This month Erica Thomas, Marketing Manager, Australia and New Zealand with Blackboard reflects on the power one book has had in changing her mindset about how she tackles challenging times in work and life. We also hear how organisations are using digital marketing to create more personal online journeys for consumers.
Q: How did you find yourself working in the EdTech sector, was it always an area of interest?
From an early age I was always interested in technology, from the newest video games to working on Macintosh computers in the early days. I’ve had a varied career that started in graphic design while I studied my degree. Then I worked as a university teacher and simultaneously worked in marketing and consulting roles for local government, software and engineering companies, then Arts, mining, non-profits and higher education. I’ve been very fortunate in having worked with so many forward-thinking organisations that have allowed me to push the boundaries in terms of content and digital communications.
Q: What motivates you and how do you define success?
Making a difference in people’s lives. I used to think it was having a better management role, higher salary and more success. But, when I look back over my career, I've always been truly passionate about making a difference, particularly in my work in higher education and also with non-profit disability organisations. I believe education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or situation.
Q: How can schools, professional organisations and companies work together to empower women pursuing a career in STEM?
Programs that encourage girls from an early age in primary school right through to university focussing on maths, science and technology go a long way in building girls’ confidence and interest in STEM. Girls need to see and hear all the amazing things being done by women in science and technology, it’s about opening their minds to all the possibilities. Blackboard’s [email protected] initiative and being involved with the TechGirls Movement are good examples of steps an organisation can take to support women in STEM. Sharing these stories and experiences with our clients and encouraging them to share within their institution might be all it takes to inspire more girls to look at a career in STEM.
Q: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful in your role at Blackboard?
Relationship building – collaboration and communication with people internal and external to the organisation, being able to connect, understand and listen to their perspective, to learn from them and develop a relationship built around mutual beneficial goals.
Innovation and creativity – the ability to innovate, to solve challenges or to overcome barriers. This has been particularly important in the last twelve months in our Australian and New Zealand market environments.
Genuine approach – working in an online environment you need to be authentic, and by that I mean from the grassroots. It’s about being warm and friendly in your tone of voice and ensuring your approach has a genuine drive towards improving the customer experience.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?
Everything requires trade-offs, and you cannot be all things to all people. Both pieces of advice I would happily give to others, particularly when I'm managing teams and they're overloaded with work. When we find ourselves overwhelmed with too many things to do, pick one or two projects and do them really well.
Q: What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career to date?
Online personalised user journeys. It’s all about creating a personalised experience from data that has been collected, from personal data to the actions that person takes. Whether they click on a social post, follow a feed, click on a piece of online content or an email, using these interactions to further personalise their journey online, it is a collective of different technologies that have come together to create a different experience for users.
Key to this is how well-resourced companies are using data and how people interact with content to drive that user experience. This is the future of marketing, digital technology can capture and enable a smart analysis of someone's needs, wants, and drivers, not just what interests or motivates them. After that, it all comes down to how that data and information is analysed and used effectively to deliver a better experience for consumers.
Q: Are there any family, colleagues, friends or people in the industry you particularly look up to or are inspired by?
I’ve been truly fortunate to have worked with three extraordinary CEOs during my career. The first was one of very few female CEO’s within government administration, an admirable woman achieving big things in a male dominated environment at the time. Later in my career, a world-leading engineer gave me insight into how technology could ultimately benefit a sector with long-term vision and passion for the science. More recently, the CEO I worked with in higher education was a great inspiration, with his focus on the importance of building strong relationships. He was all about inclusivity, accessibility and acceptance within a supportive working environment. An excellent listener, he was always open to a conversation with anyone in the business, not matter what their role was. This gave me a better understanding of what’s most important in the way you work as a leader.
Q: Is there a book, movie or podcast that you’ve found inspiring and would recommend?
A book high on my list of ‘must reads’ is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. Mark’s writings and wisdom have strongly influenced my psychology and how I view life in recent years. It has enabled me to be more resilient around personal tragedy and trauma, and professional challenges as well. Mark distils empirical research into easy-to-understand points and by looking at things in a more realistic, pragmatic sense, and explains the best way to be happy is to figure out how to tackle those challenging moments. Life is all about the journey not the destination, and this book provides simple and practical ways to apply that principle in everyday life.