Closing the language barrier between marketing and management

If you grew up in Singapore or Malaysia, chances are you are familiar with Cerebos’ evergreen packaged Brand’s Essence of Chicken bottles. While many of us might have grown up with the concoction being a big part of our dietary supplements, not many of us know the story behind the brand.

In the early 19th century, King George IV’s poor health inspired his royal chef H.W. Brand to create an essence of chicken beverage to boost his physical condition to aid his ailments. After retiring from the royal kitchen in 1835, chef Brand brewed up Brand’s Essence of Chicken for commercial sale in the UK.

With the trade routes under the British colony picking up, in the 1920s the chicken essence hit the shores of Asia. British men and women based in Asia were seen consuming this product in their homes. Since most of the British household caretakers were locals, the product gained popularity in the region for being a health booster.

Marketing sat down with Isabella Tan, vice-president and general manager of Cerebos Pacific, a Suntory Group company, as she narrated the Brand’s story to me. Tan, who looks after Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines for the brand, shared more insights about it.

Tan came from a marketing background. Since joining Cerebos, she has held appointments in both regional and local business units. Twenty years ago, when Tan first joined Cerebos, she took on the role of marketing manager. She quickly rose through the ranks and by 2002 she took the role as head of regional marketing services for Brand’s. By 2004, she was promoted to vice-president of regional marketing and was responsible for shaping the strategic marketing plan and the CRM strategy for Brand’s business across Asia – particularly in key markets such as Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and China.

Despite being in a management role for nearly five years, marketing clearly is in Tan’s blood.

So now that she has a team of marketers under her, what does she struggle with when working with them we ask. Communication, it seems, is a struggle. Between marketing and management, there is a clear language barrier.

“Marketing likes to dream, which you, of course, need. But you need to come back to earth. Many marketers get so hung up on nice ideas and their story boards that they forget to talk about the value they bring to the business,” she says.

CEOs, CFOs and country managers need hard numbers, not just a beautiful creative concept or idea. Just like how marketers often study and understand their audiences before a big campaign, the same should be done for management. Simply put, marketers need to think of their management as their audience.

Do you know what your country managers or CEOs are measured on? What makes them tick? If you are more conscious about how they are measured, you will be more conscious on how you are being measured.


At the end of the day, much like for any campaign, relatability matters. The same rule goes for your management.

“In marketing you need to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, while your head is up in the clouds dreaming up lofty, big ideas. Mastering that balance will point us towards valuable ideas as opposed to wild ones.”

This ability to articulate the right points is also an aspect Tan looks out for when she hires. For Tan, two key points are a must when making a hire for the marketing team: curiosity and articulation. Without harping on the point of curiosity too long, she says a healthy dose is always needed to seek out new ideas, while challenging the norm is also a must.

But articulation is an area many struggle within the field – be it fresh grads or senior marketers.

“Articulation is something I haven’t found that many marketers are capable of. Say you are great at analytics, but cannot articulate the problems or answers you have found, it is hard for others in the team to help you,” she says.

Changing consumer habits

Nonetheless, today the problems plaguing marketers are many. More and more consumers are moving at lightning speed with their habits constantly and rapidly evolving. Expectations are sky high for brands to meet those needs. Large corporations are still somewhat sluggish in adapting to this change because of the ritualistic procedures put in place and that’s where nimble start-ups often eat into their business. The threat start-ups pose now is more real than ever.

“Marketers should be afraid that consumers are moving faster than the companies and start-ups are so quick to innovate and meet their needs. The time start-ups take to get their first prototype out, a large corporation is still going through paperwork and through the loops of the corporate structure,” she says.
Marketers need to work on integrating themselves better in a company be it in product innovation, engineering or the supply chain.

“Consumers are moving faster than companies and marketing has to go beyond just coming up with communication pieces, activities and promotions,” she says. This is very much unlike when she first started in the marketing field, she reminisces. Tan’s first role in marketing was in a Swiss timepiece company. Back then, it was a small company and she alone was responsible formarketing. Tan was quickly exposed to the whole breadth of marketing.

“I had to ensure designs were coming up pretty quick and keeping up with trends – be it colour themes, patterns or bejewelled, I was always spotting trends,” she says. Without an in-house designer team, Tan was often left thinking of ways to respond to those upcoming trends. And that’s where she learnt the need for speed.

Back in the day, you had to be faster than competitors. Today, you need to be faster than consumers because they are way ahead of even your competitors.

But ultimately, at the end of the day, Tan is a strong advocate of putting the customer at the heart of every function in the company and especially so for marketing.

As a personal philosophy, be it in the role of marketing or management, she believes a company needs to place the customer at the summit of every unit. And that is why customer intimacy has always been a strategic focus for the brand.

“If you don’t know what your customers want, but have the best product in the world, it will just stay as is – a great product. You will not have a compelling proposition to resonate with your audience.”