Sam Fleming, LinkedIn, Women In Marketing
Women In Marketing

Women In Marketing Interview | Sam Fleming from Simply Financial Services

“I’m an avid believer in lifelong learning – there is so much to learn, no matter your age. We live in a world where opportunities for education are all around us”

Sam Fleming

A believer in lifelong learning, Sam is CMO for insurance startup, Simply Financial Services. She obtained her Masters in Philosophy, Cum Laude! Let’s find how this Zen-Master (or should we say WonderWoman!) successfully sails the ship during this period of turbulence. Welcome to Women In Marketing

THE JOURNEY TAKEN 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Simply Financial Services?

I’ve always had a passion for the opportunities in the marriage of technology and communications. My digital career started in the early days of email – when teenagers caught in Israeli-Palestinian conflict were using email to connect across physical barriers.

I spent a long time working in the non-profit sector before consulting to corporates and start-ups – always focussed on the power of digital communication to make life better. I joined Simply in 2016, as one of a small crew of dedicated, passionate people keen to disrupt the life insurance industry and make a difference to the financial futures of millions of South Africans.

You have accumulated an envious amount of experience having worked for top-tier companies such as Santam, Sanlam as well as Ogilvy. What did you learn from these roles and how do you apply experiences in your current role at Simply Financial Services?

Simply is the perfect start-up storm … so much to learn especially in these economically difficult times. My background – in psychology and philosophy (formal study) and digital marketing (work experience) has brought a particular flavour to our work at Simply. Working across different sectors, and in different roles (employee, consultant, contractor) has enriched my vision and perspective in the work I do at Simply.

You obtained a Masters in Philosophy (Cum Laude) from the University of Cape Town (girl you fancy!). In an article written by Glassdoor, it has become seemingly easier to apply for work at companies such as 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?

I’m an avid believer in lifelong learning – there is so much to learn, no matter your age. We live in a world where opportunities for education are all around us. Despite having several degrees, I think a “degree” is not nearly as important as an “education”, and I encourage women everywhere to take advantage of all the free (or low-cost) high-quality education opportunities online as well as seeking out mentors who can teach you what they’ve learned as well. 

I like to participate in additional courses for interest and to keep my brain synapses excited; currently, I’m doing an online course on machine learning for data science with Columbia Uni, via EdX.

As a woman in the marketing and communications environment, what challenges do you face within and outside the organisation? What message do you have for other female professionals in the fraternity?

Intriguing as this question may be, it is not an easy one to answer! 

In some ways, the workplace has become more friendly to women (Flexi working, staggered hours for mothers with multiple commitments), but it’s still challenging for women’s voices to be accepted and heard; prejudices and glass ceilings are still real in many workplaces. I think this has a lot to do with societal expectations of women – and men.

My advice would be:

1) Don’t be afraid to be yourself – you’re going to spend many hours in a workplace; choose an environment where you’re comfortable to be yourself.

2) Acknowledge internally that work is not the only place to get affirmation or find personal value. At times, work relationships can be quite transactional. That’s okay, you can get affirmation in other places, and that awareness can bring about a better work-life balance.

What made you fall in love with the world of marketing? What particular moment in time pushed you to pursue this as a career? After all, we all wanted to be Doctor’s growing up, right?

I’ve never really seen myself as a marketer … rather as a communicator with a love for technology and disruption. “Marketing” is just a convenient label that gives a socially acceptable form to the work that I’m doing. I’ve always loved understanding the psychology of what motivates people – I guess that’s what drew me to this work originally.

ENTERING THE WORKPLACE

What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?

My colleagues tease me because I drink both tea and coffee, in the same meeting! Coffee because it smells and tastes good (and gives me a caffeine boost!) and rooibos tea because it’s healthy and hydrating.


Work in the time of COVID is same-same but different. I like to start my day with a few minutes of quiet preparation. Some would call it meditation, but it’s less formal. More like an overview of “what 1 or 2 things do I really want to achieve today?” There are always way too many things that require doing, but I try to focus on what underlying objective is most important that day – is it about ensuring that the team is holding together on a particular objective? Or making new strides in a relationship with a partner or customer? Or looking for a creative breakthrough on a particular project? 

Once I’ve decided that overall goal for the day, then it’s a quick look at the calendar/agenda for the day, current performance stats, and catch up on Slack and email messages. At the moment, we start with a team stand-up (although tbh everyone’s on Zoom, drinking coffee rather than standing around).

Then the day is broken up into a series of meetings (individual or teamwork) or chunks of deep work, like writing or analysing performance stats. I like to take some time off in the afternoons to be with my children or watch them play sports, and then work again before and/or after dinner. Most nights I work for an hour or two and finish by checking the day’s performance and what tomorrow holds.

Forbes has an annual ‘The World’s Most Influential CMOs’ report. For the year 2019, one of the key highlights from the report was that 31 of the 50 CMOs were women whilst there were 19 men. In your opinion, is this a positive representation of gender equality?

I think the increased representation of women in executive roles is a great indicator of the value that women bring in company decision making. Creating an acceptable work-life balance is often led by women when they’re learning to meet the needs of both the work environment and home/child care environment.
   

Women In Marketing Interview | Sam Fleming from Simply Financial Services 1
Women In Marketing Interview | Sam Fleming from Simply Financial Services 2

COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. On the same token, however, several organisations have used this time to regroup and use this as an opportunity for change in structure and processes. How has your organisation and specifically, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?

Simply’s tagline is Life insurance, all online. Our products have been disrupting the market since inception 4 years ago, so the societal shift towards more online trust and purchase has seen growth in some of our products. Also, our no-touch broker platform has seen a substantial uptick in use since the beginning of COVID, as brokers have found our platform to be slick and user friendly in signing up new business.

Systems around remote work and video conferencing are increasingly becoming a staple to most organisations. To illustrate this, 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. Working from home/remote working is an aspect of modern-day work that has been long overdue. Why do you think most organisations who are seemingly able to convert to this way of work have struggled to convert? Furthermore, how have you and your organisation structured your work since the COVID-19 pandemic? Any key lessons?

Several of our employees have worked either fully or partly remote, so the transition to mostly work from home has been technically reasonably simple. There are other challenges to remote working – one of my biggest challenges is zoom-fatigue.

Visual Capitalist Graph, Women In Marketing
Image source: Visual Capitalist
Data source: Barchart

Being on calls all day can be exhausting 🙂 Also, making sure that we all take out enough time away from work – it’s been very easy in lockdown time to do little else other than work, and that’s not a healthy work/life balance.

Simply team, Women In Marketing
Image sourced from Simply “About Us” page

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS

What have been some of Simply Financial Services biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?

The biggest challenge we’ve all faced in the last year has got to be COVID. That’s true for us too. It has been an opportunity for us to understand our value in the current market, where the demand for life insurance has increased considerably – both locally and globally.

For the last 4 years, Simply has been at the forefront of insurtech in South Africa, and with our Group risk product, our product is globally unique, all of which has provided opportunities for growth in this time. Also, our no-touch broker platform has seen 5 fold growth during COVID, as we’ve been able to facilitate brokers continuing to do business, despite lockdown.

BCG published its innovation report for 2019 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 at Simply Financial Services?

Innovation is built into our DNA at Simply – although I must admit innovation feels like a word that is overused.

I prefer the word alchemy. Innovation is pretty unusual for a life insurance company – perhaps because at its core, life insurance is about trust – and challenging the large incumbents is difficult because they have the advantage of time – during which they’ve built trust.

We believe in the power of data and technology to level the playing field and give customers a product they need with far less administrative cost involved. Innovation in this context means a particular kind of alchemy that merges creative and technical talents to offer customers a great value product they need at a price they can afford.

At the time of publishing, an article from The Digital Marketing Institute estimated that the influencer marketing industry will hit the $10bn mark by 2020. Whether it is B2B or B2C, it is evident that brands and organisations have had their own 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?

Influencer marketing definitely has a place – people trust their friends and associates to be honest about their experience of a brand or product. The idea has been commoditised with “influencer marketing” with people looking to make a quick buck.

I think consumers are savvier than expected – and have an understanding of authenticity. So if the influencer themselves doesn’t resonate with the brand, it simply won’t work. Good influencer marketing is a true match between brand persona and influencer personality where the person genuinely does use and believe in the product.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

My phone, Slack, WhatsApp, my marketing dashboards, data studio and on-platform analytics dashboards.

What’s your mobile strategy? What have you found works and does not work for your target audience?

Simply has been mobile-first since inception (2016). We do have desktop visitors as well, but in excess of 80% of our traffic and conversions are on mobile.

2020 AND BEYOND

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)

I read both on kindle and physical books – and I like both!  At the moment I spend more time on audible books (my days are spent reading for work, so at night it’s nice to listen and absorb). I also spend a lot of time-consuming podcasts.

What is on your Netflix watchlist/How do you relax?

Various (!) … 

I watch on Netflix, Showmax, Apple TV … but spend a lot of “relax” consumption in podcasts as well – some fave TV shows/movies:
(With kids) – ‘Men in Black’, ‘Mission Impossible’, RomComs, ‘World War II in Colour’, ‘History 101’


(Adults) – I’ve recently loved ‘The Morning Show’ (Apple TV), ‘Money Heist’, ‘The Last Dance’
Podcasts – ‘Recode and Pivot’ (Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway), ‘Masters of Scale’ (Reid Hoffman), ‘OBehave’.


And then for current entertainment, you gotta include people like Sarah Cooper on Twitter and TikTok.

A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry

There’s a beautiful Japanese concept called Ikigai, which talks about purpose and meaning (google will help you in the detail!). In the context of work, think about the confluence of these 4 things: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for.

The sweet spot of those 4 things is the place you should chase in your career.

What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?

“Balance” is something I look for, on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual basis. I think it’s an ongoing journey/challenge.

Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?

Can’t wait to travel again!

Who are some of your female heroes?

Michelle Obama, Thuli Madonsela, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Marianne Thamm, Kara Swisher, my mom.

Which superhero/heroine or literature icon exemplifies your personality at work and at home?

Some call me “WonderWoman”, others call me “Chief of the Fire Station” 😉 I answer to those and a few more too!

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Head of Relationship Management at naughtybanana. I am a father to an awesome boy who thinks highly of me; perhaps I'm doing something right after all. When I'm not establishing new business relationships, you might catch me reading a book or of course, being an awesome dad.