In a close interview with MARKETECH APAC Founder Joven Barceñas, Shahid Nizami, the new regional vice president for Asia-Pacific of US-based SaaS unicorn ActiveCampaign, shares the career journey he’s had in the marketing tech space, and bares with us his professional stand on current issues in marketing as well as the biggest learnings he’s gained through his longevity in the industry. 

Nizami, who is a Google, Oracle, and Hubspot alum, boasts more than 17 years of experience in the marketing tech space. 

Of what makes him stay, he shares, “All [these] years, the love for marketing has only grown, especially having been at Google, and [seeing] how marketing can really change the world and [seeing] the impact of that.” 

He continues, “Over these years, the MarTech world has changed a lot. Every single year that graph only grows bigger and bigger. This means that there are more complex problems which need to be solved.”

During the conversation with Nizami, we also didn’t let the opportunity slip to ask his opinion on the recent OCBC catastrophe in Singapore – the phishing scam that had nearly 500 customers losing their money amounting to at least S$8.5m. This drove financial bodies in the country to order the removal of all clickable links in emails and SMSes sent to retail customers – an action that has now become an important matter of customer experience. 

“As a marketer, you might think at the first go that – what does it mean for us? But I believe, and I strongly believe that anything that improves the end customer experience is actually a good thing,” said Nizami. 

“And it’s about how do you convert this opportunity where customers are losing trust in their banks? It is a problem into an opportunity where now the banks are like, how can we earn their trust back?” he added. 

Listen to the full conversation between Barceñas and Nizami over at Spotify, where Nizami shares further on what has been his biggest challenge as a marketer in the past 2 decades and whether he, in the future, also plans to join others who have decided to establish their own companies.

If you are a marketing or tech leader who wants to share your industry journey and insights, email us at [email protected]

Malaysia – Every business needs a trusted marketing and advertising agency, to well, help them with the creative side of the business, but have you seen one that is as invested and as determined as its client firm?

In the pilot episode of MARKETECH EXPERT UP CLOSE – our deep dive into creative geniuses – we featured Yens. Yenkai Chong, founder of integrated creative solutions DreamsKingdoms in Malaysia who has an ambitious mission: to groom small to medium enterprises (SMEs) into the next world-changers – the multinational corporations (MNCs). But the bold mission doesn’t stop at that; to make it even more official, Yenkai put a number to it – not just one SME or a handful, but 100 SMEs –championing them into becoming the next big thing.

We all know that SMEs are the backbone of an economy, but seldom do we hear a leader from a creative background talk so much about it – and that is how serious Yens and his DreamsKingdoms are about the underdogs of the business sector.

“In all countries, SMEs or SMBs, [they form] more than 90% of the industry. And then if you talk about MNCs, it might be only about 10% of the [industry]. So SMEs are supposed to be the pillars of [a] [country’s economy],” said Yens in the MARKETECH EXPERT UP CLOSE interview.

So why SMEs?
Most agencies would be driven by their passion to make brands and businesses a cut above the rest, and of course profit; but believe it or not, the focus on SMEs by Yens and his DreamsKingdoms is motivated by something else – responsibility.

The responsibility – from a similar SME’s standpoint – to impart knowledge for brands to fully reach their potential; and the responsibility to make them do so for something larger than every SME sets out for itself – the country’s economic growth.

“We are looking to groom at least 100 SMEs into an international brand that truly and proudly represents the Malaysia brand to the world, and also through these brands, to contribute to the country’s [economic] growth,” said Yens.

Back in 2006 when the agency started, its clients were mostly SMEs and Yens and his team found that while most of them start their business with so much idealism, some don’t come with a concrete plan to build a brand. As they observed, start-ups’ business models are merely towards trading services – buy a product or service at a lower price and resell it at a higher rate to earn the profit margin.

“That’s why many SMEs [are] not be able to survive in the long run as there are always stronger challenges, [such as competitors] who can provide a much cheaper price on the same products [they] are selling,” he said.

And with this, Yens was spurred to set out a mission to propel these brands forward and reroute entrepreneurs’ mindsets.

“I feel that it’s a responsibility for professional industry practitioners or leaders to share or direct a way to change the perceptions of businessmen’s mindset, that trading without a brand is hard to survive especially when crises hit. It’s not saying that you have a brand and your business can thrive through [a crisis], but if you have a brand, you [will] have a culture, and that culture will pull you through difficulties and give you strength [on] why you exist.”

It takes a similar successful SME to “build” one

We already know that Yens’ passion for SMEs did not just come out of thin air – it was based on experience – from an SME itself that built its business from the ground up and is continuously thriving.

Yens’ beginnings in putting up DreamsKingdoms are as humble as they can get – a one-man team with only a computer as capital.

Being a founder of a company was far from the original plan. Just like any aspiring creatives, the first north star is the big-shot marketing and advertising agencies such as global firm McCann.

Before Yens started DreamsKingdoms, he was an art director at Malaysia Design Innovation Centre (MDIC), the professional arm of Malaysia university, Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology, that provides design services.

And just like all other start-ups, he’s been through the worst – no leads or client base and no money to spend on it.

Yens shared that with difficulty in getting projects, before having built the business, he racked up debts and was three months away from being stripped down of his finances – with no cash to pay for rental and daily living expenses.

“Back then, [I] was at the age of early 20s and with a very young teenager look. Getting people to buy into my ideas and design was tough.”

Through good ol’ hard work and determination, Yens and his “dreamteam” landed and pleased the client that would start it all.

“[The] very first official client that worked with us was one of the largest sushi chains in Malaysia. Back then, we do quite a number of cold- calling, only to those companies or clients we wish to have. Then we will send in [an] email and hope to get connected with the right [key leader],” he said.

He added, “It was a great experience with our very first client and it elevated and [strengthened] our profile and [had] slowly [taken] the path [of] our agency to greater height[s]. And from then on, we get [bigger and bigger] clients which include international logistic company, luxury car, hotels, banks, and insurances.”

DreamsKingdoms walks the talk

For a team that has its eyes on delivering exceptional branding for companies – DreamsKingdoms surely walks the talk.

By just visiting its website, one immediately gets the sense of a digital identity that’s off the charts – clients are brought to another space where dreaming big is welcome.

Yens believes that branding, which he equates to culture, is a crucial element that would stand as a bastion to keep companies into a firm hold – and DreamsKingdoms is the model firm for it.

DreamsKingdoms walks both existing and prospective clients through to a full suite of its philosophy and even a jolt of renewed inspiration for themselves.

On its website, one is immediately met with a group of legends including Neil Armstrong, Mother Teresa, and Bruce Lee – and in big, gilded letters, display the words “THE BELIEVER.”

It calls its team members “warriors,” and its mission is far from its bleak acronym – ABCDE – which is to Attract Attention, Bold Branding, Consumer Connection, Design Desire, and Extraordinary Experience.

DreamsKingdoms wasn’t kidding when it said it wanted to help enterprises “become the next Tesla, Apple, Huawei, Coca-Cola, and become the one-of-a-kind brand in peoples’ hearts.”

So back on SMEs, how will DreamsKingdoms do it? 

Of course, with DreamsKingdoms declaring the big goal of a hundred exceptional SMEs, comes the concrete plan – and there are two things: Trustnology and D.E.S.I.G.N.S. strategy.

Throughout the interview, Yens talks about how vital it is for brands to build trust, and by that, he actually refers to “Trustnology” or DreamsKingdoms’ principle of trust and technology.

“To me, one of the most important strategies every business must have in order to build a brand is actually trust itself. So in DreamsKingdoms, we call it as ‘Trustnology’,” he said.

He added, “If your brand is good quality, or you have good services, but you don’t have [the] reputation of trust, I don’t think consumers will buy from you, so the [easiest] thing you can start is to build trust itself. So that’s why in this technology, trustnology is quite important.”

Meanwhile, its D.E.S.I.G.N.S. strategy for brands stands for the following:

D – Discover x Differentiate

E – Execution x Effectiveness

S – Service x Simplify

I – Ideation x Innovation

G – Growth x Globalisation

N – Next Big Thing x Next Compelling Story

S – Shareable x Stickiness

Yens said, “As a branding and marketing practitioner, as well as an entrepreneur, I don’t believe in singularity. No single great branding story can make a business great, and no amount of marketing campaigns can build a great brand.”

“So, [more than marketing], I really believe [SMEs should] [have] quality products or services and a great team behind a business. Marketing can help to build or increase the sales of the business, but [with that alone], it won’t be sustainable in the long run.

With a mapped out game plan in hand, the real work begins, and Yens said, that starts with changing SMEs’ mindset.

“The first thing for SMEs should be the switch of mindsets. We should open up our SMEs’ mindsets to become an MNCs’ mindset. If we always stick with a mindset that we are SMEs, we will never grow and have the confidence to become an international brand.”

Yens strongly believes in not just striving for good branding, but a branding that creates credibility and connection with consumers.

He said, “Everyone is talking about digital transformation. It has become a trend for all businesses from micro to big, a change that everyone must look into, but for every transformation, the value of trust should be embedded in whatever we do. No matter how good you build your brand in this digital era, trustnology should be one of the must-have core brand values.”

Having an innate passion for martial arts, Yens ultimately stated what would spell success for SMEs.

“For a business to be great and become a brand, everything needs to synergize as an ecosystem. Just like a fighter, a strong KO punch comes with the right footwork, a strong hip twist, and also very focused eyesight.”

Watch our live interview with Yens on MARKETECH APAC’s YouTube channel.

If you are a marketing or tech leader, founder or an agency head and you have a good story or insights to share, we want to hear from you. Please send us an email at [email protected].