“The living space is now a working space too so discipline is crucial to living a well-balanced life. I’m a firm believer in that”Maria Marinay
Maria is an upbeat and highly talented social media manager from Singapore based restaurant, Merci Marcel. We learn more about her in the latest segment of Women In Marketing
THE JOURNEY TAKEN
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Merci Marcel?
During my university year, whilst I was still running my own business, I found out that digital marketing and sales were two of the things I wasn’t particularly good at. I am introverted and I struggled with speaking to customers and selling my products. I knew how to use social media for personal use but we weren’t taught how to use it for business.
Acknowledging these weaknesses and having the courage to become a complete beginner in digital marketing is what propelled me to learn as much as I can— using the power of Youtube, online blogs & articles, online educational platforms to educate myself on the fundamentals of social media and the rest of the digital marketing landscape. I put this theoretical knowledge into practice by starting small and entering the gig economy, I offered content creation and social media management gigs on Fiverr. I took a sales & marketing internship with a Dragon’s Den-backed food business in London. I fell in love with living in London and I tried to continue my career there however due to limitations regarding visa, it wasn’t very easy.
I ended up landing a social media executive job in Dubai instead. After more than a year and a half, I took some time off from my full-time job to do a dance course in the UK (it’s one of my other big passions) whilst finding ways on how to make my dream of working in the UK come true. My course finished and although I had a few companies who were keen to hire me, the visa sponsorship was a big barrier to entry. I went on a holiday in Singapore in an attempt to find myself and figure out what my next steps should be. Coincidentally, I landed an interview for a Social Media & Community Manager role for Merci Marcel and eventually got the job.
You have accumulated an envious amount of experience from various companies across several continents. What did you learn from these roles and how do you apply experiences in your current role at Merci Marcel?
Most of my experience working as a freelancer or in a company has been in a start-up setting and I think having the experience of being an entrepreneur, an in-house employee and a freelancer gives me a well-rounded point of view of how things work. I also learned how to be resourceful and be as creative as I can with limited resources. Not to mention, having worked in 3 different cities exposed me to entirely different cultures and provided me with a glocal perspective.
Several studies reveal that women account for the majority of purchase decisions including traditional male products such as automobiles, consumer electronics as well as home improvement products. Despite this, surveys show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change?
I think this has to do with two things: 1) the old school patriarchal way of thinking. A lot of people still think that men rule the world and that they have the final call– the final decision. It is true that there are more conversations around feminism and gender equality now more than ever but there are still a huge number of us who still think men are the alpha. 2) these said people most often occupy the decision-maker roles in the company. More often than not, people are scared to call them out because of their titles and power.
Who are some of your female heroes?
My mum has made a huge impact on my life. She has gone through a lot in her life and she overcame it every single time. I learned the values of perseverance and resilience from her.
What have you learned at Merci Marcel that you had not learned at previous companies?
I’ve definitely learned more about the operational side of things. Dealing with booking and event inquiries was something that I did at some point. I was pretty hands-on with the launching of our 3rd outlet– making sure that we are fully booked during the soft opening. I also gained more technical skills in InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Being the only person in the marketing department apart from my boss who’s also one of the co-founders, I had to learn these quickly to be able to edit our marketing collaterals for print.
What made you fall in love with the world of marketing? What particular moment in time pushed you to pursue this as a career? After all, we all wanted to be Doctor’s growing up, right?
The beauty of storytelling. Being able to create content that people engage with and relate to, building relationships not only with your customers but also with whoever you’re working with (influencers, media, other brands, etc), the never-ending challenge to think out of the box and to figure out how to tell your brand’s story through photos, videos or words.
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?
I love my journal. During the start of the week, I usually make a huge list of what I have to accomplish for the next few days– identify which are urgent, which are important, which are recurring, etc. Once I have that all laid out, I will plot my meetings, media tastings, and content creation days then roughly plan my daily tasks for the week.
I learned from an article a few years back that it’s good to limit yourself to 3 main priorities for the day so that you don’t get too overwhelmed with everything and I’d say 98% of the time, it works! I always put engagement — responding to comments, looking through the feed, liking posts, engaging with the community first before I do anything else. I will then move on to clear out my e-mails, deal with booking inquiries, media inquiries, and the like before I move on to the other agenda. I aim to use the first half of my day and the earlier days of the week for the creative tasks and use the other half for reporting, database management, admin, and the like. As much as I’d like to stick to a routine, it’s almost impossible in a start-up! But I manage 🙂 Especially with a few cups of coffee here and there.
COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. On the same token, however, several organisations have used this time to regroup and use this as an opportunity for change in structure and processes. How has your organisation and specifically, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?
Our restaurants are made for a dine-in experience so when the circuit breaker was in effect, we immediately shifted our business model to offer takeaway and delivery. In the marketing aspect, we really wanted to be mindful of what we post especially with social media being our first point of contact with the customers while they stay at home. We have offered more lighthearted content to bring some positivity to our community’s feeds. We have introduced TikTok to our strategy, increased our posting on stories, and most recently, we have launched Marcel Goes Live, a series of IG Live takeovers with like-minded brands & people to offer an at-home Rendez-vous from yoga, cooking, cocktails, wellness to name a few.
We are also taking this time to revamp our website and create an e-shop for the concept store which is currently closed due to circuit breaker regulations.
Remote work and video conferencing have become proverbial overnight celebrities. Some say that it has been long overdue whilst others are struggling to adjust this new normal. What is your take on this and how have you structured your work accordingly?
I’m quite fortunate to have had remote experience in the past so it was not a big adjustment for me. I think the challenge for me is to make sure that I also give enough time for myself — do what I love to do, talk to my family over Facebook, and take some time off. The living space is now a working space too so discipline is crucial to living a well-balanced life. I’m a firm believer in that.
Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the Merci Marcel story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?
Merci Marcel is all about sharing our passion for great food, great wine with our family & friends. It’s about creating unforgettable moments in a beautiful setting with an overall wonderful ambience and exceptional service. We put a lot of thought in sourcing ingredients, designing our outlets, crafting our playlist, training the team etc because we love what we do and we hope to share this with our community, too.
On social media, although we repost a lot of our guests’ content because it’s great to see how much they have enjoyed dining with us, we also give a spotlight to our Marcel Fam, our staff, because of their exceptional service elevates our guests’ experiences. We involve them in our photos and videos whether it’s on Tiktok, dancing in front of our upcoming venue, attempting to speak French or photos of them enjoying our food.
What have been some of Merci Marcel biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
Opening our third and biggest outlet to date has been the highlight of the past 12-18 months. That’s when we thought that, hey, this can be something really big. We are also glad to have built a loyal and engaging community online and offline. Over the past year and a half, we have launched 2 charity campaigns, 1 zero waste campaign and 1 arts exhibition. We have also invested more time and effort in creating more authentic and real content for our community and they have been nothing but supportive.
What makes something innovative? How do you define innovation at Merci Marcel?
For me, innovation is thinking out of the box. It’s finding new ways to do things, it’s being resourceful and creative. At Merci Marcel, innovation is delivering an overall experience beyond what you eat or drink. It’s delivering a full package exceptionally even before a guest asks for it.
How important is community management particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic? How should brands balance between their advertising objectives as well as customer support processes during this period?
Very important. People now spend way more time online and we have to make use of this screen time wisely whilst providing valuable, relatable, and engaging content. I think brands should keep a 70 – 30 or 60 – 40 ratio of non-commercial to promotional content. People need the human touch, the realness especially this time. Being all salesy may be beneficial for a short time but not in the long run. Brands need to think about how they can provide value to their online community now. They need to think about what type of content can put them in the first rank of the minds of the people who will see their profile/content.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Instagram is synonymous with my work now. From community management, content, influencer, and media relations to drawing inspiration from other brands/people..it’s all there. I also use Planoly and Hootsuite to plan my posts. I also love using Premiere Pro and Keynote for some of my animations and Lightroom for photos.
What’s your mobile strategy? What have you found works and does not work for your target audience?
My mobile strategy is ”always being on”. Diving into the geolocations and hashtags to find out what people are saying about us, creating conversations, responding to them. Community is at the heart of what I do, even when it comes to content. We use analytics and we go through our posts to see which ones resonated with our audience and why (or why not). If we have an idea that’s a bit outside of our usual strategy, we sometimes just give it a go. If it works, great! If not, we find out why so we know if we should bin it or find a way to improve/learn from it.
How is Merci Marcel changing the approach to marketing, growing brand affinity, user adoption, and engaging consumers living a digital lifestyle?
We have shifted a lot of our tools online. Mid last year, we partnered up with a start-up for their pilot customer survey forms. Guests can scan the QR and answer the form online instead of writing it manually on a piece of paper. The qualitative and quantitative data we obtained from this has helped us refine, revisit, and maintain our quality and standards. We are also now working on revamping our website to make it more accessible and user-friendly as well as creating an e-shop for our concept store.
Furthermore, we are looking into adding e-vouchers to our product mix for those who want to gift the Merci Marcel experience to their loved ones. On social media, we try to be on top of the latest trends as much as we can, and as long as it makes sense for us to do so. Tiktok has been a surprisingly successful addition to our strategy and I believe we are also one of the frontrunner of, if not the only, SG-based F&B brand that has introduced Instagram Live takeover series to our communications.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
We all work differently so find the routine/organization tool that works for you. Having a clear mind and focus makes everything easier and more manageable. It’s not about putting the hours, it’s about how you make use of them.
2020 AND BEYOND
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)
I am currently reading Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim. As someone who spends a lot of time in front of the screen, I prefer to take a break from it and read from physical books. Plus, it’s a different experience!
A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry
Never stop learning. There is so much to learn from the world. Immerse yourself in different cultures, meet and work with different people. Life is the best teacher.
What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?
I’m challenging myself to take better photos from my iPhone and to better my Adobe skills.
Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read
Tricia Young, owner of Salt Swim
Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?
Mentor or help more small businesses in leveraging marketing/social media to scale their business. Go on a Eurotrip.
What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Never give up.
Which superhero/heroine or literature icon exemplifies your personality at work and at home?
Captain America. My morality and principles play a huge role in my decision making.