KUALA LUMPUR: Marketing is the most important department in any organisation and it is essential for staff to believe in the brand, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes has stated.

A key driver of the Malaysian low-cost airline's success has been establishing a distinctive brand where marketing is at the heart of every decision the company makes – even training new employees as brand ambassadors.

The enigmatic CEO bought the embattled airline in 2001 for just 1 Malaysian ringgit (US$0.26). At the time, the company was heavily indebted and owned just two planes.

Today, AirAsia is one of Southeast Asia's most recognised brands, flying to 100 destinations, and it has also won the World's Best Low Cost Carrier award for seven years running.

Fernandes shared the secrets to AirAsia's phenomenal transformation at the recent World Federation of Advertisers annual conference in Kuala Lumpur.

"Every one of your employees is a marketing person in your company," Fernandes told WFA delegates. "If they don't understand the brand, then you are losing a very important source of promoting your company… You can always sell an external brand, but if your people don't believe in it, then you just sell negative."

Fernandes encouraged challenger brands, in particular, to differentiate themselves from Southeast Asia's traditionally risk-averse marketing to stand out against more established competitors.

"You have to stand strong in believing in your product and fight the case. Always be a little bit risky and never be afraid to fail," he said.

"In this day and age, there is so much noise out there. There is so much battle for the consumer's attention."

Data sourced from Warc