Executive Insights featuring Maggie Fox

The first thing you should know about Maggie Fox is that she has an offbeat sense of humor. On her Facebook page, she gives her age as 119 years old. Her profile pic on WhatsApp is a close-up selfie squished into the camera. The entrepreneur, global tech marketer and board member shows up on her X profile as an infant, possibly sitting in the bath. She has an elastic band ball the size of a grapefruit that has been growing for years. You can see it on Instagram.

The second thing you should know is that she’s on every social media platform on the planet. On X (Twitter) since 2007, she has nearly 16K followers including CMOs, CEOS, and tech executives. Her posts are irreverent, smart, and frequent.

We met at SAP when she SVP, Digital Marketing. Once her colleague asked me to edit a text. I was into the first sentences when I asked who had written it. “Maggie,” he told me. I stopped working. She doesn’t need an editor. She’s been blogging since the word was invented. In fact, some of her 10-year-old blogs are as relevant today as they were then.

Maggie must have one of the most iconoclastic portfolio careers ever. As we speak, she is giving away golf clubs and donating items to charity in preparation for a relocation from the Toronto area to London, England where she is about to begin a job as SVP Performance and Content Marketing for Aveva, a software company.

In 2006 she started the world’s first social media consultancy and in 2021, using her own seed money, she launched Ciselier, a marketplace for luxury scissors, because “bizarrely” this new consumer category did not exist. In between, she held senior marketing positions at several corporations.

Today, as she transitions away from operations at Ciselier, the company she created enjoys “great awareness, great demand” allowing her to hire a fulltime MD. They were covered in the Wall Street Journal while Graydon Carter, the former editor of Vanity Fair, featured Ciselier in his digital newsletter Air Mail.

We started our conversation on the topic of thought leadership.

(This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity).

Angela: How has thought leadership content helped you build the Ciselier brand?

Maggie: It was pragmatic, because when there is no such thing as the topic you were talking about, if you create enough high-quality content, you dominate search results.

We had a two-pronged marketing communications effort. Number one was to build up in the background when we were just getting started. No one was buying scissors. We had nothing else to do but build up this tremendous library of high-quality content based around search terms and things we thought were interesting that we were learning. Then in parallel, engage in communications, outreach to journalists and media. The minute we started getting any kind of editorial coverage, that’s it, you own search.

I’ve always been drawn to thought leadership content, because it helps me think through what I’m doing.

Angela: Now you’re handing over the reins.

Maggie: We’ve hired a managing director to run it because it is a thriving, going concern. The heavy lifting up front stuff is done. Now, Kendra Fulford, who’s our Managing Director, is running the day-to-day.

Angela: Is the U.S. now your biggest market?

 Maggie: Yes, by far. We were covered in the Wall Street Journal in November 2023. As a small business, especially a niche business, you aim for that one piece of seminal coverage that just creates enough awareness that your on-going demand hits a level. For us supply is a huge challenge. At this point, we’re negotiating with our makers who are small businesses, like five people, handmaking scissors in a beautiful little alpine Italian town or in Solingen in Germany. There’s only so much they can make. It’s almost like the automotive industry. You make a decision and 18 months later you see it.

Angela: Tell me about your motivation to establish the Social Media Group in 2006. I read that you had no funding and no partners.

Maggie: I was in a meeting with Home Hardware. A guy named Morris Saffer, who’s a grandee of the advertising space in Canada and retail advertising said he was really interested in what was going on with blogs, and how companies are using blogs to talk to their customers. This is early 2006. I had been blogging since 2003, so I had a good understanding of that community and the existing technology. By August of that year, I had set up a company, designed the logo, bought the URL, which told me that the timing was good. By March of 2007, we’d landed Ford Motor Company.

Angela: Was it a content-driven consultancy?

Maggie: It had to be. When you’re engaging in social media, it’s not broadcast, or mainstream media. You have to engage with content that’s relevant to the community you’re trying to join.

You don’t show up to a cocktail party and start shouting, “Hey, I’m here!” Your goal is to join a community, so what is the community interested in? And how can you fit in, just as you would insert yourself in a conversation at a cocktail party.

Somehow this is brain surgery in the business world. There is pressure to write about their portfolio or product, but that isn’t what most people care about.

Angela: Let’s talk about technology and marketing, because you obviously recognized the potential for growth there and very successfully led the One Digital Experience program at SAP.  

Maggie: I’ve been working in the tech space since 2000. For me, marketing and technology have always been intertwined.

The reality is today, having started a company that is entirely online that could not exist without e-commerce technology, is that even if you look at a more traditional space, the tools you can use around marketing automation are totally applicable to a more traditional space, just from a scalability and acceleration perspective.

The challenge is not that the tools don’t exist, it’s that they’re not leveraged in a smart way. What you most often see is that people, particularly in large organizations, focus on activities. A lot of people get so fixated on the activity that they forget about the outcome that they’re driving.

Angela: What does it mean for you to build a sustainable business?

Maggie: There’s your environmental impact and then there’s the legacy of the business itself, can it sustain itself? It would be nice if it was something in 10 years I came back to, in my retirement. The reality of it is that we are helping these makers find new markets and helping them build their brand awareness, which is creating value for the small family businesses that are under a huge amount of pressure from low quality products and low-cost products. Kendra is an amazing operator, and I have every confidence that she will continue to grow the business to operate it beautifully to meet demand. But it’s not my primary focus, it’s her responsibility.

Would I be happy if it was still around in 10 years? Ab-so-lutely. We’ve doubled every year, we’re now in our third year. We’re doubling from decent revenue. We expect we will double again this year. If no dramatic mistakes are made, and we don’t have any major disruptions, it will chug along nicely.

The environmental footprint is also very low. We don’t use any plastic. We try to use everything recyclable. Our biggest carbon footprint is around shipping.

Angela: We talked a little bit earlier about ESG being a bad word, but responsible business? What does that look like?

Maggie: A responsible business is just being mindful of every decision you’re making and the impact on the earth. If you have a choice between something that is going to create a large carbon footprint and something that is not, the choice should be obvious.

I am reminded of something my father who was a university professor used to say: “The only thing that grows uncontrollably is cancer.” So why do we think businesses, stock markets and economies should grow indefinitely? They cannot. There is a limit. There is a finite edge to what the earth will support. Businesses need to have a much longer view and contemplate what doubling every year, what does that look like? At a certain point, you reach the limits of possibility. And so why go over that cliff? Why not contemplate strategies that will allow you to continue to deliver value and be sustainable and employ people and make a good product without wrecking everything? That’s how I contemplate it.

Quarterly capitalism has got to be the worst thing in the world.

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