Once you get past the awkward hurdle at first, it makes true collaboration much easier and enjoyable.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Pola Zen.
Pola Zen is the Sr. Director of Corporate Marketing at Quotient, a digital media and promotions technology company that creates omnichannel brand-building and sales-driving opportunities for advertisers and retailers. An award-winning storyteller, Pola explores how the combination of ideas, technology, and distribution has the power to connect people and create meaningful experiences. Fascinated by digital behavior and Gen Z, she has published reports and speaks publicly about consumer trends and the impact new technologies have on people, products, and brands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t think anyone found it funny at the time but in my first full-time job at a tech company, I created a company brochure everyone was very excited about. I read it a million times and sent it to print. When we got the brochures, I found a typo. Embarrassed, I went to my manager who decided to reprint. Then, a minute before the second batch was printed, I found another typo! So, we stopped the press and revisited the document with a professional proofreader. The third time around, we got it right. I learned a huge lesson: it takes one small mistake to discredit your professionalism and credibility. Sometimes when we work on challenging projects, we focus on the big and bombastic but every little detail needs to be buttoned up in order to provide a flawless experience with your brand.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
In 2011, the term “content marketing” was on the rise and my resume, which was very different in the tech landscape, made me stand out. It was very hard to get interviews, but I got one with Efrat Ravid at ClickSoftware who was impressed by my unique creative skills (and was also a fan of the previous TV series I had worked on) and brought me on board. I believe they were one of the first in that industry to hire an employee dedicated to telling the story of the company through videos. I used visual storytelling techniques to represent the company, the products, and the leadership team. I wrote, directed, and produced all videos and worked with global talents when shooting customer videos all over the world. The results were incredible and visible across the board.
I learned from that experience that my time working in the film and television industry was an invaluable asset for bringing new types of storytelling to tech companies. Instead of trying to be like others in the company, I started bringing more of myself to the table. A common buzzword in our industry is data-driven content, as in, analyze what you have done to do more of what has been successful. The problem with only basing strategies on data is that you can only analyze what has already been done. Sometimes, it’s important to take a risk, to innovate and try something new — and you won’t have data for that yet! Many times, it won’t succeed (which is not the end of the world) but when it does, it can be a home run.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Make sure you work on projects that excite you. If they don’t excite you, make them exciting — that’s why you are a marketer! I think that the worst thing you can do is bore people, including yourself.
Great advice. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?
My first full-time job in tech was at ClickSoftware, now a Salesforce company. I had a decade of film and TV experience but no software knowledge. To say I had a lot to learn is an understatement; I had everything to learn. One of the executives, Sassi Idan, led the solution center, which was the team that came up with software innovation. When we met and he learned of my background, we started working together to bring to life many of the very creative marketing ideas he had. He always made himself available and was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. He helped me find and develop the abilities to succeed in this industry. I had never had a mentor, and it’s not a word I use lightly, but he became my mentor and I am insanely grateful for that.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
I believe that the future of marketing is honesty. Clients and consumers are becoming acutely aware of sales tactics and have, at their fingertips, the tools to look into and find any information they are looking for, regardless of the company’s marketing messages. Our opportunity as marketers is to fully embrace this sincere approach. Honesty is scary, both in business and in real life. But it is also incredibly exciting and gratifying. That is where I see it going, and I strive to be part of that change.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I believe that the more varied our sources of information are, the more our mind expands and becomes flexible. This is very important for creating any kind of connection and communication, among them marketing. To stay on top of relevant industry news, I begin every morning with a scroll through my RSS feed. It aggregates top news from the outlets I selected, but I make sure to have other types of fun outlets in there as well — such as advice columns that give me insight into what is on some people’s minds. I wake up early so on Saturday mornings I usually watch a PBS documentary, and I am also a podcast junkie. I listen to a lot of storytelling podcasts (my favorite one is NPR’s Story Corps with unscripted conversations between two people) as well as podcasts that expose me to more diverse human experiences, such as Slate’s Working podcast where they have people talk about their work and NPR’s Hidden Brain that uses science and storytelling to explore patterns that drive human behavior.
One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m a big advocate for open and direct communication. The fastest way from point A to B is a straight line. I try to encourage this with the people I work with as well as in my personal life. Once you get past the awkward hurdle at first, it makes true collaboration much easier and enjoyable. This is incredibly helpful when working with global teams with diverse backgrounds, and it’s especially important now that we are working remotely and don’t have other nonverbal cues to pick up on in order to understand what is being communicated.
Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!