For this segment of Women In Marketing, we chat with Brand Strategy Manager, Nicole Manana. She shares her personal as well as professional insights and paints a picture of her early days as a young woman from KZN who blossomed to make an impact in the spaces that she occupies. Nicole’s story is both inspiring and thought-provoking. Discover her thoughts on the future of education, the role of AI, and her vision for women in the workplace
Thanks for taking the time to participate in our ‘Women In Marketing’ feature. Where were you born, and what childhood memories stand out for you?
I’m from a small township in Pinetown, KZN. I grew up in a tough, but close-knit community where neighbours were best friends and businesspeople – because everyone sold something. This dynamic resulted in the community coming alive on weekends; I remember fondly scraping together cents with my friends so that we could buy and share special treats that only came around on Saturdays.
Describe your high school and college years. You were the coolest one, right?
I was definitely not cool in high school or university. I was probably considered a nerd in high school. I spent A LOT of my time reading and thinking about how to claim my first-place spot in certain classes. But I loved high school because it’s where I met my best friends (and fellow nerds) who remain in my life today. In university, I kind of disappeared into the crowd – it sounds like a bad thing, but it’s something I appreciated, being an introvert and all.
What’s your favourite meal that you wouldn’t share with anyone?
Chocolate. Yes, I eat chocolate as a meal.
I can share pretty much any meal with someone. As a mom I am somewhat forced to. But chocolate is the one thing you will always see me with. You won’t often actually see me eating it. You will see the chocolate wrapped, and then, suddenly, you will see the chocolate wrapper in the trash later. It’s like a magic trick.
What would be your plans for a sudden $10 million windfall if you were to receive it tomorrow?
I would immediately book a flight to an island in order to plan how to spend the money without distractions.
Can you share an interesting fact or hidden talent not found on your LinkedIn profile? Previous Women in Marketing candidate Anastasia Hamel says that she can breathe fire!
I write poetry. Not as often as I used to, unfortunately. It’s not something I share publicly. People would be shocked to know I can express deep emotion. It’s not quite as impressive as breathing fire. But, if you think about it metaphorically, it’s kind of the same thing.
Career and Work
How do you typically start your day, and are you #TeamCoffee, #TeamTea, or both?
#TeamCoffee all the way! I usually start my morning the day before (I mentally plan what I need to do and sometimes jot down notes and to-do lists before bed). I’m not a morning person, so I plan ahead to ensure the day doesn’t catch me by surprise. The first thing I do in the morning is scroll through my phone to check that nothing significant happened while I was asleep. Once I’m ready for work (I work remotely), I grab a coffee, put on some background noise, and start with what I need to do for the day.
What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing? Didn’t the “I want to become a doctor” bug bite you?
I’m pretty sure that doctor was on my long list of “When I grow up, I want to be” at some point. But in High School, my English teacher really advocated for me to pursue a career that involved writing and suggested I study journalism. I didn’t plan on getting into marketing at all, let alone digital marketing. Pursuing a career as a journalist proved to be tough, and out of desperation, I took a job as a copywriter at a small company.
The role evolved whilst there; I was suddenly doing social media management, content marketing, and strategy. I quickly discovered that as much as I loved writing, I was falling in love with crafting brand narratives and developing personas that connect with the brand. Every strategy felt like I was writing a book – with new characters and story arcs each time. I also love researching and analysing data so this turned out to be the perfect career choice for me.
You hold a BA in Journalism from The University of Johannesburg (You Go Girl!!). Considering the rise of online educational platforms like Coursera and Google Skillshop, how do you foresee the future of tertiary-based education?
I believe that in the future, e-learning will level the playing field. A university degree from a traditional institution will no longer be considered superior to an online certification. The beauty of online education platforms is that they make education and information more accessible to everyone. I do not want to live in a world where education is elite, and I hope that the emergence of these platforms will continue to challenge this notion.
Many industries had to create systems overnight that would enable their respective workforces to work from home due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s your perspective on remote and hybrid work, and how have you dealt with its challenges? Do you have a preference?
With the rise of digital and cloud computing, remote and hybrid work on a larger scale was becoming inevitable. Businesses were just fearful. I’m amazed at how quickly South African organisations were able to turn operations around to enable their staff to work from home – but this just shows that we were already halfway there and that South Africa doesn’t get enough credit for how digitally advanced we are.
I’m a huge advocate for remote work. A lot of time is spent just getting to work and back. Not only does remote work relieve the pressure of time constraints but financial constraints as well. Imagine having to turn down a job because you live too far away, or being forced to rent an expensive apartment because you need to be closer to your job. Businesses that are fully remote also don’t have to worry about the maintenance costs of having their staff in the office every day. I mean, I could go on about the benefits.
I do see the value in hybrid work, though, because I believe connection is very important (work is more than just work). Businesses should at least aim to offer hybrid working environments if not fully remote.
AI is the hot topic of the day, most specifically, generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard. How do you address the challenges you face in your day-to-day responsibilities? Any particular tools you’d like to plug us with?
I love using ChatGPT. I actually wrote about it in my blog. As someone who does a lot of research day-to-day, a big challenge for me is avoiding getting stuck on one topic or spending too much time trying to find the right information. ChatGPT and Google Bard have actually been life savers in helping me quickly sift through key information in a very short space of time.
According to the WEF, the pandemic caused a 4.2% reduction in women’s employment compared to 3% of men (from 2019 to 2020). How can organisations better support women and mothers, especially in light of the pandemic’s impact on women in the workplace?
Provide flexible working environments. I had my baby during the pandemic and as a result, was able to enjoy more flexibility. My director at the time was also a working mom who understood what I might need when I returned to the office and provided support. From what I’ve seen, the most successful organisations that are able to provide the right support for women are the ones that have female exco members. So: hire women at the top, offer flexible and safe working environments, and pay women what they are worth.
How can organisations ensure equal opportunities for women to advance into executive positions?
I think it again goes back to who these organisations have in their workforce in the first place. Women need others who will advocate for them, and who will view their value without bias. If there are key decision-makers in the organisation who don’t believe women make good leaders, then these organisations will not make equal opportunities available. Organisations also need to provide women with equal access to skills development across departments.
2023 and Beyond
How have you been since the start of the pandemic, and have there been any significant personal or professional moments from then until now?
There have been a few.
The craziest thing I did was have a kid. It has been an absolute wild ride. I also went from full-time in an agency to full-time remote, brand side at an international company. It’s been challenging not connecting with people in person and I’m pretty sure I have a Vitamin D deficiency now. Coming out of the pandemic, I value time with family a lot more and I’m glad I’ve got to enjoy that this year. But this year alone has pushed me in so many different directions, I have no idea what the future holds but I look forward to the challenge.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Everything is going to feel scary all the time. Feel what you need to feel but just keep moving forward because you’re more capable than you think.
Also, play these lotto numbers in 2023.
What are your goals or aspirations, whether related to your professional or personal life that you hope to achieve in the future? We are positive that we will see you in the Forbes’ Most Influential CMO’s list.
I receive it, thank you! *Manifesting*.
My ultimate goal is to, at some point, go back to writing the kind of stories I really want to tell – in the form of books or films. I do miss expressing my more creative side. I’m also manifesting a sudden $10 million windfall.
Who are some of your sheroes?
With the way the celebrity and influencer community have been moving lately, I avoid idolizing people. I just “like” a quote or post that resonates on any given day and keep it moving. The women I really look up to are the ones I interact with daily – my sister and my close circle of friends. I am in awe of their personal growth journeys and the challenges they are able to overcome. They inspire me to be better.
What are you currently reading, and how do you consume your content?
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. It was gifted to me by a friend. I’m still a paperback person – I love the feel of a physical book.
What are you currently streaming that you’d recommend?
I’m a true-crime junkie so on any given day you would find me watching a random crime documentary. I have found myself watching a lot more nostalgia-driven content lately, like Rewind the 90s. Something that I’m enjoying in particular and would recommend is Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop (Netflix).
If you’re into hip-hop or were born in the 90’s, this is an enjoyable trip down memory lane and a fascinating inside look into the music industry and its treatment of female rappers during this time.
You wake up one day and before you know it you are nearing retirement. What would you like your professional legacy to be? Furthermore, what do your colleagues and superiors admire about you the most?
I really want to be remembered as someone who opened doors for others. I hope my endeavours now, and in the future, put me in a position to give others opportunities and access to valuable knowledge that allows them to progress in one way or another.
I’m going to assume that what colleagues admire about me is that I am reliable – whether it’s to get the job done, be of assistance, or lend an ear. I put in the time and effort.
We are always looking for amazing Women In Marketing to profile. Who would you like us to get in touch with?
Such a smart, funny, and interesting person (I mean, look at her name).
Share a unique message for young professionals in the marketing industry.
Don’t wait – Seek out that mentorship you need.
Ask the questions you want to ask.
Learn the skill you’ve been wanting to learn.
This industry moves fast, so don’t let fear cause you to procrastinate.
Thank you for your time, Nicole. We hope this interview will inspire future leaders and other Women in Marketing. How can people follow you and your company on social media?
Thank you! This was so much fun.
Please follow me on LinkedIn.