Shonodeep Modak, Chief Marketing Officer for Energy Management of Schneider Electric, talks to The Ortus Club’s Andrea Paolacci about the keys to sustained success as a marketing leader and the CMO’s role as a driver of change.
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Please give us a brief description of your company.
My name is Shonodeep Modak. I cover marketing for Schneider Electric. I’m the CMO for Energy Management, one of our largest business units. Schneider Electric is an energy and automation digital solution specialist combining energy technologies and real-time automation software and services in homes, data centres, buildings, infrastructure, and industries. Our turnover was nearly 29 billion euros last year, and we have about 128,000 employees.
What words best describe the role of a CMO? Why?
I think of us as a whisper of customer intent. We can identify the signals of purchase more than probably any other function. We are also a sales conversation exponentialiser, meaning we can take that one-to-one to one-to-many. Lastly, I think of sustainability and how we’re changemakers.
What challenges are CMOs currently facing? What solutions can you identify?
Internally, the swim lanes of ownership of the digital customer journey used to be new concepts that have become more mainstream. They are becoming greater because eCommerce, services, and customer support are becoming more digitised, leading to more functional crossover. For example, we can potentially have a digital engagement model where, after you purchase the product, we, as marketing, can say, ‘Renew your contract. Extend your warranty. Now, it’s time for you to get remote monitoring.’ There’s a lot more crossover on who owns what. We just have to work with our teams, colleagues, and peers to help work through that.
Externally, one of the biggest challenges is climate change, which is the biggest challenge for our and future generations, and we have to solve it faster. As somebody in a corporation in the business environment, it’s our responsibility, especially as a CMO, to do everything we can to reduce scope one, two, and three emissions for our operations and customers. It’s our responsibility to fully understand and explain our efforts on the inside, but even more importantly, our products and solutions. Whether or not it’s positive or negative, we need to be able to explain, ‘If I’m an oil and gas company, we have this challenge. However, we can solve it.’ At Schneider, we’re in the business of sustainability. We help our customers buy renewable energy. We have products that help reduce their energy footprint. There’s a lot we have to do to explain, so our customers can accelerate their decarbonisation plans faster.
How would you explain the professional success you’ve had so far?
As marketers, we can easily get absorbed in our craft and be totally evolved in our search engine marketing, digital optimisation, and all these things. However, success is about driving results, impact, and being absorbed, not in the craft, but in the industry you work in, knowing the go-to-market, our customers, and how our products work. By doing that, you can then translate the craft into impact for your business. That’s helped pull me up into different roles and has been the thread of my success.
“Success is about driving results, impact, and being absorbed, not in the craft, but in the industry you work in, knowing the go-to-market, our customers, and how our products work. By doing that, you can then translate the craft into impact for your business.”
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
Back when I was at Exxon Mobil. I’d just been promoted to head up our retail marketing strategy. In Exxon, retail means the motor oils that we sell on the shelves of Walmart. I looked across different market trends and dynamics in 2007 and 2008. The International Panel for Climate Change said, ‘We have a problem with global warming,’ and people were looking at new ways to solve it. I stumbled upon different industry studies, including government research. We started seeing trends in the proliferation of hybrid vehicles. Gas prices in 2007 and 2008 were like what they are today. All these things were happening, and the government had published reports saying, ‘Maximise your tyre pressure in your car. Roll up your windows. Change to a lower viscosity motor oil.’ I went back to my product team and said, ‘Do we have something like this?’ They said, ‘We use it for racing cars.’ So, I said, ‘We could use it for sustainability purposes.’
I put that whole business case together and took it to my management. They said, ‘Interesting idea, but do you realise that we’re an oil and gas company? If you were to brand, create, and take this formulation and put it in the marketplace, what do you think that would do on the fuel side? It would reduce our demand on the fuel side, but we’d make less money overall.’ I was astounded by that comment, but I didn’t want to rock the boat. I went back to my team and said, ‘I don’t think we can take this to Walmart.’ But our president said, ‘This is great. This could actually really be something interesting to our Walmart buyer.’ I said, ‘Are you sure? If I go out and propose this product that I have no support for, I’m going to be fired, potentially.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. If you’re fired, then we both get fired. It’s the right thing to do.’ We spent that night putting the presentation together.
The next day, we went out, sat with the buyer, and took him through this whole story. He said, ‘This is going to change the industry. I want this in all 3,700 of my stores. I want every single package style you have.’ I thought, ‘This is amazing. I’m going to now be fired.’ We went back to our leadership with a cheque for millions and millions of dollars. When we started creating it, Exxon corporate said, ‘We hear that you’ve got a motor oil that’s green,’ and I thought, ‘Now, I’m really fired.’ They said, ‘No, we are trying to rebrand ourselves. We want to make a big deal out of it, publish it in all the major newspapers, and go all-out and market it.’ They did that, and they supported all of their marketing efforts and helped transform Exxon significantly. This is now their leading product today. That was the big risk that I took, and it paid off. I didn’t have to get my unemployment cheques.
How do you see your role evolving in the near future?
I talked about climate change earlier. That’s one of the big areas where I see us getting more and more involved as marketers. The other area is back to more of the craft, which is marketing automation, how we digitally engage our customers, making sure that they’re on the right nurture paths, etc. We’ve been using it more as a communication mechanism, but I see it as a way to build long-term digital relationships with customers. We have the huge opportunity to use it in new ways on the journey of the lifecycle after the purchase. Now, it’s not, ‘Hey, thanks for your purchase. We’ll see you later.’ It’s, ‘Hey, we have this new piece of thought leadership,’ or, ‘Hey, we know you purchased this product, but did you know that there are other ways other people are using it,’ or, ‘Let’s invite you to this forum where you can meet peers of your own type.’ There are lots of other ways to do this, but we have to be more bespoke with marketing automation.
What trends are you taking advantage of right now?
Of course, you’ve got climate change. The other things happening right now are related to the global crisis we have, the battles in Europe, etc. Energy security is becoming a big issue for the world right now. For example, a program called Repower EU is looking at ways to decouple from natural gas and oil so that Western countries can become more independent. Last week, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was passed in the US. If approved, it would ramp up energy security and climate programs in a huge way. That’s one of the trends we’re going to ride because we have solutions that can help accelerate your home, buildings, and cities.
There’s also the unfortunate trend of energy poverty, which is based on the supply crisis and other global crises. Energy poverty is the remaining income after paying for energy, utility bills, fuels, etc. If you think about where it’s happening heavily, it’s in Europe, the US, and the UK, where the average household energy bill is around $4,300 a year, which is more than a 110-115% increase versus just last year. There’s a saying. ‘Families now have to decide: do you heat, or do you eat?’ We have solutions that can help reduce energy consumption in your home, get you off relying on fuel, and go to full electricity. We have a concept called Electricity 4.0, which I could talk more about. We’ve had the industrial revolution, which was 1.0. Well, electricity has also gone through revolutions, too. So, we’re trying now to accelerate that.
What career advice would you share with fellow marketing leaders?
‘Learn and love the industry that you’re in. Become a fanatic about it because that helps differentiate you.’ Another thing I would say is, ‘Don’t forget the data.’ All of what I did from Exxon through GE and now Schneider is about being extremely data-driven. In marketing, we love our ideas, but we have to make sure they’re based on research. This concept of purchase intent and the data you get from it is incredibly valuable. Things like web analytics, we should be doing all the time. That is something I would really focus on. Marketing, to me, is a hardcore science, just like chemistry, so we have to treat it that way and keep that in the forefront with the business stakeholders and our customers.