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Mapping Whitespace - A Marketer's Journey

May 5, 2022

How do you elevate the quality of your marketing campaigns? Are the numbers and metrics achieved the be-all and end-all?

How do you elevate the quality of your marketing campaigns? Are the numbers and metrics achieved the be-all and end-all? Ian Tan shares how thinking like an entrepreneur helped him answer these questions and break new ground as a leader in the marketing landscape.

Ian is the Director of Regional Trade Marketing of PropertyGuru, the widely popular PropTech company helping 38 million people in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam find homes. Ian tells us how he has helped navigate his teams into exciting new markets.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

“One of the earlier roles I had in Procter was launching a new brand into a new market and launching products within Southeast Asia - a lot of whitespace ideation.” This prompted him to consider the startup scene. His passion for growing businesses made it a perfect fit. 

For the past 12 years, Ian has been involved in various forms of marketing. The common thread that ties his experiences together is entrepreneurship. “Marketing is not just what we think it is - creating campaigns and stuff like that. It is also about helping businesses and helping the businesses to grow.” Working at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager honed his marketing chops and unlocked his understanding of driving business. He learned to own the business, P&L and top line. He understood that the objective was to make the business viable, not just create campaigns to raise brand awareness. 

“Even though I am in the marketing team, I always still sit with the business owner. I have a desk within the marketing organisation, within the group of marketing people, with the marketing department, but I'm seldom there. I am always sitting and ideating with the folks who run the business.” This has been the case with his previous role at Grab as Deputy Head of Regional Enterprise Marketing and his current work at PropertyGuru. Regardless of the growth stage the company is in, Ian asks: How can marketing help these businesses achieve their growth targets? 

SEA: Engine for Growth

Ian describes the Southeast Asian startup space as an engine for growth. Opportunity in the region is massive, with large populations and untapped markets like Indonesia and Vietnam. “The canvas that you have right within Southeast Asia to be able to innovate and help broaden the economy here - it's huge.” 

His accomplishments at Grab are an excellent example of this at play. Intent on empowering micro-entrepreneurs across the region, Ian’s work in driver-partner campaigns unlocked possibilities for millions, improving their lives through new economic opportunities. Similarly, PropertyGuru is poised to elevate Southeast Asia's property and real estate industry. 

Nurturing Talent to Sustain Growth

Fast-paced environments with aggressive business growth can force personal and professional development of individuals to go on the backburner. “We have to be very conscious to take the time and effort to develop our talent.” Ian appreciates his time at P&G, where they were very deliberate about growing talent within the organisation, dedicating significant time and resources to the endeavour. It’s a particular challenge that new entrants to companies and the tech industry face, one that Ian says should not be left unchecked. 

Vision Drives Commitment

“You look at vision as Hocus Pocus, but really understand even from a personal level. Why are you here?” Ian explains that a strong sense of purpose is essential. 

“If you don't open up this view, the burnout is very real because of all this hypergrowth, and the pace that you're at. If you don't have that, number one: you wouldn't have the resilience. Number two: you'll burn out. And number three: you'll start to question what this is all this for. You can't just fizzle out. You won't have that drive to constantly improve.” 

Cultivating an Environment for Innovation

Ian is familiar with the ambiguity and uncertainty startups often face. He encourages his teams to be unafraid of figuring things out along the way. He reminds his managers of the value of creating an environment of psychological safety. “It is so important because in order for us to do what we want to do as a team, we need to have that space to either say yes or, if we really feel truly about it, no.”

A level of cultural intelligence is required when leading teams effectively in Southeast Asia. In some markets like Singapore, people might be more comfortable being direct and assertive. However, some cultures are more conflict-avoidant, making individuals restrained and less assertive. While not a bad thing, it’s a reality managers need to be conscious of and work with.   

“I always say open up and think about it as a human being first.” Regardless of the role, leaders must have this mindset to create safe spaces for their teams. “At the end of the day, it's not hard to understand what is the right way to do [something] from a human being's perspective. Being human, really genuinely trying to understand and having care and concern for the team will allow you to create that psychological safety and that environment for innovation. We do that as much as we can.”

Whats next?

PropertyGuru has made an announcement that we are going to go SPAC, and we're going to go IPO pretty soon. I think what's exciting for me is having been part of this process and being able to lead teams right through the new world that we will be in.”

Ian anticipates that the change will alter work dynamics, but he looks forward to the challenge. “I'm very excited to learn and grow in how to manage teams and how to build organisations through this phase of transition. It's new. It's exciting, and it's something that I think I will grow from.”

Reflection questions

Marketing leadership extends beyond campaigns and involves taking ownership of broader business objectives. 

  • How are you and your business unit aligning with your business’ growth targets and objectives?
  • What whitespace or opportunities for growth do you see for your organisation?
  • In what ways can you take to reinforce psychological safety in your workplace?

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