Eric Markus

Marketing Director, Global Commerce, The HEINEKEN Company

[Tuck] taught me to collaborate, lead a team through empathy and influence, and work effectively with different personalities. These skills have been invaluable in my career.

By Justine Crowling

To be a successful leader of a global brand, Eric Markus T’12 says you need a lot more than just marketing acumen.

In his current role at The HEINEKEN Company, home to many of the world’s most renowned beer brands, he’s not just promoting a product; he’s shaping global brands, influencing sales and supply chain plans, and crafting impactful strategies that benefit the company’s bottom line.

He’s also managing diverse teams scattered across the globe. This unique blend of creativity and strategy, inclusive leadership, and data-driven decision-making is a skillset he’s honed over the course of his career and while at Tuck, noting that he refers back to Tuck professor Peter Golder’s global marketing course. But it was Tuck’s team-based approach to learning he says most influenced his leadership style.

“Tuck’s small size and isolated environment created an atmosphere where I had to work closely with classmates from diverse backgrounds,” says Eric. “This taught me to collaborate, lead a team through empathy and influence, and work effectively with different personalities. These skills have been invaluable in my career.” 

Today, Eric Markus lives in Amsterdam with his wife, Grace Chan T’12, a fellow brand leader who now serves as senior director of EMEA Marketing at Tommy Hilfiger. We sat down with Eric to learn more about his current role, what it takes to manage global brands in a fiercely competitive global beer market, and his advice for prospective brand leaders.

Can you share a bit about your first roles at HEINEKEN, and what you’re up to these days? 
I joined HEINEKEN to relaunch and grow the Strongbow hard cider brand in the U.S. In just two years, we created new campaigns, activations, and flavors, and it became the second biggest cider brand in the country. Later, I expanded my responsibilities to include the Amstel brand, eventually moving to Amsterdam to become Global Marketing Manager for Amstel, a billion-dollar brand sold in over 115 countries. A recent highlight was creating and launching a global campaign with tennis superstar Rafael Nadal across four continents. It was an incredibly complex yet rewarding experience.

Now, my role is more strategic. I advise the European leadership team, helping identify our biggest opportunities for growth. It’s about shaping the future of beer and beyond, connecting with consumers in a rapidly changing market.   

Does working with a global brand connect to a personal passion, you think? 
Yes, definitely. Grace and I are both “Third Culture Kids”—we were raised in countries that were not the home countries of our parents. We both grew up in these multicultural households where we had all this global influence in what we ate, who we talked to, and where we traveled, etc. For me, before I went into business and marketing, I considered going into foreign affairs and diplomacy. In my current role, I have the opportunity to work with very diverse markets and strike a balance between global scale and local nuance. I find that blend interesting. The other thing is, when you work on global brands, you have the scale to do bigger things than you are often able to do with local brands.

What are some of the challenges of managing a global brand like Heineken®? 
Again, it’s all about balancing global scale with local relevance. Global brands can leverage their reputation to drive a level of trust and excitement, but need to localize to cater to local nuances. The challenges include finding universal insights that can be applied in various places, deciding on the level of flexibility for regional or local adaptations, and determining the extent of control to give local teams for developing local campaigns. We provide global assets, but we also trust and support local markets to develop their own strategies, as long as they are consistent with the global brand DNA and positioning.

What’s a marketing campaign you’re particularly proud of? 
While working on Strongbow, we developed a cause marketing campaign with a local nonprofit, Swale, creating New York City’s first floating orchard. We drove over 400 million earned impressions and won the PR Week Cause Marketing Campaign of the Year Award—beating out other high-profile campaigns such as Fearless Girl.

How do you balance the lure of new trends with staying true to the core branding strategy? 
Trends often influence execution more than they do strategy. Strategy involves what the brand stands for; what needs it fulfills, in what unique ways. On-trend communication channels such as TikTok are channels to execute brand strategy in new and relevant ways. It’s essential that new trends and media channels ladder back to the overall brand strategy.

Thoughts on creativity in marketing and branding? 
Creativity comes in different forms. Some people are good at creating from scratch, while others excel at building upon others’ ideas or providing structure to chaos. When building brand and marketing teams, find a balance of creative thinkers, so the team doesn’t become too focused on one area or lack the necessary skills in others.

What advice do you have for MBA students considering a branding-focused role? 
Understand that brand management is much more than just marketing and advertising. As the “president” of a brand, you’ll be managing the business, overseeing the P&L, developing innovations, and analyzing data. Focus on leaving your MBA program with the right background and training to be a wise leader in business.  

This story originally appeared in print in the summer 2023 issue of Tuck Today magazine.

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