“As a marketer, you can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

By Delani Philips

Emily Chong’s childhood was filled with “business conversations” courtesy of her parents. “They were always talking about business opportunities and people’s needs, and I guess I must have absorbed some of it”

She studied digital design but those early discussions around the family table helped her realise that she really wanted to work in marketing. Lacking experience as a fresh graduate, Emily started work with an event company to gain marketable experience.

It was a good call because soon Permanis was looking for a marketer with event experience to help market Gatorade during sporting events.

This was the break Emily needed, and she hasn’t looked back since.

A five-year stint with Cadbury followed, which was where she built up the bulk of her marketing knowledge.

“I was very fortunate as the company believed in consumer insight and research, and working there gave me a very good foundation, from product development to pricing, packaging, and placement.”

Thinking big

Having realised she had learned enough at Cadbury, Emily moved on to something bigger, Unilever.

While Cadbury was very much driven by consumer insights, Unilever presented Emily with an in-depth understanding of the market. “I was handling Sunsilk which was the biggest turnover brand in Unilever, and it was all about amplification and driving impact.”

As a young marketer at Unilever, she was given the opportunity to experiment.

“The Internet was starting to gain prominence, digital marketing was in its infancy and I was exposed to it early on. But I wanted to move up, I wanted to become a business driver.”

So when Kimberly-Clark called, Emily was ready to move up as a Marketing Manager in charge of an entire category.

“It was all about the fundamentals of business with the brand as a driver. I was looking at financials, the profit margin, driving the category growth, really the whole business management.”

Designer at Heart

Pizza Hut was where Emily’s past experiences came into play: the consumer insights foundation from Permanis and Cadbury; the Think Big mindset that Unilever taught her; and the business management acumen that Kimberly-Clark offered. In addition, Emily’s innate creativity was her edge.

“With my design training, anything creative or out-of-the-box excites me.” Coming from an FMCG background, it took her a while to understand how fast retail works, and how unforgiving it could be.

“Retail is a whole different ball game. Consumers expect more. So apart from fulfilling their fundamental needs, they are also looking for an elevated experience. That’s where the creativity comes in. It’s a very crowded space and you need to be able to stand out. You have to be creative and get the attention of your consumers, and at the same time, you have to deliver.”

Emily’s first Pizza Hut success story was in early 2020, and she recalls, “We created a heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day. The idea was that love shouldn’t be limited to romantic love but shared with anyone you care about. We also did something similar when Blackpink came to Malaysia. We saw how much their fans loved them, and we wanted to tap into that.

We created a limited edition heart-shaped pizza with a black crust. It got a lot of attention and we also won some awards for that.”

As rampant digital transformation compels businesses to adapt to evolving consumer needs, Emily Chong has redefined Pizza Hut’s vision as a “Modern Pizza Experience” brand, emphasizing relevance and purpose in this new age.

During the pandemic, Emily’s out-of-the-box approach resulted in the Salam Box.

“Since people couldn’t physically ask for forgiveness that Raya, we created a Salam Box which had a sleeve with two pairs of clasping hands. Our delivery guys could deliver the ‘salam’ and ask for forgiveness on your behalf!”

Awards and Team Recognition

“Awards are a form of recognition, which drives and motivates the team. I go for awards because I want to achieve that, and I want the team to know that their work is appreciated.”

Under Emily’s leadership, ESG efforts included ‘Hut to Heart’ which exemplifies Pizza Hut’s vision to continuously spread love, empowering people to change their communities and lives for the better. ‘Hut to Heart’ aims to never stop putting smiles on their customers through two programmes, Sayangimu and Kenyang Together.

To Emily, technology serves as a pivotal tool in reinvigorating the brand, anchored by insights derived from consumer behaviour. “Technology is an enabler, it can make a difference, but if you don’t have consumer insights and brand relevance, there is no point.”

Emily Chong won CMO of the Year at the prestigious Malaysian CMO Awards 2023 for Best In F&B Marketing.

This article is excerpted from the coffee table book Who’s Who In The Malaysian Marketing Landscape – a ready reference to the leaders who are making a transformative difference in the industry. Available at https://marketingmagazine.com.my/shop/books/cmo-coffee-table-book/

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