Women In Marketing 2021 Edition ft. Irene Mbonge from CPF Financial Services

Irene is the Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Group Head at CPF Financial Services. Whilst companies have been successful in accelerating digital solutions for the remote work model, there have been some adverse effects. That is, employees finding it difficult to ‘unplug’ beyond working hours. Irene talks about the importance of unplugging and striking a balance between work and personal life. Let’s learn more on this segment of Women In Marketing 🇰🇪

LET’S GET PERSONAL

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES?

I was born in Kenya, in the not-so-little town of Machakos to the south East of the Capital, Nairobi. It was fun growing up in the countryside and experiencing life unadulterated. Being the last born also came with its fair share of good as well as tough times. But I triumphed -:)

SHOW OFF TO OUR READERS. ANY HIDDEN TALENTS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US? A CLARINET STAR IN THE MAKING PERHAPS?

A leisure golfer is what I’d call myself. Nothing in the professional realm, but I enjoy the game.

WE WOULD ALL LOVE TO WIN THE LOTTERY RIGHT? IF YOU WON $10 MILLION TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?

Invest half in a regular-income generating venture. Put a good amount into a Pension Fund to take care of my years in retirement, stress-free, and spend the rest travelling the world.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULDN’T SHARE WITH ANYONE!

Possibly no favourite meal. Just favourite Fruits! -Grapes. Fresh, Green, Red, Seedless, fermented, all grapes :-)

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?

Mine was more of a journey than a moment. At every stage of this journey, I got sucked more and more into the world of Marketing and Communications. At some point, there was just no turning back. Once you discover your passion in the career world, you get to enjoy what you do.

IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL IN THE WORLD, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?

A cheetah. I am all about moving with speed and poise.

WHAT’S THE MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T LEARN FROM YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE ALONE?

I’m an Ambivert. It plays a crucial role in my success in my career and personal life.

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 typically start my day by perusing through my media feeds as I hydrate with a cup of water and some fruit. Caffeine is only welcome once I’ve had my first hour of the day on the healthy side.

A cuppa Coffee. Good old home-brewed Cappuccino, to be precise.

HOW BEST DO YOU STRIKE A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

It is challenging to strike a balance working in Marketing and Communication. I am deliberate about unplugging from work at certain hours of the day and over the weekend. I encourage my colleagues to practice this as much as possible. It’s not always possible. Working weekends are a thing too, especially when there are looming deadlines, crises to be managed, events to be planned and executed etcetera. Staying happy and fulfilled in my work is a key strategy that I use; I enjoy what I do;it follows that you can do something you love for long hours without suffering the fatigue that would normally come with that.

YOU OBTAINED YOUR MBA IN MARKETING FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI (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?

The future of work (and it has already started) will not be about papers and qualifications. It will be about abilities and skills. I look at the internet as the great equalizer. As long as one has access to the internet, you can learn new skills, make new linkages, create networks and work your way to where you want to be in life. The power is in our hands now, more than ever.

JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENON ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB-HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?

It purely depends on one’s objectives in life; Job hopping has its advantages, but it can also be detrimental to mastering skills and career progression. Here is my take: never look at a bigger paycheck as the primary driver for changing jobs; consider the skills you will learn, level of exposure to new ideas and new dynamics, job satisfaction (read Happiness), flexibility, space to fully explore your potential and abilities.

All these, and more, should be seriously weighed before one decides to hop.

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?

Without sounding gender-biased, Women are generally better at gathering multi-faceted insights. And Marketing is about looking at both qualitative and quantitative data and drawing insights to inform your plans. Equally, research has also shown that Women minds work better for brands.

Science does not lie. Each gender has its strengths; based on how we are wired, and this is just one of those areas where the fairer gender has the upper hand.

SYSTEMS AROUND REMOTE WORK AND VIDEO CONFERENCING ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING A STAPLE IN MOST ORGANISATIONS. ACCORDING TO 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?

Human beings are social beings. However, I think we are now getting to a point where we are beginning to appreciate that Virtual Spaces are Actual Spaces. Meaning that we can work, socialize and do everything possible physically, virtually; and achieve the same if not better outcomes.

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 WELL-BEING OF THEIR EMPLOYEES?

Work-life balance is crucial. It should be reinforced by companies that seek to optimize staff productivity. CEO’s should therefore take on the role of Chief Empowering Officers. That is, to provide for a healthy work environment and steer the ship through the current turbulent waters. They must champion the course.

STORYTELLING SEEMS TO BE THE NEXT RISING BUZZWORD. WHAT’S THE CPF FINANCIAL SERVICES STORY? HOW ARE YOU TELLING IT IN AN INTERESTING WAY?

CPF Financial Services champions Social Security as its core business. To many people, that’s not a very interesting discussion. For the Executive who just started on their high-flying career on the ‘Kenyan Wallstreet’, retirement is lightyears away. We, therefore, have to use real-life scenarios to demonstrate that planning for retirement is not for the oldies; it should be part of everyone’s journey. Starting from the first paycheque. The digital space has proved a very formidable space to tell our story. We aim to Fulfil the Lives of all those that we serve — through our wide range of services; and we do this through being innovative in order to keep up with the ever evolving customer needs.

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS

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 AT CPF FINANCIAL SERVICES?

We are big on innovation.

So much so, it is embedded in the ‘CPF Way’ — anchored in our corporate values. Innovation, to us, does not have to be an entire discovery. It can be a new way of doing things — enhancing efficiency or, it can be an improvement on a product. It can be incremental, but it can also be revolutionary. We have walked all these paths and continue to trailblaze when it comes to innovation in the retirement benefits sector in Kenya, and indeed, East Africa.

One product born out of innovation at CPF Financial Services is the Mpension product, which allows people to take charge of their retirement planning-from the comfort of their phone, using a USSD code, or via the CPF Mobile App. CPF Financial Services was one of the first organizations in the country to adopt a paperless work environment through digitization, close to 10 years ago.

We have an in-house team tasked with spearheading innovations — to ensure those good ideas are seen through to viable products.

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?

Influencer marketing is still in its infancy stage i’d say. We haven’t reached the peak of it yet, and we will likely see a lot of new developments in this space in the next few years. The great migration to Digital, occasioned by Covid-19, can only push the role of influencer marketing further. I expect to see more creativity around how influencers engage with and promote brands. More creativity around content generation, Brilliant story-telling and audience engagement will likely make the difference between successful influencers and the rest.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS SOME OF THE MAJOR TRENDS IN DIGITAL IN THE NEXT 12 TO 18 MONTHS?

For me, cutting through the noise and listening to your customer on the Digital Space remains a top priority. The use of data to drive marketing communication decisions cannot be understated. Therefore, refining these two aspects remain crucial in the coming months and indeed years.

2021 AND BEYOND

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

Typically, I will be reading 2 or 3 books at any one time (I take multi-tasking to a whole new level on this). It’s mainly because I can’t wait to get started on the next book…and the next…and the next. I also juggle between e-reads and paperbacks; for the simple reason that at times you’ll find yourself in a place, with some free minutes, and what better thing to do than get through a few pages — on the tab or the phone. I’m currently reading:

’21 Speeches that Shaped Our World’ — by Chris Abbott.

‘How the World Works’ by Noam Chomsky

‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama.

WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?

The Social Dilemma

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?

A nod, and a Smile.

WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?

Many friends and many family members. I, however, know that they are doing ok, thankfully. I try to keep in touch despite the times, virtually.

A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY

There’s no better time than now for the Marketing and Communications profession. Believe in your brand. +

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

Follow your heart and be passionate about what you do. Life will unfold as it should.

ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?

To travel all continents and possibly all (ok, most) countries of the world before I turn 40. I’d say I’m 30% there on this bucket list.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FEMALE HEROES?

Indra Nooyi, Michelle Obama, Jacinda Arden, Christine Lagarde.

HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOUR COMPANY ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

CPF Kenya — YouTube

CPF Financial Services (@CPFKenya) / Twitter

CPFKenya | Facebook

(46) CPF Financial Services Ltd.: Overview | LinkedIn

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