10 minutes with Beam Suntory's Melanie Smith
Celebrating cross-cultural differences is how Beam Suntory built a world leading premium spirits organisation.
So, in anticipation for Because working with Beam Suntory we spoke to Marketing Manager in Asia Pacific Travel Retail; Melanie Smith. Continue reading to discover more about Melanie Smith’s career, the differences of marketing in both Eastern and Western markets and her experience as an Australian working in Singapore.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about yourself and your career leading up to this point?
I’m currently the Marketing Manager for Beam Suntory and look after travel retail for all of Asia Pacific. My background is in commercial marketing and specifically in liquor marketing.
I’ve worked for a variety of companies mainly in liquor. I’ve worked for Pernod Ricard in both Australia and the UK; Asahi Premium Beverages and Treasury Wine Estates and then onto Beam Suntory. All the roles have been below-the-line in commercial marketing. I ‘cut my teeth’ in more traditional FMCG companies before discovering the conviviality which comes with the liquor industry.
You worked in the UK and emigrated from Australia to Singapore to take up your current position as Marketing Manager at Beam Suntory nearly five years ago. What are the key differences between working in these different markets?
The main difference of working in the Asian market as opposed to Western markets is that the majority of business is based on relationships. First and foremost, you really have to nurture the relationship and it can take months to build that foundation and rapport. My rule of thumb is that the first meeting shouldn’t be in the office. It can be as simple as going for coffee or lunch rather than going straight into business. It is really about getting to know the person as an individual before doing business.
By contrast, the UK has a lot of similarities to working in Australia. However, culturally Australians have a very direct style. So I had to soften my style when I went to the UK and learn not to be so direct.
As the Marketing Manager for Beam Suntory what are some of the more challenging aspects of your role?
The time differences pose quite a challenge. Because we are a team that covers all of Asia pacific were all in different time zones and locations. Sometimes it can be challenging to connect as a marketing team across the locations. Invariably there are scheduling conflicts and often you don’t get that immediate feedback that you would if you were all in the same time zone or location.
I would also say that there is a real blend of different ways of working and cultures and one size fits all doesn’t work for every market. So there’s a high level of adaptability to make it work for different cultures and consumers.
Is there anyone who has impacted you as a leader?
My first ever boss - Megan. Not only did she teach me the basics of business but she’s really become a mentor and a friend as opposed to someone I used to work with. She is always the person that I would go to if I have a question or if I needed advice on a particular problem or issue.
How does the brand retain a unique culture across the eastern and western world?
We have some great brands with a really strong heritage and it really is about bringing these stories to life in a culturally relevant way. So, for example, the way we would bring Jim Beam to life in Australia would be very different to how we would do so in Asia. That’s the good thing about Beam Suntory; there is that respect of what’s relevant to each culture and celebration of these differences.
An example of this is that in Japan, typically highballs are consumed with food, whilst typically in Australia we would drink wine or beer with our meals. So across Asia we were able to use Jim Beam for this refreshment occasion with meals via the Highball serve, which resulted in phenomenal growth on the brand. Had we adopted the same strategy as the US or Australia, the results would have been very different.
Giving back to society is the core of Beam Suntory values. Can you share some examples?
The Suntory Group’s mission is to connect people with nature which has its roots in Japanese culture. So they have a few sustainability themes such as clean water and sanitation, promotion of good health and wellbeing, responsible consumption and like most companies, climate action.
Here in Singapore one thing that we really get behind is water conservation and the team in Australia have also built clean water pumps that they’ve sent overseas for developing countries to use. Whiskey production uses a lot of water so in production we look to reuse a lot of water and use clean energy consumption.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
2020 is all about new challenges - Beam Suntory has significant growth aspirations so there's likely to be some interesting projects to sink my teeth into. Personally, I'm still loving life in Singapore, so I'm looking forward to taking on some courses in order to up-skill myself for longevity in Singapore.