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One Leader At A Time: The Marketing Leader Shallu Behar-Sheehan

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Truata's CMO Shallu Behar-Sheehan in interview with HotTopics.ht's Head of Digital and Community, Julia Smith

Shallu Behar Sheehan FCIM is an award wining marketing leader and has led the marketing function of brands such as Cisco, F5 Networks and Trūata, a leading privacy and analytics organization, where she currently works. Shallu has worked extensively as a mentor to empower a new generation of leaders, in particular women, and has also been a vocal supporter of refugees’ cause. In this interview I sit down with Shallu to talk about marketing, privacy, leadership, self-care and knitting!

Julia Smith: How did you enter the technology sector and marketing?

Shallu Behar-Sheehan: Computer Science was a new addition to the O-level syllabus when I was at school, and the concept of programming was something that intrigued me. As part of the coursework, I submitted a project that enabled users to order clothes online. I was encouraged to share the concept with one of the print catalogue companies but it was this early foray into blending the science (the coding) and the art (behavioural triggers) that was the inspiration into the tech sector and, specifically, the marketing discipline.

JS: As the CMO of Truata, a leading authority on privacy-enhanced data analytics solutions, how do you see marketing and privacy co-existing?

SB: The concept of privacy as we know it has evolved. Many of us relinquish elements of our privacy in exchange for promotional offers or experiences. As marketers, we can take the lead role in planning, strategizing and guiding the responsible use of data within our organization, and champion the privacy-centric consumer experience. Given we are now on the frontline, CMOs need to instigate collaboration with CIOs, CTOs and CDOs, to ensure privacy considerations are deeply embedded into business strategies and are aligned in consumer trust to deliver a model that puts privacy first.

JS: What emerging technologies will transform marketing?

SB: Computer vision and its ability to understand the attributes of images and video that drive engagement and value. This will continue to shape the landscape for marketers that play at the cutting edge; the constant evolution of machine/deep learning that drives the optimization of different experiences will continue to be seen in the experience and personalization of platforms. With the advent of deeper analytics and insights comes the responsibility for brands to illustrate to consumers that trust and transparency are at the center of every conversation.

With the defining moment of our time being the pandemic, it has forced us to migrate to a world where we exist online and where everything we consume and interact with leaves a digital shadow. Bringing the ‘human’ back into the everyday experience is going to be the transformational purpose for brands.

JS: What leadership qualities are most important and least acknowledged?

SB: In the last year specifically, the dynamics of the workplace have changed dramatically. As we trudge through this coronavirus crisis, video meetings and at-home distractions that require professionals to balance workload with home-schooling, issues with equipment, along with many other concerns, have required approaches to leadership to adapt and evolve also. There is an increasing appreciation for authenticity, open communication and trust to allow productivity and passion to continue to thrive. The focus on relationships, verifiable facts and being more prepared is beneficial for wellbeing and adapting to issues.

It turns out these are the same criteria investing experts use to rate the category of stocks that have been outperforming the S&P 500 during this crisis. They are stocks with high ESG ratings – for environment, social and governance – and this correlation is giving us important insights into what makes a great leader.

JS: Have you read any recent books that you would like to share with our community of leaders?

SB: One book that I am delighted to share with this community is IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. The book unlocks secrets from the age-old Japanese ideology that’s long been associated with the nation’s long-life expectancy.

A combination of the Japanese words “iki” (生き), which translates to “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose. In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going. Given the everyday struggles and worries that crop up – especially at a time like this – I would highly recommend this for the curious reader.

Occasionally, a book comes along that has the impact of staying with you forever. This is one of them.

JS: How do you switch off from the online world?

SB: I’ve been knitting since my early years at boarding school; I find it therapeutic. It is scientifically proven to be as relaxing as yoga; it lowers blood pressure and keeps the mind sharp. Knitting can reduce the heart rate by 11 beats per minute (on average) and induces ‘an enhanced state of calm’ – and even the same ‘flow’ experienced by athletes when they are in the ‘zone’, which causes a drop in stress hormones and blood pressure. Try it out for yourself!