Women In Marketing, Thilo Pillay Featured Image
Women In Marketing

Women In Marketing Interview | Thilo Pillay from Inspired Education

“I truly believe knowledge is power and the more info we share with our network of aspiring marketers, the better! So here are my wise words, explore, learn, relearn, and then share what you have learnt.”

Thilo Pillay

With a passion for education, Thilo is perfectly placed in her role as Marketing Manager at Inspired Education Group Africa. She tells us about her journey in this segment of Women In Marketing

THE JOURNEY TAKEN 

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

My Telkom  journey was a challenging, exhilarating and life-changing experience. Over the 6.5 years, I was able to transition from a graduate to a Digital campaign specialist, learn a myriad of skills and gain knowledge from experienced marketers. This was an opportunity I could only have dreamed about getting. 

Next stop, Discovery. Do not be fooled by the title: Marketing Specialist. This was a role that pushed me into various directions, I would not have been able to learn about direct marketing if it were not for this role. This helped me later in my career and the saying “there is a reason for everything” is very correct. As direct marketing was seen as crucial during COVID-19 and assisted in retention initiatives. 

Thilo Pillay, Women In Marketing 1
Thilo

Finally, MANCOSA. This was an opportunity to make a move up to a management role in a new and very interesting industry: Education. I have always dreamed of lecturing in the field of marketing and being in this role has allowed me to gain access to some of the greatest minds that the educational sector had on offer. Additionally, this role allowed me to gain access to insight into the Southern African markets.

And here I am! 

Inspired Education is a leading global premium school group operating in 5 continents. I have taken the role as Marketing Manager for the South African Schools in the network. This role is very exciting as I am interacting with subject matter experts that reside across the globe and the opportunity to learn and grow is endless.

You have accumulated an envious amount of experience having worked for top-tier companies such as Telkom, Discovery as well as Mancosa. What did you learn from these roles and how do you apply experiences in your current role at Inspired Education?

This month I realised that I have been in this crazy but amazing field for just over 10 years, and it has been nothing less than memorable.

My journey began at Telkom, this place assisted me in nurturing my dreams, building my self-esteem, and teaching me that the road to a great marketing career would not be easy. Over the 6.5 years, I was able to gain friends and mentors for life that I keep in contact till today. This role taught me great life lessons which included: listen more and talk less, Be true to yourself as you could get lost in the corporate jungle and that once you love your job it no longer is a job to you. 

Thilo in DC, Women In Marketing
Thilo in DC

At Discovery, is where I “rediscovered” (no pun intended) myself. This role was equally as challenging, and perfection was the name of the game. This role pushed me to understand the Customer portfolio management side of marketing with a focus on product launches, tactical marketing campaigns, digital marketing, and email marketing. Here is where I found out the importance of “cookies’ and a/b testing.

Finally, MANCOSA. This was an opportunity to make a move up to a Marketing Manager role in a new and very competitive industry: Education. Negotiation and persuasion were essential for success in this role and had allowed me to refine customer relationship skills that are essential in every marketing role. The skills developed and knowledge attained over the 2 years, were to cut across strategic marketing, digital, social media, events, PR, Data analytics and research. If this role taught me anything is that our only limitation is the one you place upon yourself. 

You obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from the UCT Graduate School of Business (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?

This is a very interesting and important question to young and well-established women in the industry. This does not only apply to me and women in the field of marketing but to all, the big World Wide Web is our friend and should be a tool to educate oneself.

I am currently not formally studying but I have enrolled and currently studying 3 online courses that will enable me to better equip myself to make better-informed decisions in my current role. Guess what – it is free!

I truly believe knowledge is power and the more info we share with our network of aspiring marketers, the better! So here are my wise words, explore, learn, relearn, and then share what you have learnt. Some online learning platforms I use, Udemy, Google Digital Skills for Africa, Coursera and Hubspot just to name a few. These sites are proof to us all that education is more easily available and we cannot take this for granted. 

Additionally, keeping in touch with your network of colleagues who are well-informed, individuals is a great way to keep informed about the latest trends, research, market-related insight, and general tips & tricks. The biggest treasure that fell onto my lap was the very knowledgeable individuals I studied with at UCT.

Thilo, Women In Marketing 3

They nourished my heart when I was low and made me hungry for more knowledge. We keep in contact via a WhatsApp group and we share stories, insight, research, golden rules and learnings from their roles and projects till today. We have grown together to become better people, both personally and professionally. It’s an absolute honour to say that they have not only become influencers in my life but they have become truly amazing  friends. 

Spending time with people who are just like you is good, but it is of great importance to hang out with those who are better than you. You need to hang out with people who fit your future goals.

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

If I was to describe myself in one word, it would be “Bubbly”, this would be echoed by colleagues and friends of past and present. My journey begins, in a very interesting and vibrant suburb, Chatsworth. Humble beginnings ignited a fire to focus my energy on life-long learning and growth. I was brought up in a middle-income household, that was run by a very strong woman who believed in the impact of quality education This resulted in my attending the best public school in my area because only the best school meant the best chance at progress for her kids. 

My love affair with marketing started in a Business Economics classroom in Grade 9, Miss A Pillay, my teacher was speaking to the class on the marketing function of a business. Finance, procurement, and HR never spoke to me, but did my eyes light up when she started talking about marketing and my heart couldn’t slow down even if I tried – I was super lucky that I got to find my happy place. 

I do believe that my personality quite easily aligns to the type of work I do, which encompasses creativity, ideation, strategy and seeing a plan come to life. A great mentor once said” Plan the work and then you work the plan” 

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?

Definitely a coffee kind of chick. A typical day starts with me planning the day out with meetings, writing out my to-do list and then making sure I have enough time to execute on the tasks at hand. 

My calendar comprises of international and local video calls with the head of digital, customer experience and agency partners. But I do carve out some time during the day to enjoy a quick scrabble game (on the app 🙂 ), call a friend or find a quiet place to just relax my eyes. This time to myself allows me to drift away to recharge, which aids in the process of creativity and ideation. 

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?

Great steps in the right direction, but there is a “but”. 

While I appreciate the progress women have made in transitioning into senior management positions in predominantly male-dominated industries around the globe, the key to long-term success is building better mechanisms across corporates that allow for a steady flow of women to have similar opportunities. Education and respect need to be at the forefront of these discussions. 

Women In Marketing Interview | Thilo Pillay from Inspired Education 1
Women In Marketing Interview | Thilo Pillay from Inspired Education 2

I have been in many situations where women in higher positions try to steal the light of younger women to make their own light shine brighter. Occasionally, I see men purposefully seeking out ways to dim our light to ensure we never grow and have the opportunity to do better and be better.  Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT” song should hold true in every action both personally and professionally. Every day I promise to myself that I will respect myself and others in every moment of the day. 

On a few occasions, I have seen my fellow woman filled with envy and fear that has turned into hate speech, gossip, and disrespect in order to climb a litter higher up the corporate ladder. They fail to understand that on more occasions than not, they hurt themselves more than the recipient of their actions. 

As women, we need to create a legacy of good deeds and helping others up that long and treacherous corporate ladder. We as humans are quick to scrutinise peoples professional game as it’s just easier, correct? But we need to dig deeper and do better. 

At the core of my view is that we need to become champions of more girl bosses and it does start with us. 

Closely linked to the previous question, several studies reveal that women account for the majority of purchase decisions including traditional male products such as automobiles, consumer electronics as well as home improvement products. Despite this, surveys further show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change if research says that 50 of the most influential CMOs are in fact, women?

Education around the impact and contribution of women is still underplayed in many communities, that feeds into the lack of racial diversity. Change starts with the stakeholders that can directly influence the outcome i.e. research agencies, senior management, creative agencies, and clients. We can make a difference in repositioning and ensuring that our briefs are more inclusive. As these decisions influence the shape and colour of our focus groups, strategies, initial meetings. 

Also, women are incredible creatures and can be better defined by their potential as opposed to the box they have been placed in for decades. It’s known by almost everyone that women are no longer held to the code of being a housewife but as a trendsetter, trailblazer, technologists, scientists, and disruptors. 

We as marketers fail many times to listen to our target market and our audience segments. Our sole objective now is to understand our audience and reposition what we are about.

If you didn’t you know already? Women are taking over the world, one boardroom at a time. 

COVID-19 has been a disruption to several organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close. 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?

Fortunately, I am able to connect with industry experts across the globe. Our Local team is small but super effective. Thus there is no need for much movement and changes.  We are currently taking time to understand the current market conditions and working at providing support to the SA schools the best way we can. 

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?

We are in the middle of a phase in the digital transformation model, as with every business, we are working on refining our internal processes, procedures to avoid strain during these tough times. From my various conversations with friends and colleagues across the globe, the unwillingness to adapt to the new way of working stems from trust issues between management and low-level staff members.

There has been a story shared of a manager requesting that his staff log onto Zoom daily to ensure he can see them working. This breeds a level of mistrust and feeds into this notion that people who work longer hours are better workers. My belief is – “You work smart, not hard to get the results”.

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

Zoom calls, video calls are quite usual as my work colleagues are spread across the globe. Key learnings are taking breaks to stay focused i.e. exercise, listening to music, playing with the dog and giving my girls a call to check if they are doing good. Schedule your day, as you will have time now to complete that much needed social media strategy and marketing plans for the next coming months. 

Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the Inspired Education story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?

Who doesn’t like a good story? 

Storytelling is at the core of building trust within our network and target market. Visually showing the journey of excellence in education is key to showing the unique selling points of each individual school within the Inspired School network. Additionally, I have been working with the 12 schools to design specially crafted content calendars that communicate their unique story to their market.

You can easily source stats that justifies the reason for storytelling within every sector. This is most important in the educational sector as this sector that survives on an emotional connection between purchaser, user and brand. Communicating the story helps us with creating a community of fully engaged listeners. 

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS

What have been some of Inspired Education biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?

Started this new role in April 2020 and some successes have been winning some big personalities over, as I believe that relationship management is a very crucial part of many jobs we hold. Assisted in refining processes and procedures in actioning briefs and making the briefing process easier for all parties. 

Bringing to the forefront data analysis across the various schools from our digital campaigns to our social media platforms. Monitoring and optimising our posts and campaigns to do better during COVID-19. 

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 Inspired Education?

Innovation brings with it a fresh new way of actioning a simple action, making teams more efficient, allow teams to become more dynamic and idea creation champions, disrupts the working environments and markets to stimulate efficiencies and pushes humans to be better creatures in all facets of our lives. 

For instance, chatbots were designed to minimise human interaction and allow for quicker turnaround times to common consumer queries. This innovation changed many e-commerce businesses’ ways of working and had allowed them to focus their attention on paving the road to claiming the no.1 spot. 

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?

COVID-19 has been a pivotal catalyst in the proliferation of content consumption via smartphones. I came across a very interesting meme about roles within a company that fast-tracked their digital transformation strategy, obviously based on current conditions, COVID-19 was no.1. 

Influencer marketing has just become a channel or vessel to circulate your content and execute your content calendars. So, if you wanted to explain to your market the benefits of the new primer that adds 60% more moisture to your skin while you stay indoors – what better person than an influencer who has a great following and experiencing the same challenges as every other woman.

Quarantine has allowed us to buy more things online then we should have, it showed us that we can enjoy our ME-time just as much as our weekend escapades before COVID and that putting in more effort in nurturing our body, minds and soul is imperative once we go back into the big jungle. 

Influencer marketing will always have a space in the South African market, only if the content is relevant and is of high quality. Influencers must build a brand and in current times, that can be a challenge to keep maintaining. So brands need to ensure that they screen all influencers before recruiting them to ensure you build trust and advocacy and become reliable sources of information. 

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

App: Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Fitbit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Spotify, TEDx and Scrabble GO. 

Software: Hubspot, Trello, Google analytics, Zoom & Bluejeans 

Tools: Google trends, Google alerts & Canva 

How do you leverage data to inform your decision-making?

We are currently monitoring our spend against our key sales KPIs to ensure our spend is being optimally used. The data we collect, interpret and report on is used for key decisions within marketing and the entire business. Reviewing content, creative and spend is crucial to staying relevant. 

Currently monitoring all key KPIs for our various campaigns to either stop, start, or continue activities to ensure we build benchmarks, we can look towards as indicators of success. Monitoring data weekly and monthly is crucial to ensure that we keep our agencies and our marketing department accountable for their outputs. Most importantly the monitoring allows us to test, learn and optimise our campaigns to better our performance continuously. 

My belief is to establish our benchmark, as a golden rule book to reflect upon to ensure we only get better. Once we get the basic principles correct, then we get to integrate more innovation within our processes, systems, agencies and people to build on what we have built.

What are your thoughts on Marketing and Sales alignment? How do you align your Marketing and Sales team at Inspired Education?

Marketing and sales alignment are essential! 

These 2 departments cannot operate in isolation and if they do, they experience a disconnect, it is the early signs of failure in the business. Sales and marketing alignment have the potential to improve business performance short-medium term. Marketing and Sales lines do blur occasionally, we hope to look at trends and better ways to work to ensure efficiencies in our leads to sales conversion rates. 

Both Educational institutions I have worked in planned around the funnel approach that depended on a steady flow of qualified leads that convert into sales at higher conversion rates at every key enrolment period. Synergies between sales and marketing teams allow for better understanding around customer lifecycle journeys, areas of improvement/ opportunities, personas and inhibiting issues that can affect conversions. 

As I am still very new to the role, what I have undertaken to get closer to the enrolment data and teams’ insight, is to engage on a regular basis to understand the market condition at the local level. This can assist me in creating individual plans for the various schools that are effective as opposed to what we think will work in the market. 

2020 AND BEYOND

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

Love the hardcovers. 

Currently reading: ‘Do the work, Make your bed’ and ‘Think Fast and Slow’. I alternate every week to read 😊 

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

I am a Netflix addict 😊 

The playlist includes: ‘The Last Dance’, ‘Jeffery Epstein: Filthy rich’, ‘Never have I ever’ and ‘Blackish‘.

I relax by doing yoga, listening to music, going to the beach, playing with my dog (dog lover), hanging out with my friends and spending time with my crazy family. 

A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry

I could easily copy and paste great thought-provoking quotes to get you geared up for what the marketing industry has to offer. But who would want that, you want the truth from someone who has seen the various sides of the marketing industry, the good, bad and the ugly. 

Do not ever let someone dim your light to make their shine brighter. Stand your ground and speak out in those huge board meetings, where everyone’s too scared to say anything. Some of the greats didn’t let a thought, idea or view go unheard even if it is stupid. 

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

  • Travel to at least 5 more countries by the age of 35
  • Choose to be more kind as opposed to right 
  • Spend much more time giving back 
  • Spending more time with friends and family 
  • Become more environmentally conscious and spread the word 
  • Sleep less and swim more 
  • Stop procrastinating on the smaller things 
  • Fall in love 

Become the best version of me!

Who are some of your female heroes?

International known

Winnie Mandela

Jane Goodall 

Malala Yousafzai 

Thuli Madonsela 

Mamokgethi Phakeng 

Indira Gandhi 

Home-grown 

Helen Christoforou 

Jacqui O’Sullivan 

My personal favourites

My mums and Grandmother 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My Grandmother once said “Education is so important. People can take away your money but never your education” That is why I will always keep learning and educating others on the importance of lifelong learning. 

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Always finding a reason to smile and laugh. If you were to meet me today, I would greet you with a smile and a joke (If I have a joke worth sharing). 

Thilo, Women In Marketing 5

When you finally realise that everything you do in life with a smile or while laughing would add life to the years you live. 


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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.