When you put determination, tech-savvy and the motivation to expand your knowledge together, you get a great digital marketer. As we’ve discovered over the many issues of the Marketing Expert Series, digital marketers find their way to their careers from all walks of life, arriving in the world of marketing from varied backgrounds and educational streams. 

Crispian Leong is a digital marketer who symbolises us all in this aspect: motivated, and determined with a background in computer science. Not content with the path his degree had launched him into, he made a change and landed in a marketing career that has lasted the years. Now, as the Head of Marketing Singapore for Pet Lovers Centre, Crispian shares his story and his hard-won knowledge about how to make the best of any digital opportunity.

Hi, Crispian, welcome to the Marketing Expert Series! Thank you for joining us. Let’s kick off with a little background, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to where you are now? 

I guess you can say I stumbled upon marketing as a career. I can honestly say I wasn’t one of those lucky people who knew from the get-go what they wanted to be when they grew up. 

My education routes were either planned by my parents, teachers or the system. Even the course that I ended up graduating from – Computer Science – wasn’t my first choice. I actually wanted to study journalism, but none of the local universities offered back in 1996 and studying overseas was out of the question as I didn’t want to burden my parents financially. 

So. Computer Science. I didn’t know anything about it, nor did I expect to get anything useful out of it either. I just thought that since I’m a fairly logical person with a good grasp of science and mathematics, it would be a course I could most easily obtain a degree in.

Only during my final year project with IBM, did I realise being a programmer or a system administrator wasn’t something I wanted as a career. I preferred a job where I could talk and collaborate with people and develop… things. 

The job market in 1996 was quite good for graduates in Singapore. Companies were expanding or being set up and there weren’t enough graduates to fill the manpower crunch. I was spoiled for choice when I was sending out resumes, and there were plenty of job openings in sales and marketing. 

Eventually, I joined a firm that distributed computer hardware and software. I remembered the pay being quite decent at that time, and I was sold when the HR Manager said, “You’ll definitely get to meet lots of people and go for incentive trips paid for by vendors like Hewlett Packard and Microsoft!” It sounded fun, and it was!

I remembered thinking, “Well, if this doesn’t work out I can still fall back on my IT degree”. But somehow, marketing stuck. One year became two. Two became four. Then I joined SingTel and spent 10 years there, and the next thing I realized, it had become a career.

You’re the Head of Marketing at Pet Lovers Centre Singapore. Can you tell us a little about what it is that Pet Lovers Centre does exactly?

Pet Lovers Centre (PLC) is the largest pet care retail chain in South East Asia with a presence in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. It was founded in 1973 and the brand offers the widest and freshest range of products you can ever find for your pets.

On top of that, PLC offers a wide range of services from pet grooming to pet boarding and even pet pharmacies. 

As the Head of Marketing, I oversee all aspects of marketing across the region – including digital, retail, PR and e-Commerce, and I have teams in Singapore and Malaysia that help me.

The pet care industry is massive. What sort of strategies do you find most useful for spreading the word about Pet Lovers Centre? How do you stand out from your competition?

The thing about PLC is that we are the largest and most well-known pet retail brand chain in South East Asia, so a lot of strategies that we employ are defensive. What do I mean by that? In Singapore and Malaysia where we are the eminent brand in the industry, we don’t need to splash obscene amounts on outdoor or mall advertising. 

Our prolific retail footprint is our OOH brand advertisement. Our main advertising dollars are spent on digital and social media. Even then, we only spend enough to ensure our brand and products are positioned right at the top of searches, that our shopper ads have the largest impression share amongst our competitors, and we do enough work with the KOLs to ensure our share of voice is optimal. 

This gives us more time and resources to do the type of marketing which, in my opinion, is most important – strengthening the brand within the pet owners’ community. And we do that through CSR activities and collaborations with animal welfare groups, organizing meaningful and educational events to inform people on responsible pet ownership, and so forth.

Have the developments of the COVID-19 Pandemic affected your own strategies as Regional Head of Marketing? What challenges and/or developments have you had to adapt to since the start of 2020? How have you overcome them?

I joined PLC in May 2021, in the midst of the pandemic. Consumer behaviour by then had certainly shifted. We saw an almost two-old increase in online sales. All I ever did when I joined was to review and fine-tune the SEO, SEM and social media go-to-market processes, tighten the narratives and visual consistency, strengthen the performance marketing tracking, and voila! We saw conversion rates jump three-fold between May 2021 and October 2021. As of last month, our conversion rates were at an all-time high despite the relaxing of COVID restrictions in Singapore and Malaysia.

Most times, you don’t actually need massive life-altering paradigms to make positive uplifts to the business. 

What sort of lasting impact do you believe the pandemic’s forced acceleration of digital transformation has had on Pet Lovers Centre and your industry in general?

Well, more people appreciate the joys of digital shopping. They’re also more confident in shopping online now. This is good because PLC is well-positioned to meet the demands and challenges of this shift in consumer behaviour, having an e-commerce platform and marketing communications firmly entrenched in the digital space even before the pandemic happened.

And this trend is not going to revert anytime soon. So the important question is – what’s next right?

Well, the key challenge I am gleefully tackling right now is how to strengthen the Pet Lovers Centre brand affinity. People know our brand, but how do we make them love us and stay with us longer? That involves quite a few exciting initiatives involving omnichannel marketing strategies, further enhancing our app and launching a new price communication platform. All very exciting and which I am currently knee-deep in.

Do you think that this impact has permanently changed how you and your team go about your work? Where do you see your strategies going in the next few years?

For sure this impact has permanently changed how my team and I work. I mean, I had to reorganize my team and put the less digitally-savvy teammates on courses to upskill themselves to speak the digital lingo. 

When I first joined, I’m not afraid to say that I realised I had shortcomings in certain areas such as SEO and Google Analytics myself, and for the first few months, after work, I watched tons of YouTube and LinkedIn videos to sharpen my SEO and GA skills just to be able to have productive and meaningful conversations with my digital marketing managers.

Any advice you’d give to young and/or aspiring marketers? 

Always place your customers at the core of what you do. Always ask yourself – how does this narrative help our customers? Can we improve this process to delight our customers further? Will our customers’ lives improve from this feature or product?

It’s been a pleasure to learn more about your work and your experiences, Crispian, thank you for sharing these insights with us. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you or Pet Lovers Centre?

I’m reachable at my LinkedIn profile

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The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

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