Bernie Toledano Women In Marketing Interview Series
Women In Marketing

Women In Marketing Interview | Bernie Toledano from ZERØ

“One key lesson that I’ve learned in my career development is to always maintain a growth mindset and be open to learning opportunities.”

Bernie Toledano

Bernie is Head of Marketing at ZERØ. She owes most of her success partly to being open-minded especially in the earlier stages of her career. She tells us more 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 ZERØ?

My path to marketing wasn’t exactly straightforward. When I graduated from college, I proceeded directly to a doctoral program in Ancient Jewish History. While I loved my studies, the academic career path wasn’t feasible for me— I needed something with more financial stability and that would allow me to see more of a tangible impact. My foreign language skills brought me to the field of due diligence, but I didn’t particularly enjoy drafting questionnaires and filling out reports. Over time, I realized that my natural curiosity, analytical thinking skills, and ability to synthesize complex concepts made marketing a good fit. 

Once I had decided to pursue a career path in marketing, I joined Hogan Lovells to help build the team in New York. After two and a half years there, I moved to Hunt Companies to help them build a digital marketing operation from the ground up and run some digital transformation projects. 

The opportunity at ZERØ called to me because of the quality of the product itself, as well as the chance to return to an industry that I was passionate about to effect positive change.

You have accumulated an envious amount of experience having worked for top-tier companies such as Dow Jones, Hogan Lovells as well as Hunt Companies. What did you learn from these roles and how do you apply experiences in your current role at ZERØ App?

Thank you! One key lesson that I’ve learned in my career development is to always maintain a growth mindset and be open to learning opportunities. You never know what might be useful to you down the line. For example, Hogan Lovells offered some advanced PowerPoint courses that have been a godsend to me in the last few years. And if your company offers you any budget for continuing education, use it! 

Another key lesson that I have learned is to always treat those around you well. That’s just part of being a good human, but you also never know when you may need to enlist someone’s help or guidance. For example, the lawyers that I worked with at Hogan Lovells have been invaluable resources to me when developing ZERØ’s messaging and content. 

The last lesson is to always maintain strong ownership over your work. Even if you’re delegating aspects of a project, you need to be available for questions and to provide necessary context. Overcommunicate with your colleagues so that you can be sure that both you and they don’t miss anything.

What have you learned at ZERØ App that you had not learned at previous companies?

My experience at ZERØ has really highlighted the importance of asking questions and being open-minded. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know something—questions typically come from a place of curiosity, not stupidity. Sometimes the most foundational questions are the ones that we think about the least, and the ones that can provide the most insight. 

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?

There have been some incredible advances in digital education platforms in the last few years. For women who are unable to afford a full degree, I highly encourage Coursera, which has coursework from some of the best universities in the world on topics like Psychology, Economics, and History. 

If you’re looking to pick up more practical skills, HubSpot Academy is an amazing resource within the fields of marketing and sales. If you have a Bachelor’s degree and are looking to ramp up on your knowledge of business, the Quantic School of Business and Technology provides a free MBA program (and a low-cost EMBA) to qualified students around the globe. Their interactive learning modules enable students to learn the same coursework as a traditional MBA in less than half the time and at no cost.

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?

Unconscious bias is probably one of the most significant challenges that I’ve faced. Many men think of themselves as open-minded and egalitarian and don’t even realize their tendency to “mansplain” or otherwise undermine the women around them. It’s not a weakness to make these individuals aware of their behaviour. In addition, it’s necessary to push those around you to perform better and call out instances of bias and misogyny. 

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 fell in love with marketing when I really understood what it was—basically, the marriage of storytelling and analytics to drive meaningful business results. For someone like me, who is intensely curious and determined to make an impact, it was a great fit.

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?

There isn’t really a typical day—although I start every day with two cups of coffee and finish my day with a cup of decaffeinated tea! A lot of my time is spent in meetings with colleagues across departments to share information and collaborate on new and existing initiatives. I also spend a lot of time reading and writing to keep my knowledge of the industry and marketing discipline fresh.

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?

This is great, particularly as the role of the CMO itself becomes more influential in many organizations. 

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?

I think that much of the issue has been that people are more likely to empathize and relate with those who are similar to them. This is precisely why diversity is so important—so that a company’s strategy, whether in marketing or any other department, can be informed by a variety of perspectives and thus not be biased by the preconceptions of a narrow group.

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?

Thankfully, my organization was always distributed, so moving to remote working wasn’t a problem for us. But for many companies, I think the main barrier is really tradition. For a long time, physical facetime was considered the only way to meaningfully interact with others despite the existence of technology that demonstrates otherwise. 

Women in Marketing, Zoom vs airlines info-graphic
Image Source: Visual Capitalist
Data Source: Barchart

But moreover, I think that lack of urgency drove many companies to rest on their laurels—they had no trouble recruiting and retaining talent or generating profits, despite their lack of flexible working policies, so they simply didn’t adopt any innovation in that respect until it was too late. For me, the key lesson is to always be on the lookout, as a company, for where you can improve and the next steps you can take. You never want to be in a position where you’re forced to fundamentally change your organization’s practices because you simply never took the time to question what you could do better.

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

ZERØ’s story is really the story of the evolving lawyer and law firm. Traditionally, the legal industry is one that has been known for being extremely traditional and reliant on well-established processes. However, law firms have been challenged in a number of directions—but one key is the lawyers themselves. Many young lawyers are no longer willing to follow certain practices, such as evaluating their performance on the basis of billable hours alone rather than output achieved, just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” 

They want to leverage technology that can help them be more efficient and productive, which enables them to deliver better results to their clients while improving their own quality of life. ZERØ, as a product, eliminates hours of work for lawyers per week through smart automation, allowing them to focus on the substance of practising law, which is why they became lawyers. One of the ways in which we tell this story is by leveraging the contributions of lawyers themselves in our Lives of Lawyers series. Lawyers from around the world working in a number of different practices detail how they face issues like burnout and how technology has helped or can help them be more effective lawyers and feel better as humans.

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS

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

ZERØ has been really effective in pushing forward the concept of the truly mobile law firm—meaning that lawyers need to be able to access documents and workflows across devices in order to truly be effective. Without true mobility, law firms lose hours of productivity per week, and lawyers’ quality of life suffer tremendously.

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 ZERØ App?

To us at ZERØ, innovation means the constant pursuit of self-improvement. Innovation doesn’t need to be rooted in technology, but in truly driving progress.

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?

I would assume that this would be somewhat industry-dependent. In the legal industry, micro-influencers play an incredibly important role and will continue to do so. If anything, this has been enhanced by the proliferation of content and virtual events.

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

I personally love Microsoft To-Do, which replaced Wunderlist, to manage my to-do list for work. 

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

Communication is a really big part of this, but I also think that marketers should be familiar with what salespeople actually do. Sit in on their demos! Maybe even give a demo yourself! Look at their outbound email campaigns, and see what’s working and not working. And loop your salespeople into the development of your messaging—they often sit closer to the actual client and can provide valuable insight as a result.

2020 AND BEYOND

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

I personally love my Kindle—otherwise, my apartment would be full of books from floor to ceiling! I just finished William B. Helmreich’s ‘The New York Nobody Knows, which is an ethnography of the city of New York. Dr Helmreich was a friend of my parents and a professor of mine who died of COVID-19 in April.

Source: The Gotham Center for New York City History
Originally presented November 4, 2013.

His approach to writing this book was incredible—he literally walked every single block of New York City (all five boroughs!) and talked to countless strangers about their lives and experiences. It was an amazing lesson in understanding that every person in this world has something of value to contribute, and you should never write off anyone’s existence for any reason. 

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

I’m currently going through ‘The Office’ right now, which is pretty interesting. A lot of the issues that the show features in a business context are still pretty consistent today, like resistance to new technology.

A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry

Your work is never done. Always stay curious, and try to learn something new every day.

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

There’s so much out there! But as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, understanding how we’re going to interact as humans over the next few years is a major challenge. Zoom fatigue is real, but how else can we build community and foster our existing relationships?

Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read

Shayna Hodkin

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

I’d love to help take a company to a successful exit.

Who are some of your female heroes?

This is going to sound cheesy, but definitely my mom. She’s the ultimate multi-tasker and a giver in every aspect of her life. 

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

Chutzpah! By this, I mean the audacity to ask for what you want (and, of course, be willing to work for it). For example, when I decided that I wanted to pursue a doctorate, I contacted every professor in my field on the East Coast of the U.S. to ask them if they needed a research assistant in my last year of college. One of them said yes, and he ended up being my PhD advisor!

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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.