push, Onsite & Banners).

Oracle BlueKai – Our in-house Data Management Platform (DMP) to unify disparate sources of data and harness it to drive personalized and relevant comms across all media and marketing channels. We have created dashboards & KPIs as a part of data governance and usage. Moreover, our focus has shifted from ROI to ROD (Return on Data).

2020 AND BEYOND

A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry

Bring your passion to what you do only then will you enjoy the success of your accomplishments.

Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?

Banali, 6, Women In Marketing
Banali and partner
Source: Supplied

My favourite part of my job is working on scripts, production and directing for commercial advertisements; I hope to one day use all this knowledge to direct a commercial film or short series somewhere in the future. 

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Head of Relationship Management at naughtybanana. I am a father to an awesome boy who thinks highly of me; perhaps I'm doing something right after all. When I'm not establishing new business relationships, you might catch me reading a book or of course, being an awesome dad.