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NTUC Income marketer Marcus Chew on boundaries and backlash

As someone who has spent nearly his entire career in the field of marketing, Marcus Chew (pictured) is one of the rare marketers who has tried his hand at starkly different industries. He first started his career as a marketing executive at SNP Media, where he handled the magazines business. Not long after, he entered the world of Sime Darby. Chew also worked his way up at Unilever before being offered a swanky new title as head of brand marketing and PR for adidas Southeast Asia. Today, he holds the role of CMO with NTUC Income.

From publishing to food and fast moving consumer goods to sports, no one expected Chew to make the switch to insurance, he revealed candidly in a conversation with Marketing. That is because most traditional insurance CMOs in the industry tend not to come from such diverse marketing backgrounds, but rather emerge from the product development side of the field. That being said, his range of experience in various industries has been an advantage so far, he says.

“Knowing how retail, food or the publishing industry works adds to the arsenal of tools in my brain,” he says, adding this is especially applicable in today’s context where striking cross-brand partnerships and having connections is key to getting things done.

When it comes to being creative, Income is big on pushing boundaries, but it knows its limits as well.

“For us, it is all about treading the fine line [between what is acceptable and what isn’t],” Chew says:

We don’t go into any and every trending topic without first assessing if it’s relevant to our brand.

That is exactly the mentality Chew and his team had when Income worked with its agency BBH to create its bold “Times Have Changed” campaign, which addressed stereotypes and changing expectations faced by women in the industry. It also wanted to encourage a different side of women in society.

Chew says that at the end of the day, relevancy is key. “Don’t let the excitement of what is trending get the best of you.”

Another campaign which also drew the public’s attention was its retirement campaign featuring local actress Rebecca Lim. The campaign saw Lim announcing her early retirement, only to reveal afterwards it was part of a publicity campaign with Income. The move saw a backlash for both Lim and Income, with Lim’s fans viewing it as misleading.

That being said, the brand stayed firm and decided to continue on with the campaign as it had done the research and had facts and figures to support claims that the younger generation was not thinking actively about retirement. This was to ensure the stunt was more than a female actress retiring.

“We didn’t want to just pull the ad and apologise. We had to carry on the journey as resilience is very important in branding. We also have to take responsibility when we cross the line in being provocative. We can’t just blame others and say it isn’t our idea,” he says.

“For us, it was good thing since it raised a high awareness on retirement – even my aunty knew about the incident.”

When asked about the bridging disconnect between sales and marketing (sales in this instance being the insurance brand’s advisers and agents), Chew says the first step is for both sides to be clear of their roles. However, he adds that marketers must think of ways they can help advisers sell more products. This includes jointly developing products and generating tools which can help the advisers in their roles.

One such product Income has is its Adviser Connect portal, which helps advisers get more sales and see the value marketing brings to them. This includes analysing an adviser’s chat and response rate and providing feedback on solutions to ensure a consistent customer experience, building customer loyalty in the process. To ensure Income’s advisers are acting as the right representatives of the brand, Chew also stresses the importance of training.

In a world of disrupters

Insurance, Chew explains, has been an industry that hasn’t changed in decades. But in the past few years, it has been disrupted by digitisation.

To embrace this new era, digital change needs to be embraced from the top, Chew says. However, one area marketers often struggle in is in getting management to invest in marketing automation – because the price tag on investment is huge.

As such, he says, marketers need to ask themselves why they had the budget in the first place. Next they need to have clear shared targets with others – such as an overall corporate scorecard. This is to ensure that goals are not just for marketing, but rather are on a corporate level to upkeep the budget.

“Marketers need to ensure there are targets in the company scorecard which are also linked or translate to everyone’s KPI. That way, you have a stronger reason to defend your budget,” he says. But, of course, the importance of branding might vary company to company.

Lastly, marketers need to also have clearly defined measures to ensure their budgets are defended.

“If you’re doing branding without responsibility, your budget will be cut,” he says.

This article was first published in the September issue of the print magazine.