The F&B (food and beverage) industry moves fast on a bad day. On a good day, it’s one of the fastest-evolving industries on the planet.

Digital marketing acceleration plays a dominant role in this industry, propelling it forward at lightning speed!

In this issue of the Marketing Expert Series, we are in for a tasty treat. Secret Recipe’s Evelyn Lee, the company’s Head of Marketing for Malaysia, joins us to talk about marketing strategies and tactics during and post-Pandemic.

In particular, she shares some deep insights into the impact of digital marketing acceleration and how she and her team have grown closer together to keep up with the ever-advancing pace of the industry they call home.

Hi, Evelyn, thank you for joining us in our Marketing Expert Series. 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? 

Interestingly enough, my journey actually began in a bank! Three years later, I then moved into F&B where my true passion lay, landing a role at Classic Fine Foods, a leading gourmet and ingredients supplier in Malaysia.

During the height of the third-wave coffee movement, we opened the first coffee training school in South East Asia, Universita del Caffe Della Malaysia in partnership with illycaffe in Italy.

Nine years on, I was presented with the opportunity to join Secret Recipe Cakes and Café.

At Secret Recipe, effective marketing strategies and a supportive team resulted in a proven track record of awards for the brand, namely, ‘Brand of the Year’ by World Branding Awards from Kensington Palace, London and Platinum for ‘Best Brand’ and ‘Best in Marketing’ by Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) for both 2018 and 2019.

In fact, just last week, we took home ‘Malaysian Business of the Year’, Platinum for ‘Best Brand’ and Platinum for the newly introduced category ‘Best Halal Product or Service’ at SOBA 2022.

You’re the Head of Marketing at Secret Recipe Cakes & Cafe in Malaysia. Please tell us a bit about Secret Recipe and the company’s product philosophy.

With a history spanning 26 years, our vision has always been to establish ourselves as a top-tier industry leader by consistently delivering high-quality products that exceed our customers’ expectations. Our team is committed to going above and beyond by implementing innovative ideas and continuous improvements to meet our goals.

The market is highly competitive, and we use various marketing channels throughout the year to showcase our new and exciting hot meals and cakes to keep our customers engaged. However, introducing new products alone is not enough, so we also collaborate with different parties and brands to keep our brand top of mind and close to our customers’ hearts.

As marketers, it is crucial to stay informed of the latest industry trends and always be open to learning and adapting.

What role do you play as Head of Marketing at Secret Recipe? Is there a part of your role you enjoy most?

As a marketer, you will always wear more than one hat. You have to be the marketing strategist, the social media strategist, the content strategist, the creative director, the budget specialist, the coach and a whole host of other things.

I can’t tell you which of them I enjoy the most but I love the unpredictability. I love the challenges, the new things that are thrown your way, obligating you to navigate.

For example, look at the buzz and concern ChatGPT has created – instead of it being a threat, how can we learn from it? That should be our focus.

You’ve worked at Secret Recipe for more than 7 years now, and before that, you were with Classic Fine Foods for nearly 9 years. What drew you to the F&B industry as a marketer?

People say FMCG is fast, but personally, I feel F&B is even faster.

Your response time to market situations has to be on point and you must be able to scale quickly. It keeps me on my toes, and I learn more and that’s what I love about marketing.

There’s always something new to learn!

Is there an experience or moment you’re most proud of during your career to date?

One of the moments that I am most grateful for is when we won Platinum for ‘Best in Marketing’ at SOBA for 2018 and 2019. Another is when I was invited to be a panel speaker at DigiBranCon 2.0, last October.

But if I am to be perfectly honest, I am the proudest of my team, how far we have come and grown together in 7 years. Some have since left, but I am very proud to see how they have grown in their new roles.

(Side note: do not try to headhunt my team members. )

The F&B industry was heavily affected by the Pandemic. What lasting impact do you believe the pandemic’s forced acceleration of digital transformation has had on the industry?

The two years of the pandemic forced the F&B industry to grow digitally, which is something that might have taken five years or more normally. That being said, digital adoption and transformation will not slow down and we shouldn’t stop and go back to the conventional ways of doing things.

People changed, and consumers’ buying behaviour changed as well. I believe many industries are accelerating digitalisation as we have to be open to the new technologies and trends coming our way.

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?

My team grew very close together during the pandemic and it has shown us that we can do things that are beyond our expectations.

The sense of emotional closeness other than just the professional relationship makes us work together much more cohesively.

One thing that I realised during the pandemic was that we cannot work alone and in silos. As individuals, we all require assistance and collaboration with each other. I cannot foresee exactly what will happen in the next few years but on a personal level, I will continue to connect with my team both professionally and emotionally.

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

This will sound corny but I am going to quote “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Always have the perseverance to test and learn. Humility is key since there will always be something that you don’t know, but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn!

It’s been great to learn more about you and your work, Evelyn, thank you for sharing. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you or Secret Recipe?

Connect with me on LinkedIn!


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