An Interview with Esra Genc
“My journey to Canada and into the world of chocolate was a sweet surprise”
Our alumna Esra Genc is currently holding the position as Director, Marketing at Lindt & Sprüngli (Canada) Inc. and has a successful track record of 11+ years in FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) marketing. She started her marketing career right after her Diplom degree in Business Administration (graduation year 2009) at L'Oréal Germany.
We spoke to Esra about her job in an international company, the evolution of marketing over the last 10 years and her ambitions for the future. Esra is truly excited to share her experiences and advice with our students.
Dear Esra, you are in the role as Director, Marketing at Lindt & Sprüngli Canada in Toronto. What made you move to Canada? Was it wanderlust?
My journey to Canada and into the world of chocolate was a sweet surprise.
I have always enjoyed travelling and exploring new cultures. I was 2.5 years into my job as Junior Product Manager at L'Oréal, when I received the opportunity to join Lindt’s Headquarters in Switzerland as an International Product Manager. With the goal to familiarize myself with the North American chocolate market, I found myself in a training assignment with the Canadian subsidiary shortly after. I have been with Lindt since 2012 and had the chance to work in Canada and Switzerland in both national and international marketing roles.
Since 2015 I consider myself a Torontonian where I live and work downtown, enjoying the lifestyle of this vibrant city.
Our marketing team needs to be on the pulse of food and chocolate trends and identify what will be a consumer need in 3 years from now
What does your typical day look like as a Director of Marketing at Lindt?
It is probably a cliché answer when I say that no day looks the same – but chocolate is always the hero. As a brand lead my objective is to generate demand for our products with strong advertising, a unique portfolio of delicious chocolates and great presence at retailers.
Marketing is a highly cross-functional discipline and requires a lot of collaboration with other functions like sales, finance, logistics and retail. Majority of my time I am working with my colleagues in different departments on our integrated plans and our go-to-market strategies.
In the first quarter of the year, I am usually busy with strategic business planning which means analyzing the market and consumer and deriving insights that can translate into new strategies and plans. Today, I am thinking of what innovation to launch next year and onwards. Our marketing team needs to be on the pulse of food and chocolate trends and identify what will be a consumer need in 3 years from now. Another key element is how to speak to the Canadian consumer, meaning what advertising works best in which media channel – luckily, Canadians love Lindt chocolates.
Marketers have to adapt to this ever changing multi-touchpoint environment to reach consumers at the right time in the right place with the right product
What changed in marketing over the last 10 years? And what do you think about the evolution of marketing – in the past and today?
Since I started my career so much has changed in the way FMCG brands market to consumers. In my early marketing days at L’Oreal, our focus of efforts was clearly dedicated to TV and print advertising, with limited emphasis on digital.
Today, marketing is a lot more complex. There are so many ways consumers engage with brands. They scroll through their Instagram feed on their smartphone, while watching TV or streaming a show on Netflix and making decisions on what to order next on Amazon based on product ratings – all at the same time. This consumer behavior changed even more drastically with the start of the pandemic, increasing the importance of E-Commerce for businesses. Marketers have to adapt to this ever changing multi-touchpoint environment to reach consumers at the right time in the right place with the right product. As someone who is passionate about research & insights, I consider this time as one of the most exciting in terms of the changing consumer path to purchase.
Leading a team in a virtual space has been one of the most interesting challenges and a huge learning curve. The pandemic taught me that anything is possible and so much can be done remotely.
Which experiences marked you during the Corona pandemic, personally and professionally? And what is your outlook on the future?
Living oversea has definitely not been easy in the last year. Prior to the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to travel 2-3 times a year to visit my family in Germany. Since the start of the pandemic and introduction of travel restrictions, I have not been able to travel which is a big change in my lifestyle.
Another big change is our work from home arrangement which has been our ‘new’ reality. Until the pandemic hit, I was not a fan of remote work and felt that it is a ‘must’ to be present in the office. The pandemic taught me that anything is possible and so much can be done remotely. Leading a team in a virtual space has been one of the most interesting challenges and a huge learning curve.
I believe that the global pandemic will change for the long run how we look at work and physical presence at work. There will be more flexible work arrangements which will allow employees to work remotely if they wish to do so. Personally, I love the human interaction and will definitely choose a mix between remote and in person work. Once travel restrictions ease, I cannot wait to go back to Cologne.
Which channels you use to stay up-to-date? Are there Blogs, Podcasts and Social Media channels that you follow?
Social Media has a double purpose for me: to stay connected with my network and to follow relevant content in my field, i.e. marketing, leadership or business news.
- I am a big fan of Harvard Business Review and follow its content on LinkedIn and Facebook. A recent article I enjoyed reading was ‘Want to win someone over? Talk like they do'. Another great source of advice is the Harvard Management Tip of the Day, which is a daily newsletter with great leadership advice.
- My favourite podcast is ‘How I Build This with Guy Raz’. He interviews entrepreneurs like the founders of Shopify, AirBnb or Dyson about their stories how they built companies – very inspiring and motivating.
The University of Cologne and our faculty in particular, develops academically very strong talent. Looking back, I recognize and appreciate that I had an education that was highly focused on analysis and math.
What are the most important learnings and insights from your graduate degree for your job today?
The University of Cologne and our faculty in particular, develops academically very strong talent. Looking back, I recognize and appreciate that I had an education that was highly focused on analysis and math. This enables me today to understand the business I work on, not just from a marketing angle but more holistically.
I also obtained soft skills like resilience during my studies. Our university forces you from day one to be organized, disciplined and to be in charge of your journey.
Please complete the following sentence: When I think of my university time in Cologne, I think…
...of a great education that prepared me for today’s challenges and adventures.
What advice would you like to give to our students? What are your three tips?
- Do not rush & enjoy every moment being a student: I had the ambition to finish my degree as quickly as possible and to start my career right after graduation. Today, I would add another study abroad semester and travel after my degree for an extended period. We all have a long roadmap ahead of us.
- Try different things & don’t settle: I had a variety of different part-time jobs and internships before I landed a job in marketing. Having gained experience in banking, accounting, research and marketing allowed me to make a decision for what I am passionate about.
- Network & be curious: join student clubs, associations or sports teams. Connect with people outside of the lecture hall. Find two mentors, one for your professional and one for your personal life.
Interview: Ayla Wisselinck