Empathetic communication is the way forward: RAKBANK’s Banali Malhotra

Excerpts from #CommsChat Series on LinkedIn

Banali Malhotra, Marketing Director – RAKBANK

As Director-Marketing at RAKBANK, Banali is responsible to grow RAKBANK’s brand dominance and drive innovative marketing strategies. With over 20 years of experience across regions, she has successfully launched several campaigns and products that have earned many international accolades.


Under her leadership, RAKBANK has embarked on data-driven marketing journey to accelerate its digital maturity and growth.


According to Banali, the ever evolving consumer spending habits need to now guide the brand strategy. The consumers are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and their health. She believes the brands that reflect empathy and offer value to the consumers will be successful in the future.


Banali is a regular contributor to marketing thought-leadership platforms in the region. Here are the excerpts from her panel discussion at LinkedIn Chats organized by #CommsChat


Q: How do you think brands in the Middle-East can survive, sustain and thrive on Communication amidst the global crisis?

Banali: Middle East brands have been affected in the same ways as brands in the other regions. The pandemic has expedited digital adoption across various aspects of business and personal life. This has also led to new consumer habits which will influence the buying process in the near future. Due to the financial impact of the pandemic, consumers have become price sensitive and spend only on necessities. With this background, creativity and innovation have become crucial in every aspect of our communication strategy. 


We continuously evolved our communication strategy through the pandemic.


Phase 1: Emphasizing safety through a social campaign – #StayHomeStaySafe. As a part of this campaign, we temporarily changed our brand tagline from ‘Simply Better’ to ‘Simply Safe’. Content pieces and engagement ideas were developed to drive home the safety message.


Phase 2: Empathetic communication. In this phase, we provided necessary support to our customers in adjusting to the new reality. Payment deferrals were offered to SMB and retail customers. 


As the lockdown progressed, more frequent updates were sent to the customers to ensure they are updated about the revisions to branch working hours/closures. Also, there were details provided about the safety measures being taken by the bank that were functional. 


Phase 3: Relevant product communication: Promoting only products and solutions that address the challenges posed by the lockdown – campaign on safe contactless payments, virtual prepaid card, etc


Q: As middle east is slowly opening what are your plans to get the consumer back

We will continue pursuing the Digital-first approach keeping innovation & creativity at the center of our communication strategy. We have been effectively using a data-driven media approach to promote products designed with the current consumer needs and limitations in mind like value-offers addressing basic needs, etc. 


For example, in our Online Bonanza campaign we offered a collection of special deals across retail, health & nutrition, grocery, meal delivery & education, all available online. It was very well received by the consumers.


To further strengthen the proposition of the Bonanza campaign, we leveraged our strategic partnerships with MasterCard, Amazon, Careem Now, etc.


Also, we have introduced a straight-through digital on-boarding for retail and business customers. 


Q3: Do you see consumer consumption pattern going up or sentiment will be low right now

I am optimistic that consumer confidence will return. However, the overall sentiment will certainly be of caution. Spends on essentials will continue but conspicuous expenditure will perhaps take much longer to recover. For example, we will see more staycations…



Q: Middle East is a multi-cultural society, with a rich mix of locals and expats from around the world. If you have to define you consumer, how would you do that? And how do you keep those cultural nuances strategy in Communications with these different stakeholders.

The Middle East is diverse. UAE, our market, is a mix of over 200 nationalities with about 80% ex-pats. The ex-pats living here are global citizens. In our communication plan, we focus on identifying homogenous segments basis technographics and psychographic data and insights. The messaging is then customized for each of these segments and distributed through relevant media channels. 


Islamic banking for the Sharia way of life is a separate offering. Our communication with this segment is designed keeping in mind the cultural sensitivities, personal beliefs, and values.


Lastly, at RAKBANK, our communication strategy has always been guided by the 4Cs – Combative, Cheeky, Confident & Crystal clear. We have introduced an additional pillar – CARE – considering the current consumer sentiment and a need for the brand to be humane.



Q: What’s the future of consumer communication? Your views on how 2025 would look like.

Martech and Adtech will be at the core of the communication strategy. Technology platforms will have to adapt to the increasing ethical and legal challenges related to user privacy, tracking, and intrusive targeting. We are already witnessing a transition to a cookie-less approach by the leading browsers. Brands will have to build tech stacks to collect and mine the first and second-party data. At the same time, maintain a fine balance between hyper-personalization and privacy. 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. 


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. 


At RAKBANK, we’re leading the way in this space through our digital-first approach, brand engagement & experiential marketing. 



We sent a young FC Barcelona fan to walk with Messi in a game against Manchester United as a part of an exclusive experience won through our social media engagement campaign. 


Memotraits (Memory + Portrait): This social experiment involved capturing the fond memories of watching the FC Barcelona play live. 3 of these fans participated and were connected to an EEG headset. As they shared their memories, the headset captured 3 types of emotions – Concentration, Excitement, and Relaxation. The data was then converted to patterns which evolved in FC Barcelona brand colours and was 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 the. This experiment was highly appreciated globally and was featured by some of the big names in the industry – Ads of the world, WARC, etc



Q: A MEPRA survey has cited poor mental health as a big threat to the performance of employees with common anxieties over the coronavirus and job security. What are your brands doing to manage the wellness for employees? 

Uncertainty leads to anxiety, communication is key. Sharing information is crucial during these times. In my team, in addition to the regular daily work-related discussions, we have a weekly all-hands virtual meeting which is an exciting opportunity to interact and chat about everything from family to hobbies to pass-times. We also participate in regular mindfulness sessions conducted by professionals. And to keep the fun going, we have theme-based zoom parties to celebrate special occasions. 


Q. With work from home for mostly everyone, what are your organization doing to train and ensure that efficiency is maintained

At Marketing, the 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. The lockdown couldn’t stop us. We just ‘zoomed’ on!