Say yes to challenges, uncomfortable spaces and unchartered places and persevere, as you will only grow from it.– Leigh-Ann van der Poel
Born in Cape Town, Leigh-Ann is Vodacom’s Senior Marketing Manager for the Household portfolio. When she’s not seeking the next adventure, you can find her tinkering with some DIY projects. A woman of many talents! With invaluable industry insights, we explore why practical leadership is good leadership and she also explains why Influencer Marketing is on a positive trajectory despite the global pandemic. Let’s dive into this segment of Women In Marketing
LET’S GET PERSONAL
WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES?
I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, where I also completed my university qualifications before leaving for Johannesburg for my first role at the age of 22. Some of my fondest memories, though sometimes at the time I did not think so☺, were going on outings in nature with my Family (my parents, sister, extended family or friends).
We would often go hiking on the various hiking trails such as Constantia Nek or Kirstenbosch and picnic after. My Dad also enjoyed crayfishing and dragged me along to trips where I would sit on the rocks watching the waves crash or pick up various items in rock pools. I think my fondest memories often involved good scenery and great food. Not much has changed today in that respect ☺
SHOW OFF TO OUR READERS. ANY HIDDEN TALENTS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US? A CLARINET STAR IN THE MAKING PERHAPS?
My dad was in the building industry and did a lot of work at home such as renovations etc.. I was the eldest girl and there was no gender differentiation between tasks. He taught me many DIY skills that I still use if needed, which gives me a great sense of independence. I think this comes as a surprise as I seem to have more traditionally feminine interests such as fashion & beauty, but I will have you know that I can sand down wood, paint, lay and grout tiles, fix electrical appliances and plant grass too. I can also distinguish between different types of wood just by looking at the grain and colour.
WE WOULD ALL LOVE TO WIN THE LOTTERY RIGHT? IF YOU WON $10 MILLION TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
I would invest in a business venture that would allow me to multiply that in either tech, wellness or property (or all 3) and once that is set up it will afford me the freedom and flexibility to dive into my passion for travel and experiences. I would travel the world regularly and be amongst different settings & cultures every 2nd week.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULDN’T SHARE WITH ANYONE!
That is difficult, I have too many favourites! I would have to say something Asian or Middle Eastern but those are set up for sharing and I enjoy sharing food, as I like tasting what others have too. Perhaps a seafood linguini…
WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD OF MARKETING? WHAT PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME PUSHED YOU TO PURSUE THIS CAREER? AFTER ALL, WE ALL WANTED TO BE DOCTORS GROWING UP, RIGHT?
I have always enjoyed being a freethinker and being allowed to solve problems and influence outcomes in more than one way. At school, I had diverse strengths in subjects being good at English literature as well as the sciences & math. Based on this, I naturally thought that I should follow a more traditional path and be a biochemist or lawyer. Yet on finishing school, I went on to study BA communications and arts as I thought it would fulfil my need for creativity.
However, after completion, I battled to find a career I would enjoy in this area since I had more commercially focused goals and decided to pursue post-graduate in business management with a marketing major. It was here that I fell in love with it and I would say the career found me. I found myself naturally excelling and I think it was because it offered the right mix of art and logic. Being a very commercially focused role, it allowed me to tap into all these interests and strengths.
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL IN THE WORLD, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
I would be a fox as I see it being an expert at scenario planning and agile at making decisions.
WHAT’S THE MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T LEARN FROM YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE ALONE?
I am a bit of a maverick, I love thrill-seeking adventures and general spontaneity in life. One of the things I am often heard saying is, “try everything at least once!”
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
I am an early riser, even if I sleep late the night before, I enjoy getting up early, aiming to set the right tone for the day and get important tasks out the way. I am #teamcoffee! My day usually starts with a black Nespresso whilst watching the sunrise, catching up on the news and social media (trying to work on less attachment to my phone though).
I then search YouTube for a quick video on one of the self-improvement areas of interest to me, the Mind Valley series is one of my regulars. Since this year, I have started the habit of journaling each morning: three must-wins for the day (work & personal) & three things I am grateful for. This has been especially helpful in the period of lockdown, which has been challenging for us all, I think. I then try doing something active for 30min max before freshening up, having breakfast and getting ready for a ‘day at the office’, which has been a virtual one most of this year- logging in to team calls and key meetings.
HOW BEST DO YOU STRIKE A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
I am working at trying to be present and intentional in each life role. So when at work or in meetings, I focus on doing my best and showing up in the best way there. In my personal time, I try not to think about work as much or work too often at abnormal hours. It is understandable that at times, the workload can be greater, and I may work longer hours but for me, it should be the exception, not the rule.
I schedule things such as pamper sessions, socials and even calling and messaging friends & family so that I make sure I am giving enough attention to drive the kind of result in all areas of life that are important to me. I also love taking time out to go on holiday as well as seeing my family who live in Cape Town.
WHAT APPS/SOFTWARE/TOOLS CAN YOU NOT GO A DAY WITHOUT UTILISING?
LinkedIn, Instagram, WeChat, Gmail, Google, Microsoft teams, Excel, Google calendar 😉
HOW BEST WOULD YOU DEFINE GREAT LEADERSHIP?
For me, great leadership is defined by inspiring others to believe in a shared goal of what success looks like as well as helping others attain their personal best and strive for greatness as individuals. I think the best leaders are very clear in articulating their ideas as well as practical in setting the foundation for execution. In doing so, showing their teams that they are in the trenches together.
In recent years, the softer side of leadership has shown its merit and that to get the best out of a team, one needs to be empathetic to people, create an environment where they love coming to work and feel they can deliver their best. It is also important as a leader, I believe, to upskill, have confidence in your team and allow them the freedom to lead, so that you build more future leaders.
YOU HAVE ACCUMULATED AN ENVIOUS AMOUNT OF EXPERIENCE HAVING WORKED FOR TOP-TIER COMPANIES SUCH AS NESTLE, SAMSUNG AS WELL AS ELECTROLUX. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THESE ROLES? HOW ARE YOU APPLYING THESE EXPERIENCES IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE AT Vodacom?
I have been fortunate to gain diverse experience in terms of industry as well as the type of role from all these companies. The first half of my career was spent in brand management in FMCG (Nestle) & the latter half in product management roles at global electronics players (Samsung & Electrolux). Each company has helped add another dimension to my skill set in addressing opportunities and solving problems making me more effective as a professional.
Nestle laid a good foundation, being the largest food company and joining on their graduate programme I was afforded excellent training on sales and marketing fundamentals, thereafter, being awarded a role managing a key brand for the business at the time. I think FMCG were the pioneers in demand creation and driving consumer insights as the basis for all product innovation or initiatives aimed at delivering business results.
I was taught amazing principles, structured processes and allowed scope of experience since as brand custodian you are responsible for your innovation & renovation pipeline, commercial measures (P&L) as well go to market activities. As a young professional, I also had a great manager who allowed me autonomy and a safe space to learn and grow.
At Samsung, I learnt to be more commercially driven and resourceful having joined in a regional product management role for Africa for Home appliances where I found great passion. It broadened my horizons having to support and drive results for around 20 markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Here I focused on business development across channels in these markets, managing product line up & pricing structures, learning about import /export and supporting our key channel partners in growing.
Many of our business partners were entrepreneurs and, in my time in electronics, I learned to think on my feet, be more practical and develop real tenacity. I often needed to travel to undeveloped territories at times not having all data readily at hand and in a largely male-dominated environment. One needed to be skilled at using different sources of information to join the dots and quantify opportunities. I learnt to think quickly to come up with solutions as it was really about demonstrating mutual value for our business partners and the company at that moment, fancy academic presentations aside ☺
At Electrolux, I learnt the art of managing complexity and a great deal about the end to end value chain for appliances and business in general, a great entrepreneurially spirited company. There, my regional responsibility expanded to look after the Middle East and Africa and I was also responsible for directly sourcing line-ups from many factories across the globe. Unlike the other companies I worked for which were more single brand-focused, here I dealt with many brands, line ups, sourcing factories and market regulatory requirements for over 70 markets, It was a lesson in managing complexity and a great one at that.
All these roles amplify my current role today. That experience has taught me that it is less about the product or type of business but more about understanding the principles behind it. Who the target customer is, what market conditions we operate in, what commercially viable opportunities need to be addressed and what are the drivers impacting these goals are common focus areas across businesses. I have gained vast consumer experience to hone into customer needs and I am also very commercially driven which helps as now, my key role is devising propositions to take to market in a key segment for our business.
It also helps that I have always thrown myself into challenging spaces with all these roles being foreign to me when starting and I had to learn along the way through great mentors, applying myself to learning and gaining experience on the ground. Once you succeed in a few uncomfortable spaces, you trust yourself more, which always helps, and you develop the necessary resilience!
YOU OBTAINED YOUR BA IN MEDIA AND ARTS & POST GRAD QUALIFICATION IN MANAGEMENT (MARKETING) FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN (GIRL YOU FANCY!). ACCORDING TO GLASSDOOR, IT HAS BECOME SEEMINGLY EASIER TO APPLY TO WORK FOR COMPANIES LIKE GOOGLE, APPLE AND STARBUCKS AS THEY DO NOT REQUIRE APPLICANTS TO HAVE A DEGREE. HOW CAN YOUNG WOMEN UTILISE THE INTERNET TO UPSKILL THEMSELVES PARTICULARLY IF THEY CANNOT AFFORD TO OBTAIN A FORMAL EDUCATION?
My views have changed greatly since I first started my career to now mainly because I have seen people gain success and progress in different ways. So yes, there are many routes one can go besides the traditional, starting with a degree first and then working at a corporate. I would recommend researching the industry you would like to build a career in and understand which companies are key players in that industry or look at the type of experience/qualifications their employees possess. You could also aim to get an entry-level role to begin at a great company to gain experience.
Also, look at doing short courses online to build your knowledge base. There are many short courses available at formal institutions in person or online and various platforms like Udemy, Coursera could offer to learn in your areas of interest. Mainly, be resourceful as these days you can also learn lots from Youtube to supplement on the job training and formal studies but make sure the source is credible. Once working you may also be able to afford to study part-time or your company may be able to cover your studies should you demonstrate value, which could help with your career marketability.
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
I think there is merit in demonstrating staying power at a company but these days long service is not as long tenure as it was before, neither is it considered a major deciding factor to hire. I think ultimately you need to assess if the move you are making is going to build on your experience or offer new skills and also if your current role has offered you an opportunity to deliver on intended goals.
If you are moving for a good reason there is no reason why you should not accept a great offer despite not being in your current role for too long. It’s less about time in the role but more about learnings and also demonstrating results to build a solid career narrative that will propel you forward.
FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH YAEL TAMAR FROM SOLIDBLOCK, SHE REMARKED THAT WOMEN ARE MOST LIKELY TO OCCUPY THE CMO ROLE AS COMPARED TO THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS. WITH WOMEN CONTROLLING OVER $20 TRILLION IN GLOBAL SPENDING, WHY HAS IT BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE FEMALE CMOS IN YOUR OPINION?
I think the diversity of workforce and leadership is key so that different perspectives are gained to achieve the best solutions. Women do have certain skills that are usually more dominant to male counterparts such as empathy and being skilled communicators, in addition to the usual business acumen competencies ☺.
In roles such as CMO, which places the customer at the heart of the business and also that which is integral to ensuring that this vision cascades to other functions, empathy, in particular, is key. This offers understanding from your customers’ point of view as well as that of your team, to deliver excellent results.
COVID19 HAS BROUGHT WITH IT AN UNPRECEDENTED DISRUPTION TO THE WORLD. SEVERAL COMPANIES ARE NEARING BANKRUPTCY WHILE OTHERS HAVE BEEN FORCED TO SHUTDOWN OR LAY OFF THEIR STAFF. WHAT SHOULD THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION BE ESPECIALLY IN THE MARKETING CONTEXT AS WE ADAPT IN THIS ENVIRONMENT? HOW HAVE YOU AND YOUR DEPARTMENT COUNTERED THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC?
It comes down to understanding customer needs and pain points faced within this period. To ensure your product or service is relevant and meaningful to customers one needs to continually evaluate this with the view to enhance your offering at every step of the value chain in delivering it to your customers. This is exactly our focus as this is the basis of sustainable success for any business.
SYSTEMS AROUND REMOTE WORK AND VIDEO CONFERENCING ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING STAPLE IN MOST ORGANISATIONS. ACCORDING TO THE INFOGRAPHIC CREATED BY VISUAL CAPITALIST, ZOOM IS NOW WORTH MORE THAN THE 7 BIGGEST AIRLINES IN THE WORLD AT A WHOPPING MARKET CAPITALIZATION OF JUST OVER $40BN. SUFFICE TO SAY, REMOTE WORKING IS AN ASPECT OF MODERN-DAY WORK THAT HAS BEEN LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE MOST ORGANISATIONS STRUGGLED TO CONVERT TO THIS WAY OF WORK?
In my opinion, this is a result of 2 factors. Often, we just carry on doing things the way they have always been done unless there is a disruptive change which forces us to look at new ways of doing things, such as the current pandemic, Secondly, I think there is a slight element of low trust, cultivated on old ways of working based on the belief that you have to see your employees to believe they are doing their job.
I think that this is such an outdated way of thinking as we know that even if they are at work, they may not yield results. Instead, rather trust that people are doing the best job, measure on delivery of results and hire people with a great attitude that you don’t need to monitor!
REMOTE WORK HAS COME WITH ITS OWN SET OF CHALLENGES, PARAMOUNT TO THIS IS THE FACT THAT EMPLOYEES ARE NOW ‘ALWAYS ON’ WITH WORK CARRYING OVER EVEN BEYOND WORKING HOURS. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS MANAGE THIS BETTER TO PROTECT THE WELLBEING OF THEIR EMPLOYEES?
I commend Vodacom as an employer in terms of driving holistic employee wellness and life balance during this period. Regular surveys are conducted to understand the challenges employees face and then to prevent burnout or abnormal stress, measures are put in place to improve the situation. They recognised that by looking after your workforce, you enable better productivity. Some of these initiatives include having set times for no meetings to ensure employees can catch up on personal responsibilities such as homeschooling, chores or fitness, agreeing core hours for communication and making channels available for professional advice for those who are struggling.
If your organisation has not instituted such measures, I would suggest setting some boundaries of your own such as having set times to eat a meal, do work and then switch off at a certain time at night. It is also useful to have outlets for stress and time to switch off from work in having personal interests you enjoy such as exercise, reading, cooking or whatever you use to de-stress to help in developing better resilience.
MARKETING OBJECTIVES WILL MOST LIKELY CHANGE DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. HOW HAS YOUR ORGANISATION PIVOTED WHERE MARKETING IS CONCERNED, AND HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGY AMID THE PANDEMIC?
We have seen customer behaviours change as a result of the lockdown limiting movement and also due to factors influenced by the lockdown such as economic pressures as some faced reduced incomes and aimed to manage monthly costs more efficiently. People also looked more to their homes as the centre of their universe where they needed to homeschool, work from home & keep themselves entertained and at the centre of this, digital technology solutions that meet customer needs are key.
In a lockdown, especially at the beginning, with movement being restricted and many physical retail outlets closed, existing global trends such as increased usage of digital as a retail channel and communications channel were fast-tracked. These were already growing in pockets but the sudden pandemic forced people to look at different ways of obtaining products and services other than walking into a store.
As a truly customer-centric company, we saw this as an opportunity to work harder at coming up with solutions that would address customers’ needs as they began to rely more on a digitally connected world. This meant offering a great range of solutions for connectivity both inside and outside the home that would address all needs and affordability ranges for various customer segments. In doing so, it required understanding the customers’ pain points and desires as well as how they obtained our products & services. So besides the actual product, it was as important to look at the entire value chain and the role that digital could play in how people become conscious and their purchase behaviour.
Therefore, enhancing digitally lead purchase channels such as e-commerce, apps not only for purchase but also to allow customers benefits of tracking usage and carrying out actions on their accounts as well as amplifying digital communication channels such as social media, SEO and Online presence as marketing touchpoints became an important driver of delivering on customer needs.
BCG PUBLISHED ITS INNOVATION REPORT FOR 2020 AND AT THE CORE OF ITS SELECTION CRITERIA ARE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MARRIED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING INNOVATIVE? HOW DO YOU DEFINE INNOVATION?
From my perspective, I view something as innovative if it delivers on a new way of solving a problem or enhancing life. If it doesn’t do either of those, can it be viewed as an innovation? So basically, any product service or process that makes life more efficient, easier or just enjoyable. Simply put.
AT THE TIME OF PUBLISHING, THE DIGITAL MARKETING INSTITUTE ESTIMATED THAT THE INFLUENCER MARKETING INDUSTRY WILL HIT THE $10BN MARK BY 2020. WHETHER B2B OR B2C, IT’S EVIDENT THAT BRANDS AND ORGANISATIONS HAVE HAD THEIR SUCCESS WITH THIS MODEL OF MARKETING. HOW WILL THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECT THIS INDUSTRY GOING FORWARD AND DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS STILL A PLACE FOR INFLUENCER MARKETING?
I think the COVID pandemic has had a negative and positive effect on influencer marketing. Firstly, many influencers rely on events to drive relevance or build networks and that has been limited, however, I think for skilled influencers out there, it has been an opportunity to come up with even more meaningful engaging content and find creative ways to connect with their audiences.
As always, I believe that times of adversity bring out the best and strongest among us to surface. With customers increased use of digital communication and specifically social media as a source of information that is very interest-based, often seen as more believable vs. mainstream celebrity, I think influencers will continue to have a place in the marketing mix as it often enables improved targeting, spend efficiency and higher conversions.
WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
I would say know yourself and when you are your most productive. For me, it’s making the mornings work for me and scheduling very complex, or focused tasks for this time whether it be analysis, working on proposals or presentations. I always try to do the things I see as most challenging first, even if just to finish the first draft to perfect later.
I also regularly assess key milestones ahead and aim to schedule time in working and personal hours for everything so that I’m not taken by surprise or under unnecessary pressure. I am not a fan of many meetings and a big believer in creating simplicity to get a job done.
In corporate, it is impossible to avoid pressure-totally or the sudden changes that may arise requiring fast action. However, by better managing and being protective of your own time, you will be in a better position to deal with these matters as they arise.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MARKETING AND SALES ALIGNMENT? HOW DO YOU ALIGN YOUR MARKETING AND SALES TEAM AT Vodacom?
It is extremely important to align marketing and sales as marketing is tasked with creating plans at a macro level but the success of these plans lies in understanding practicalities in execution and commercial impacts at the customer/channel partner interface, which is the domain of sales. We are mutually reliant on each other and it is key to share plans regularly, be clear in defining what the commercial gains are and then understand requirements to execute successfully on this.
To this end, we have regular sharing sessions with the sales team, take onboard respective feedback to strengthen ideas and provide the necessary tools to equip them to do the best selling job. In my opinion, in marketing as much as any business role, one has to have an attitude of service to your internal stakeholders and that’s how I see it. Our job is to serve their requirements (tools & information) enabling sales to happen in delivering on our customers’ needs.
2020 AND BEYOND
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING? (WHAT DO YOU READ, AND HOW DO YOU CONSUME INFORMATION? PAPERBACK VS EREADER?)
I am very old school in this way. I do love paperback books but also consume a lot of content online: Instagram, Linked In & Youtube are my favourites. I watch many talks in the Mind Valley community each morning as I start my day. For books and content in general, I enjoy self- improvement reads covering leadership, business or personal growth. I am currently reading ‘The Alchemist‘ by Paulo Coelho (again!) as well as ‘Hit Refresh‘ by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. I like to understand the main principles and the reasons behind things as I go. Again, aiming to simplify is my motto ☺
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
I tend to watch the same things over sometimes just putting it on to set a mood, and occasionally watch new series. On my watchlist: Mad Men, Wolf of Wall Street, Eat Pray Love, Modern Family, Gossip girl, Mulholland drive, Great Gatsby to name a few.
AS WE LEARN TO LIVE WITH COVID19 IF YOU COULD REPLACE THE HANDSHAKE AS A FORM OF GREETING, WHAT INTERESTING NEW GREETING WOULD YOU INTRODUCE?
An air kiss on both sides…
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
Some very close friends in Dubai & Melbourne (you know who you are), who I haven’t properly connected with in ages and I value.
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Trust your abilities and that even if you don’t know something now, you will figure it out. Say yes to challenges, uncomfortable spaces and unchartered places and persevere, as you will only grow from it.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Stop over-thinking so much and sweating the small stuff.
WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAINPOINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?
I don’t have pain points as I see them as challenges and am always pushing myself to do better. On a professional level, it is to lead from any seat and to inspire myself and others to be the best possible, even when it is difficult. I aim to grow, personalise things less and invite constructive feedback more.
On a personal level, it is balancing my love of socialising and dining out with certain fitness goals I am aiming for. I would have said to be able to travel a few weeks back but thankfully, that is now solved ☺
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AWESOME WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO INTERVIEW IN FUTURE?
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
I would love to go skydiving. I would like to see all the wonders of the world natural and manmade, and travel to as many countries as possible, so far I have been to 39. I love travelling for work and leisure.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FEMALE HEROES?
Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey, and all the strong women in my family with my Mom and late Grandmother at the forefront.