We talk to MARIELLE REUSSINK, who recently ran our morning event on Marketing Strategy. Besides heading up her marketing company, she’s an Associate at L.I.C., which was founded to help female-founded start-ups secure the funding they need to succeed. She’s also an Independent Business Advisor to various entrepreneurs, helping them overcome their challenges from set-up to gearing for growth and overcoming growing pains.
Tell us a bit about your background. What did you study?
One of the biggest things I’ve always struggled with is that I like too many things. I love art and being creative, but I also love business! So, choosing a degree – and career – that would fit all my interests was going to be tough! (And a huge headache for my parents…)
In the end, for my Bachelor’s, I studied a combination course in strategy development at the University of Stellenbosch, which integrated business with subjects like philosophy and politics.
For me, this was the right move and I think the fact that I can look at both sides of the equation has been invaluable to me as a professional because it makes me look at the most unpredictable factor: people! You can try to predict, but you will never quite know what people will do or how they will react.
What came next after graduating?
I decided to go to Europe for a few months of work and travel. I stayed in Germany and Austria for a while, carrying huge mugs of beer and 1.5-metre-long platters of food through a Bavarian-style beer tent while wearing a traditional dirndl. The money was great, but my was I relieved that I had my degree!
Deciding to continue with my studies, I moved to the UK where I completed my Master’s in Management in the Creative Industries at the University of Kingston. This was probably the best time of my life, learning about business together with artists, designers, musicians, architects – you name it. I loved London and, instead of just staying for the duration of my degree, I lived there for four and half years – despite the recession, which as a fresh grad was no easy feat.
I worked in fashion. My job was a very interesting end-to-end role working with distributors of global brands on everything from merchandising the line for every season, getting it into production, resolving any production issues, making sure the line hit store fronts on time with the right marketing.
And how did the move to Asia come about?
When my boyfriend (now husband) was offered the opportunity to come out to Asia, we moved to Singapore seven years ago, where there was no fashion industry to speak of. All the relevant jobs were in Hong Kong and Shanghai. I had to rethink my career.
Leveraging on my marketing skills, I joined an international branding company that was just setting up in Singapore. I set up two different departments for them – first focusing on marketing one of the company’s programs across APAC, and then developing the digital services arm for the company to serve clients. As part of this, I was using Facebook marketing before that was even a “thing”.
After successfully bringing this department to the same level as existing business lines in one and half years with an impressive client list, including the likes of Unilever, GE, EY, Danone, OCBC and many more across the APAC region, and having hired and managed multiple teams, I thought “I can do this for myself”.
I always wanted to have my own company and it finally felt like it was time to take the plunge. Figuring out how to set up in Singapore as a foreigner was tricky but I’m so glad I went for it.
Being incredibly passionate about entrepreneurship and fundamentally believing that start-ups and small businesses hold the key to the future, from the onset, the goal of my own entrepreneurship journey was to help others achieve their goals.
And so, with marketing being a major pain point for many, I set up The EMMS, a company that helps entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses with their end-to-end marketing needs, including branding, websites and campaigns.
I love what I do! I finally feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to.
What do you love about it?
Well, I love marketing because it’s strategic and creative, yet at the same time you constantly need to keep learning to stay on top of your game; essentially, it’s all about figuring out what makes people tick.
I really love working with our clients! It’s so rewarding helping entrepreneurs on their journey. Whether we’re involved from day one, coming up with the name, creating the brand and then bringing it to life through a website and other communications or whether we get involved at a later stage, helping them go to the next level, it feels meaningful and it’s always interesting to see what business ideas people come up with and how these can be brought to market.
As my approach is very business focused and strategic, I help our clients figure out how to exactly position what they do to appeal to their target customer and achieve their business aims. So, my role tends to often go a bit beyond marketing and into business strategy.
Having my own business in this field is a good fit for me. It combines my passions and I get to work on things I believe in. Plus, as a business owner, you always need to come up with creative solutions to overcome challenges and forge a new path ahead. It’s probably what I like best about being an entrepreneur.
What are the top three things smaller businesses have to focus on?
That’s a great question! There are so many things to think about, especially when you’re starting your business. It’s these types of questions that we help entrepreneurs answer with the workshops we launched this year.
In my view, there are actually five things, or questions, all founders should think about to set up and run a successful business:
#1 What are you going to do?
This one is easy, and many people think when they have that eureka moment, they’re ready to launch. Unfortunately, even though you might have a great idea, it doesn’t guarantee success.
#2 How are you going to do it?
Figuring out exactly how you’re going to deliver your product or service is key! What skills do you need? Do you have all those skills? If not, should you upskill, or do you need to hire? If you do everything yourself, are there enough hours in the day to achieve all that? Where are you going to find the talent if you do decide to hire, and how are you going to afford that? What do you need to charge to pay yourself and everyone else? And so on.
Thinking through all this can be overwhelming. I find mind mapping is an incredibly useful tool to make sense of all the moving parts and develop a plan of action.
#3 Who is going to buy your product or service and how can you reach them?
When I ask many founders who their target group is, I often get the answer “Hmm, I don’t know… everyone?” “Everyone” is seven billion people on Planet Earth. Sorry, not everyone is going to be your customer – not even when you’re Google or Amazon.
If you don’t know who your target customer is, how can you find that person and effectively sell to them? It’s really worthwhile to spend some time defining this. The better you know your audience, the more targeted you can become in your marketing to reach them and sell what you’re offering.
#4 What is your competition doing?
Yup, your business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You should have an idea of who your competitors are, so you can differentiate from them and carve out your market share.
#5 Why does it matter?
Why do you do what you do? What was your inspiration – the reason you wanted to do this? Does your target audience care? Do they care enough to pay what you’re asking?
It’s important to identify your mission and to know if you’re really solving anyone’s problem. Identifying your purpose will also help keep you motivated when the going gets tough – and, yes, there will be some bad days on the horizon.
How have these focal points changed over the years? If at all?
Personally, I think these are evergreen principles that won’t change.
What do you think is the most important part of your work?
Well, there are obviously a lot of marketing companies and freelancers our there… I think what sets me apart as a professional, as well as The EMMS, is the business-focused approach. Helping people figure out their marketing strategy and how to really position what they do to appeal to their target customer is really at the heart of everything we do – whether it’s a logo, a website or Facebook marketing and so on. It really begins and ends with achieving your goals. In the end, that’s what marketing should do.
Of course, it’s no guarantee to business success, but by getting that foundation right, I hope ultimately that we can help more entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses succeed and beat the odds.
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