Cheah Kim Lean: A Seasoned Marketing Research Expert Guiding Businesses to Grow and to Flourish

In business, ‘marketing’ can be very valuable. It can open the door to many opportunities for growth. It’s a detailed study of consumers’ needs, complaints and suggestions as well as the general demands, conditions and opportunities within the marketplace. It reveals meaningful insights and thus guides companies towards growth, practically.


In 2021, marketing often becomes a multi-faceted, demanding and technology-dependent process. So, it’s generally considered as a discipline in itself. Unfortunately for new, inexperienced and small companies, singlehandedly taking care of their main service as well as performing marketing on their own can become counterproductive. So, it is better to ask for help from expert marketing companies.

Cheah Kim Lean
Cheah Kim Lean, Co-Founder, Acorn Marketing and Research Consultants

In Asia, ‘Acorn Marketing and Research Consultants’ is one of the best marketing service providers today. It’s the largest independent marketing research network within Asia today, prevalent in 11 countries here. It was set up in 1985, in Singapore, by co-founders Ms. Cheah Kim Lean and Mr. Kwan Chong Wah, wanting to improve the standards of the industry through high-quality services. It is now recognized as one of the pioneers of the region’s industry, thanks to providing exceptional quality and innovative services steadily for many decades.

The company’s co-founder ‘Ms. Cheah Kim Lean’ has been crucial to their success story. She is a seasoned marketing research expert, having nearly forty years of marketing-related experience. In addition, she is a courageous, creative and strong business leader, shaping the company’s success story with dedication. But she comes from humble beginnings.

Tracing Ms. Cheah’s Professional Journey

Ms. Cheah Kim Lean was raised by a poor family in Malaysia. Her father passed away early, leaving her mother to raise five children all by herself. At a young age she took the initiative to educate herself and worked as a teacher. She was able to help her four younger siblings go through school. Slowly over a few years, her life began to change. She saw herself through university and earned a Master’s degree in Social Science at a Malaysian university. But she was still not satisfied. One day, her friend suggested that she apply for a job at a marketing research company in Kuala Lumpur – this was the opportunity and the pivotal moment in her career.

“After moving to Singapore and working for three years in the research company, a colleague and I told ourselves that if we were going to stay in this field and make marketing research great again, we should start our own company. We did so in October 1985. I knew that setting up our own business was the best idea, because we could train the best people and help clients in the best way. This was 35 years ago. We dared to be different. We introduced innovative analytical tools and new ways of looking at marketing problems,” Ms. Cheah says.

During those days, marketing research companies dabbled with data; they provided clients with a lot of facts and figures but did not properly help them improve marketing. In contrast, Acorn Marketing &Research Consultants began reaching out to clients, to share with them ways to build enduring and viable brands that created committed buyers and ambassadors. This was an innovative and also a revolutionary approach to marketing, inspiring managers and brand owners to look at marketing research in new ways. This was the beginning of the company’s success story.

Keys for Success: Sound Knowledge, Exceptional Services and Self-Improvement

From 1986, the company slowly set up new offices in many Asian countries to better provide local help to key clients. Similarly, their revenue and employees grew. They also nurtured a human-first culture, treating clients, staff members and consumers first. Within their own organization, they saw training employees as a crucial responsibility. Over the years, they prepared many training programs to help their employees to steadily improve their skills and in turn, to support their clients.

“The mission of Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants has always been to do exciting work for clients to expand their horizon beyond what they have already known. My mission is to see ideas and strategies jump out at me as I present the findings to clients and make them more excited than I am. My vision for marketing research is to train young, articulate, creative researchers who take ownership of the brands they work on. They should see figures and findings in colours and images and express them in experiential ways. That is how we grow our young researchers – if they would learn,” Ms. Cheah shares some of her vital professional beliefs.

The company solely wants to help clients understand consumers better, especially in the context of Asia. For this, they are very well equipped. Their researchers are Asians, thus they can better understand the nuances of Asian consumers and its various marketplaces. From a technical point-of-view, they should have multi-disciplinary skills, are numerate and articulate and tend to think outside of the box. They must want to work hard to develop a deep understanding of consumers’ complex needs, have empathy for their social context as well as be sensitive to evolving marketing issues.

The company’s services encompass all aspects of researching the marketing life cycle. These include product or service innovation, understanding market opportunities, understanding consumers, communicating customer and user experience to clients, helping clients develop communication excellence and building brand dominance. With the skills built over decades, they are entrenched in marketing-related consultancy services as well.

Creating a Better Future

Today, Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants is well established as a leader in the Asia Pacific’s marketing industry. Although the marketing world has changed a lot over the years, the company is looking forward to growing further. So, they are investing in nurturing the growth of their employees as well as digitizing their company.

Ms. Cheah’s courageous, bold and brilliant leadership has been crucial for the company’s success. She has learnt a lot in her professional journey too. For instance, she has learnt that all good leaders must have five qualities: caring for others, being passionate, being fun, able to make money and always being decisive. She acknowledges that young people may face challenges, but still advises them to be adventurous and approach their challenges creatively.