Q&A with Maliha Aqeel, Director of Global Communications at Fix Network World

marketing metrics
Maliha Aqeel, Director of Global Communications at Fix Network World is an award-winning, communication and marketing professional who helps companies harness the power of their brand to drive engagement and achieve measurable business results. 

She has developed and led content and marcomm programs for B2B companies in the financial and professional services sectors in her over 15 years of industry experience.

MEDIA 7: When did you start working and what was it?
MALIHA AQEEL:
I started my career in 1996 right after high school, freelancing as a journalist and features writer for a magazine in Dubai, UAE. Over time, I expanded my services to include scriptwriting for corporate videos and TV productions, writing and designing client newsletters and promotional collateral.

M7: What made you want to pursue a career in branding and marketing communications? What aspect about your role brings you the most joy?
MA: I didn’t consciously decide to pursue a career in marketing and communication as my plan was to become a filmmaker. However, I had great curiosity about what makes people prefer one brand over the other when a feature-by-feature comparison didn’t show a huge difference between similar products or services. I had taken a few advertising courses during university and it broadened my understanding of how powerful brand experiences and storytelling can drive business objectives. That balance of strategy and creativity is what I enjoy most about what I do and why I’ve continued to find purpose in my career.


"Marketing professionals have to act as conveners, and connect the dots so that there is alignment between stakeholders like sales and operation teams and executive leadership on what products and services will drive growth in any given quarter."

M7: How has branding changed over the years to become what it is today? What marketing metrics do you value most for brand management?
MA:
Branding used to be focused on the tactical: aesthetics of an ad, wordsmithing copy and “selling” a vision that was less about what the customer needed and more about what the brand wanted you to purchase. Much of this was driven by the rise of a consumerist society in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. But the new millennium witnessed boom-bust economic cycles, changing demographics and technological advances at a relentless pace than ever before. Gradually, the brand’s point of view started to become less relevant and empowered consumers took back control of their brand experience and their buyer journey.

Now brands have to look outward, focusing on the needs, behaviors and motivations of their end customers. They’re also recognizing that purpose and having an impact on society in a positive way is what will drive their enterprise value instead of share price alone. The institutional investors are also taking notice and aligning their investment criteria and evaluation accordingly. This was one of the outcomes of the Embankment Project for Inclusive Capitalism, a multi-year initiative that looked into making capitalism more dynamic, sustainable, inclusive and trusted. As a result, the brand metrics that I value most are outcome-focused like contribution to reputation value, net promoter score, brand perception (a combination of brand recall and service delivery) and employee engagement/advocacy scores.


"One of the most common mistakes companies make is implementing a brand strategy that isn’t aligned to the organization’s overall business goal."

M7: What are the common mistakes that companies make when implementing their brand strategies?
MA:
One of the most common mistakes is implementing a strategy that isn’t aligned to the organization’s overall business goal. This can be challenging in large corporations where there are multiple competing priorities, but marketing professionals have to act as conveners, and connect the dots so that there is alignment between stakeholders like sales and operation teams and executive leadership on what products and services will drive growth in any given quarter. And then create and implement holistic marketing campaigns that drive specific results that support the key performance indicators (KPIs) that the executives are measured on.

A second mistake is running campaigns that are not aligned from a macro or micro environmental perspective. For example, an oil company runs a social media campaign on their corporate citizenship initiatives at a time when the industry (not necessarily the company) is under regulatory scrutiny for bad environmental practices. The timing, not necessarily the content, of the campaign can appear tone deaf and unsympathetic to sentiment in society. Another instance is if a company runs an employer branding campaign about its great culture at a time when it might be going through litigation for a workplace harassment issue. To counter this, marketing and communication professionals need to create business partnerships across all layers and functions of the company so that they’re planning and executing brand strategies that are contextually appropriate and reputationally sound.


"Marketing and communication professionals need to create business partnerships across all layers and functions of the company so that they’re planning and executing brand strategies that are contextually appropriate and reputationally sound."

M7: Which strategies do you count on to help leaders understand the value of communications?
MA:
I’m a huge advocate of data-driven decision making and offering informed insights and recommendations. C-suite executives see data analytics as a distinct competitive advantage for their business, and it can be the main strategy we use to help them understand our value. Gut instinct has a role to play in planning and execution, but to convince others and demonstrate our importance, we need to have a common understanding of business goals and use language that senior leaders will understand. Examples of this include showing how strategic communications resulted in cost efficiencies, margin improvement and contribution to revenue or increase in sales. These are tangible financial results that any executive function will recognize and appreciate. In addition to the above, I also use benchmarking data (internal and external) and forecasting as part of my communication and resource planning so that I have a framework for reporting to leadership on communication-driven outcomes.

M7: With over 15 years of progressive experience in strategic communication, what advice do you have for leaders who are trying to improve their performance?
MA:
My advice is to bring the brand promise and purpose into your decision-making process. Often, not always, performance is directly impacted by the culture of an organization. And your culture is a reflection of your purpose. It conveys why what the organization does matters; make evangelists out of your customers and convince employees to be part of the journey not just show up for a pay cheque. Research by Gallup found that highly engaged teams are 21% more productive, but low employee engagement results in 65% lower share price over time.

Communication professionals are enablers of the brand. As strategic advisors, we have to help make the connection between culture and business performance—between the intangible and the tangible. The cost of getting it wrong can have a negative impact on reputation capital, share price and even the balance sheet. Research from the Engagement Institute showed that disengaged employees cost US businesses up to $550 billion a year, which is a little over half the nominal GDP of The Netherlands in 2019 ($900 billion). That’s not a comparison that you want someone making at your annual general meeting of shareholders.

ABOUT FIX NETWORK WORLD

The Fix Network global family of brands includes collision repair franchise networks Fix Auto and Pro Color, glass repair and replacement brand NOVUS Glass and mechanical shops Speedy Auto Service, as well as the full suite of SRP glass products. With more than 2,100 points of service in over 40 countries worldwide, Fix Network is the global aftermarket services leader. The Network continues to grow internationally, thanks to a solid foundation based on entrepreneurship and innovation. For more information, visit Fixnetwork.

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Employees prioritize saving for retirement The survey revealed employees are focused on balancing basic needs with long-term savings outcomes against a backdrop of ongoing economic pressures that continue to top their list of concerns. Employees of all generations ranked saving for retirement as their top financial priority, followed by affording basic needs and paying off consumer debt3. "Saving for retirement is the No. 1 financial priority for employees surveyed, which validates that access to workplace benefits and financial wellness programs is helping Americans save for retirement and achieve better financial outcomes,” Littlefield said. “Going forward, increased personalization as well as tailored savings and investment strategies that take into account an individual’s financial goals, lifestyle, health care needs, dependent care obligations, retirement income expectations, and other unique factors will help achieve improved financial security in retirement.” Retention and recruitment of older employees critical for business success Employee interest in phased retirement has added value for employers. Most employers (77%) agree that the knowledge older employees have about their company is crucial to their business’s success. Employers concerned with “having valuable employees retire” are more likely to take actions to either retain them or hire employees who previously retired from other companies. Despite this, not all employers have experience with offering phased retirement. Only 11% of small and midsized businesses4 reported they offer phased retirement job opportunities on a regular basis compared to nearly one quarter of large businesses5. However, interest is there, as 61% of businesses that don’t offer a phased retirement still receive questions from employees about the options. See all results and insights from the latest Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM (PDF). According to the Alliance for Lifetime Income This wave included a survey of 137 individuals between the ages of 50 and 75 who consider themselves retired or have previously fully retired and gone back to work. In order to be included in the survey sample, employees must work full-time, and their employer has to offer either health insurance or retirement as an employee benefit. Businesses with 2-499 employees Businesses with 500-10,000 employees About the Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM The Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM surveys business owners, decision makers and business leaders aged 21 and over who work at companies with 2-10,000 employees and offer either health insurance or retirement as an employee benefit. The nation-wide survey, commissioned since 2012, examines the financial well-being of American workers and business employers. In 2020, the Well-Being Index was transformed from an annual survey to a regular pulse, offering three waves, revisiting questions and measuring sentiment regarding timely issues in the small and midsized business marketplace. In the first pulse of the Well-Being Index in 2022, the employee audience was added to the survey to compare and contrast key sentiment from employers. The survey was commissioned by Principal® and conducted online by Dynata from November 6-13, 2023, with a total of 500 business owners, decision makers and business leader participants and a total of 200 employee participants. This wave included a survey of 127 individuals who consider themselves retired or have previously fully retired and gone back to work. The research report focuses on providing a holistic perspective on key trends and timely issues in the small and medium business market. About Principal Financial Group® Principal Financial Group® is a global financial company with 19,500 employees1 passionate about improving the wealth and well-being of people and businesses. In business for more than 140 years, we’re helping more than 61 million customers1 plan, protect, invest, and retire, while working to support the communities where we do business, and build a diverse, inclusive workforce. Principal® is proud to be recognized as one of the 2023 World’s Most Ethical Companies® by Ethisphere2, a member of the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, and a “Best Places to Work in Money Management3.”

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