Mercer CMO Asia Natalie Truong: Managing remote marketing teams
Mercer’s major rebrand roll-out showed how careful people management can make a global initiative work at the local level.
Natalie Truong has developed a simple approach to motivating Mercer staff spread throughout Asia and the Pacific. “I’m interested in the three or five things you’re going to do to rock the world,” Truong says. “How are you going to fundamentally change the world – for a colleague or Mercer or clients – in the time you’re with us?”
More B2B marketers will be answering that question after Truong accepted the role of CMO Asia, based in Hong Kong. After spending four years as Mercer Pacific’s marketing leader, Truong’s influence is growing at the global management consulting business, which has 26,000 employees and operates in 43 markets.
Truong says the Mercer Pacific role gave her enormous insights into the challenges of managing distributed teams across diverse geographies and markets. In her new position, she manages 17 marketers across 11 Asian markets.
“I give people a lot of freedom,” Truong says of her management style. “I make it really clear that I don’t mistake activity for achievement.
“I don’t care if you clock on at 10am and clock off at 7pm. I’m not really fussed where you work – what I care about is your output. Some people have really struggled with it because they’re so used to being told what to do.”
Truong admits she needs to remain mindful of what employees require from her to perform at their best. She says finding and maintaining the right level of communication for each employee is a challenge for anyone who manages staff scattered across the globe.
“I have to remember there are some younger or newer staff members who find it a challenge [working remotely],” she says. “Remembering to bring them into the team, settling them in and getting them used to life at Mercer, where we operate in different countries … it’s something I need to get better at.
“I love working for leaders who say to me, ‘Here’s the end goal – here’s what I need you to do’ and leave me alone to do it. I’ve learnt over the years not everyone is like that. Depending on who [the employee] is, where they’re situated and depending on their market and whether they’re struggling or not, I’ll either meet them on a weekly or fortnightly basis. WIPs are really important.”
Having spent the past two decades working for financial and professional services firms, Truong admits the more leading she does, the less time she has to use her marketing skills. “I spend probably 75% of my time on people and 25% doing marketing. As I get deeper into managing bigger teams, I’m finding I get to do less marketing.”
Truong says she enjoys the creative side of brand and marketing and relishes every chance to spend time with clients, but knows the importance of bringing strong business acumen to campaigns.
Mercer’s brighter rebrand
Mercer and its marketing leaders across the world faced a significant challenge when it unveiled its first global rebrand for six years in January 2020. Leaving aside fundamental questions of whether the exercise would reinforce or change brand perceptions, or have cut through in a noisy international market, Mercer wanted to ensure its employees across the world bought into the vision.
“Sometimes I wish we were selling widgets,” laughs Ged Quinn, Mercer’s Global Marketing Leader. “We’re dealing with complex businesses across many geographies. In Asia, we have different solutions, different markets the brand needs to extend into and flex across. We’ve got to have a credible brand proposition that our own people believe reflects the values of our organisation, but also pivots to how our business is presented across our many geographies.”
Dublin-based Quinn has worked at Mercer for 20 years. Since November 2018, he has been responsible for all global and regional marketing teams as well as the Mercer brand. The rebranding initiative, with the corporate tagline “welcome to brighter”, was the first chance for Quinn and CEO Martine Ferland to set a new course for Mercer.
“We’re not a one-size-fits-all operation, and our brand needs to reflect that,” Quinn says. “If we come up with a set of values and a positioning that clients know is US-centric, then we’ve lost the argument. So the first thing we did was engage a wide group of not only clients but also our own people from across the world.
“We avoided that natural tendency to have a Western bias, in terms of thinking. The tone and voice style of our communications needed to be a little bit more hopeful and respectful of many different cultures. When people know the origin of the new brand strategy and proposition involved, clearly you’re going to get buy-in straight off.
“We have people on the ground who have been brought up and educated in those countries. They know the local market better than many of our competitors and yet they can plug into a global operation. We learn so much from them.”
The local language of business
Truong says Mercer’s rebranding plan was thorough, methodical and inclusive. “We started [the rebranding process] at the start of 2019,” she says. “It was approved by the leadership team in June and all assets were created for an internal launch in September. All external assets were ready in January .
“They [Mercer HQ] actually give us a lot of freedom to localise content. All they ask is we don’t touch fonts, colours and the overall look and feel, but other than that, you have a lot of freedom to create and localise the content as you need to. It’s the first time I’ve been in an organisation where we launched our new brand refresh internally in September and we spent a whole quarter – three months – educating 26,000-odd colleagues how to speak to it. That never happens.”
For Truong’s broad-based marketing teams, the freedom to localise messaging is vital. “They can’t change the colour palette, they can’t change the tagline – they won’t be able to hack into PowerPoint templates anymore – we’ve locked a lot of things down. But they are able to use images of clients in the local markets. The freedom to do all that and create campaigns at a local level is absolutely the crux of what this is about.”
Quinn says those working for Mercer at the global level know local and regional operatives must speak a language their clients understand. “We [at Mercer HQ] want to be light-touch,” he says. “We don’t want to say, ‘Right, this is the framework – you have to stick with it’.
“Clearly, we have a core set of values or commitments. Obviously, we have a visual identity system – all of those things you would expect – but the articulation and bringing the vibrancy, that’s over to Natalie and our marketeers to do because they’re closest to the clients. They know the culture and market dynamics.
“APAC is incredibly important to Mercer. It covers a host of countries that are unique and have high-growth potential. Natalie has done a fantastic job in leveraging content that comes from HQ, the global side if you like, and adding the flavour.”
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Further reading: How to build an effective regional B2B marketing team