“To avoid burnout, set your routine and boundaries” with Helen Aboagye, CMO of Imagen

I had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Aboagye, CMO of Imagen. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing across IT and fintech companies, Helen brings deep expertise and knowledge to deliver tangible business results. With a passion for brand engagement and communications, Helen combines sharp thinking with creativity and executional excellence. Helen’s professional […]

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Aboagye, CMO of Imagen. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing across IT and fintech companies, Helen brings deep expertise and knowledge to deliver tangible business results. With a passion for brand engagement and communications, Helen combines sharp thinking with creativity and executional excellence. Helen’s professional experience combined with her deep understanding of and perspective on the marketing industry propel her as a thought leader across a variety of industry trends and topics.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always had a creative mind, but it wasn’t until I discovered marketing during my business studies that I realized how much it integrated both creativity and business acumen. I’ve followed marketing as a career path since then, exploring the way creativity and data driven insights can support business growth.

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?

While I can’t recall a funny mistake, there is a light bulb moment that comes to mind, which changed the way I approach challenges. At a previous company I oversaw a website relaunch project, which proved incredibly arduous and demanding. It was really rewarding to see the finished product and to have rallied my team to revitalize the brand, but the whole process was one fraught with hurdles. Funnily enough, when I started my role here at Imagen, relaunching the website and rebrand was my first project to undertake. However, I found I approached this with a much clearer head space. I’d already met the hurdles from my previous project so I felt more confident navigating around them and, thanks to this, I felt like a better leader throughout the project. It taught me a really valuable lesson: you never face the same challenge twice, because each time you’re a different professional, with more insights and more experience.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Earlier on in my career I was certainly guilty of experiencing imposter syndrome, something that wasn’t talked about as openly or frequently as it is now. However, in my mid-twenties, I joined a company and was promoted to a senior position after only a few months. Having this recognition for the results I’d produced, and in my potential to take on new responsibilities, was hugely rewarding. It reinforced my confidence in my skills and motivated me to continue to grow professionally. Not only was I hungry to grow in my career, I was determined to prove to my manager that he’d made the right decision in promoting me. From that point onwards, I feel like I found my voice at work and lost my fear of sharing my opinions.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The growth of video is acknowledged across all industries, but as a marketer I’ve had the inside view, not only on how fast it’s accelerated, but on how integral it’s become to the way content is created, shared and monetized, connecting brands with their audiences.

Imagen truly understands that every company is at a different stage in their adoption of video. Sports leads the way in video maturity, Media looks to replicate their successes and even galleries, libraries and museums (GLAM) are looking to better preserve digital content of ancient artefacts. Meanwhile, the enterprise sector is at the early stage of their adoption of video and has yet to face the hurdles that Imagen’s platform already tackles.

As the rapid adoption of new technology transforms consumers’ everyday behavior, organizations and brands look to evolve with them. Imagen has always understood that it’s the tech that changes our behavior that sets the benchmark for user experience. For example, our solution has a myriad of smart features that have been refined and developed over the last 20 years, and serves the most sophisticated requirements of today’s DAM managers, yet we’ve built the platform to be as intuitive to use as it is to binge watch the latest series on Netflix.

Adopting new technology isn’t always easy for businesses, especially if they’re still trying to untangle the spaghetti junction of their existing outdated infrastructure — that’s why our solution can integrate into an organization’s existing tech stack. We genuinely solve an issue without creating a new one and we’re proud to be so agile that we’re able to serve the needs of a wide-ranging portfolio of clients — from Premier League to BP, Imperial War Museums to Ministry of Defence.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Having successfully launched now in the US, we’re looking to expand our footprint in North America. We’re also looking to translate our experience and understanding of the sports and media sectors to meet the diverse needs of the fast-moving world of enterprise. A huge umbrella to multiple industries, we’re focussed as an organization — from product development and marketing through to sales — to better understanding the challenges enterprise faces in its rapid adoption of video. Many of the solutions we offer are to problems these sectors have not yet faced. This is where the experience of supporting global brands in more mature sectors — in regards to video — can help us support new customers in the enterprise to navigate around them as they evolve. Imagen’s platform can be entirely customized to each brand we work with; we grow with our customers. We’re focused on harnessing machine learning and artificial intelligence to help the Enterprise sector accelerate their growth and unlock the power of video — just like we’ve done for the global brands we work with in other sectors, from sports and media to GLAM and Defense.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

In the past few years, I’ve really felt the tide change when it comes to workplace culture; we’ve moved from presenteeism to more flexible working and a better understanding of wellbeing and mental health in the workplace. Imagen, for example, launched its first mental health and wellbeing training earlier this year, and introduced a health and wellness program to ensure our staff are fully supported — from time management skills to mental health and career development. The myriad of collaboration tools available has helped to facilitate this transition, enabling employees to work remotely. However, the advice I would give is that these tools can be an aid or a vice depending on how you use them. There’s the risk of feeling the need to be always-on, since you’re always in reach. Set your routine and boundaries, and manage your time in the way that’s most productive for you, rather than allow yourself to be pulled in multiple directions by multiple notifications on multiple devices. Tailor your tools to suit you, whether that’s making the most of Gmail’s scheduling feature, or simply updating your Slack/Teams avatar to sync with your diaries to show when you’re available. Your tech, your time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Over the years I’ve often been the only woman in a senior position at some of the companies I have worked at. While I’ve never felt a gender divide, I’ve noticed I’d have a different perspective and approach to my male peers but didn’t always feel the confidence to embrace this until I met with Alison Down, a business coach. She helped me to gain insights into my own abilities and taught me that I was able to bring something different to the table with my perceptiveness. I should caveat this by saying that I’m not convinced these are uniquely female traits, but it’s certainly something I uniquely had to offer.

Alison taught me to embrace my interpersonal skills in leadership. You don’t always have to lean in to make an impact. Sometimes sitting back to listen and offering your team the platform to voice their opinions shows strong leadership — especially in an environment that’s often too competitive to allow room for this — can have more impact. I learned to embrace diversity of talent, background and opinion. It’s thanks to Alison’s business coaching that I was able to become a leader that made decisions by consensus and created room for my team to share their opinions.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

Perhaps less recognizable in the US, Marmite has done well to spread its message on this side of the pond. I’ve always highly respected Marmite for being bold and brave enough to embrace the duality of its public perception. Just like its slogan suggests, you either love it or you hate it. Marmite showed how well it understood its audience, nurturing customer loyalty with this first campaign. It’s continued to evolve with digital marketing best practices. From carving its own niche in the foodie sector with content and influencer marketing, to bold product launches of new flavors, from peanut butter to cream cheese. The DNA of its messaging has always been ‘love it or hate it’ and while the brand continues to find creative ways to generate press coverage it’s kept true to its bold identity. Nothing is more engaging on social media today than a divisive topic, so it’s a tactic that’s proved to be a trailblazer rather than a gimmick.

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

At Imagen, we have a customer focused approach both in our product and our marketing, so our Blueprint is always aligned with our target market. Our solution is used by a wide range of professionals — from marketers, rights holders and publishers to digital asset managers at sports organizations and producers at media companies. The value proposition and message we need to present always aligns to the challenges faced by each target prospect and is then made relevant to their industry.

We start with a robust research project that leads into marketable content elements, such as webinars, eBook materials, blogs, reports, etc. We always work through multiple channels across paid and earned media, and build out target sets for email campaigns, social media and webinar forecasts. In terms of content, we try to incorporate different activity, timely topics and relevant content that results in a steady cadence of output. Importantly, we make sure we amplify the engagement and reach of all our content by aligned PR, content marketing and events under their respective campaigns. We have a sophisticated tech solution that serves multiple verticals, so building a brand identity that speaks to all sectors requires a genuine understanding of our customers and the problems we need to solve.

As marketers have more access to better data, we can amplify the business impact of our campaigns, ensuring our creativity is backed up by data-led decisions. Personalized account based marketing that unlocks the power of video will lead the way in marketing. Marketers will also need to become increasingly aware of regulations like GDPR and other privacy laws. I think this will force marketers to nurture their creativity in order to capture contact information and build trust with audiences, which is getting harder to do in an appropriate way.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Learn and truly understand the qualifications for the career or job you want, even before you enter the job market. This helps set people apart in marketing and makes a difference when young people do start job hunting; it shows you’re serious about the industry and building a career.
  2. Wait until you’ve explored all aspects of marketing before finding your niche. For example, I originally wanted to go into B2C marketing but, by chance, I landed in B2B. Now, I’d never go back. so, I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to explore how the reality of the industry compared to my preconception.
  3. B2B can be just as exciting as B2C. From face value, some people think the business side versus consumer is tedious, but I’ve found it’s thoroughly creative, challenging and exciting. Whether your aim is to reach a prospect in enterprise of a consumer in their 20s, we’re still engaging with people who want to be educated and entertained.
  4. Marketing is a multifaceted discipline, and each of those disciplines have transferable skills. This means that there’s more opportunity to side-step in your career than others. From product marketing, content marketing and ABM, a marketer’s skill set will never stop evolving. You never stop learning and there’s always the opportunity to find new ways to be engaged and challenged in your career.
  5. If you want to have an impact on business, learn about business, not just marketing. Understanding the challenges of a startup is the best way to understand how you can align your marketing strategy with business goals. I’d also recommend getting experience in different sized companies; startups and larger organizations have different sets of challenges, but the goals are often very similar.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

There is so much data now that we have a wealth of insight to couple creative campaigns with data-led decisions. The key tools I’d recommend including in a marketer’s essential toolkit are:

  • LinkedIn — for reaching your target audience and building a community
  • Usabilityhub.com — for testing the brand messaging on your website
  • Imagen — for unlocking the power of your video content
  • Canva — for creating engaging content for social media
  • CoSchedule — to test how well your headline performs on Google

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

There are more podcasts and blogs everyday it seems in marketing, but my go-to blog is HubSpot and Simon Sinek, who also has some great books to add to your reading list. I also read our competitors’ content to keep abreast on what they’re doing and how they’re communicating. I also keep track of what analysts are discussing and sharing, and I get a lot of value from Gartner’s newsletters and online content. A few other podcasts I’ve been listening to include the CMO Podcast with Jim Stengal, A16Z, Ask Gary Vee and Vox. I’m a big believer that you need to actively get outside of your filter bubble. The more you understand about startup challenges across industries, the more closely your marketing strategy will align with supporting business growth.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?

I consider Simon Sinek to be a professional hero of mine. His brand proposition philosophy is to put your “why” at the heart of your communications, which really resonates with me. I specialized in branding for a long time and have read a lot of his work. I credit him with a lot of what I learned and applied, and it works! My favorite quote from him is probably “People don’t fear change, people fear sudden change. People fear revolutions, people don’t fear evolution.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

While we’re starting to have candid conversations around the way social media impacts mental health, we’re only just beginning to understand it. There’s still a long way to go to eradicating its toxicity and young people are especially sensitive to its effects — both because their brains are still developing and also because they’re growing up immersed in a social media driven world.

Some great campaigns are leading the way to proactively nurture positive communities on social media, for example Jameels Jamil’s iWeigh community on Instagram and the Good News Movement. I’m a huge advocate of social media’s power to bring together communities and provide a democratized platform for people and brands to share their messages — but as its growth has surpassed the expectations of its creators, we have a responsibility to better understand how to use the tool for good.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter (@hlharrington)and LinkedIn. If you’re interested in following Imagen, we are @Imagen_io on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

I had a great time — thank you!

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