Cyndi Fifield, the chief marketing officer at Clicksuasion Labs, is an award-winning marketing consultant. Her clients include the University of North Carolina, the State of North Carolina, Southern Pines Brewing Company, and Lendlease. Cyndi’s field of practice includes digital media, consumer packaged goods, branding, user experiences, and user interfaces. Cyndi began her marketing journey as a product model, where she learned product placement, persuasion, and digital marketing. Today, Cyndi shares her branding and marketing experiences as the CMO of Clicksuasion Labs and a workshop facilitator for select clients.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Cyndi Fifield: Our next guest is the Chief Marketing Officer at a neuromarketing think tank. Clicksuasion Labs researches how people make decisions then applies psychology to innovative marketing campaigns to influence more than one billion decisions. She began her persuasive journey as a product marketer for the San Diego Padres and today she will ruin our next shopping experience. Let’s welcome Cyndi Fifield.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Cyndi Fifield: I began my career as a product model through a talent agency. I had the privilege to represent brands such as the San Diego Padres, Sony, Coke, Pepsi, Casual Corners, TJ Maxx, just to name a few. While modeling, I developed my skill set and began freelancing as a graphic designer and photographer, taking note of how each brand I worked with would use their marketing to influence their audience. As a milspouse, I opened my first brick-and-mortar marketing agency in 2016. After five years, my company was picked up for a merger which was completed in May 2021. I had always dreamed of owning my own business one day, just never pictured how amazing the journey would be and where it would take me.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Cyndi Fifield: I cannot state that one person inspired me to get to where I am today. There have been multiple people throughout my life that gave me professional inspiration. Starting with the simplest would be my grandmother. She was an entrepreneur and loved to help others start their businesses, all while working as a biology professor at the university level. Others that inspired me professionally along the way were the many SBC, SCORE, and chamber counselors that worked with me before, during, and after the start of my brick-and-mortar agency. Other business leaders through my certifications, college professors, and many more along my path have been a part of my path to where I am now.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Cyndi Fifield: As a woman businesses owner and milspouse, it was uncommon when I started to even own a business, let alone be respected in the field. Most looked at it as a hobby, even my spouse at the time. Even in 2016 when I opened, I stopped introducing myself as the CEO because people didn’t seem to want to work with a female business owner that wasn’t some cute boutique downtown. I introduced myself as the lead designer, CMO, or even the Creative Director just to cross that bridge. The most advantageous help I received in establishing myself was working with women’s business centers to build confidence and face-to-face networking to show that I was not only caple of crafting the work but could hold an intelligent conversation.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Cyndi Fifield: Clicksuasion Labs is a full-service marketing agency with a niche in consumer psychology. We close the loop between academic research and innovative brands to influence more than one billion decisions. Our team consists of researchers, marketers, and creatives who apply psychology, persuasion, and decision-science to marketing, communication, and even employee engagement. As the partner and Cheif Marketing Officer, I co-share the responsibilities of the CEO to manage the lab. As Cheif Marketing Officer, I am responsible for customer relations outside of our county, management consulting, speaking, teaching, and leading/supporting our creative team in their daily ventures of brand management, graphics, websites, and social media. I have their back and they have mine.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Cyndi Fifield: Beyond Cheif “Everything” Officer, I would define the CEO as the one that can make or break the company. If the CEO is strong, willing to have open communication, willing to serve his/her team, and take out the trash, then the CEO has a wonderful foundation and can lead the company through trial and error. If the CEO is only there for the title, keeps to his or herself, doesn’t communicate, looking to be served, and has no clue where the dumpster is, then more than likely that company is going to see multiple turnovers in employees, and more than likely close the doors within the first couple years of opening.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Cyndi Fifield: On top of the daily grind of running an organization, my personal belief is that the CEO should be willing to mentor their team and teach them to mentor the team below them so that their teams can learn to mentor the ones below them. When we are focused on mentoring our teams, then we create an organization of growth.
We recently had an intern that experienced our mentorship from the top down. Both my partner and I would sit with her and talk about the different facets of management consulting and marketing techniques to fill in the knowledge gap between school and real-world experience, however, she also received mentorship moving down the chain of teammates above her position. From her graphic work to photography to copywriting, there was someone above her to critique and mentor on how to improve. When she left at the end of the semester this month, she left handwritten notes for each teammate with personalized letters on how their openness and mentorship helped her grow and inspire her to do better with helping others around her at school. That is what we strive for as CEOs, to see that every level of our team is not only mentored but inspired to mentor others along the way.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Cyndi Fifield: To be honest, it wasn’t at all what I expected. Yet, I also was not as prepared as I thought I was either. Going from freelancing to having employees was a learning curve, yet I learned so much those first few years that I would not change a thing. The biggest surprise, again, was that not everyone shared in my excitement as being a mil spouse woman-owned business.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Cyndi Fifield: The most difficult decision I made was merging my company with another. I knew that we had grown as much as we could but the “letting go” of full ownership to be a partner in something else, no matter how amazing it sounded, was a tough decision to make. I took a few weeks to digest how that would affect not just myself, but my team, our families, and our clients. I made a pro and con list and the pros most definitely outweighed the cons; it was still a hard decision. Because the pandemic hit a couple of months after the letter of intent was presented, it slowed the merger down by 14-months, which turned into a blessing in disguise. It gave us ample time to work side-by-side for us as CEOs and our teams. The pandemic also allowed us to bridge that gap for our clients as we were able to slowly onboard them without losing that perceived trust that we all strive to build.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Cyndi Fifield: If there is one thing I have learned is that success does not equal wealth. Maybe to some, but success can be as simples as a small client winning their next client, or it can be as large as paying a bonus to an employee that worked extra hard. Success to me comes in the little things too as meeting my personal KPIs so that the team can see that I am doing my part and no just sitting back letting them handle all of the workloads. I also get excited when a client has that WOW moment and I know that we have successfully done our job.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Cyndi Fifield: I would say my top innate leadership skill is patience and vulnerability. The skillset I had to learn though was the ability to say no and when/how to walk away from a client that may have brought a lot of money into my company yet has a bad attitude that would only tear my team down. It took a few years of dealing with the wrong type of client to understand that we didn’t have to serve everyone who walked through our door.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Cyndi Fifield: Because we are in marketing, we are used to pivoting quickly. I never decided without my team in the mix of it, even when we closed the brick-and-mortar three weeks before the pandemic hit. We went virtual to start the process of merging with the other agency. The pandemic helped because everyone was working from home so no one questioned our reasoning for going virtual.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting on their journey?
Cyndi Fifield: Yes, build your BAIL team now, before you even open your doors. Have a business plan in place and interview your bankers, your accountants, insurance companies, and lawyers. Make sure you can have a real conversation with them and that they are not just blowing smoke at you. Talk to your local Small Business Center (SBC), get to know the local Chamber of Commerce, and build your support team. There will be amazing days ahead, but there will be dark days and you will need people you can count on. Also, don’t hire someone just because they need a job, or just because they have a certain skill set. Make sure their personality fits well with your company. One bad apple can turn multiples away.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Cyndi Fifield: Does flying count? Seriously, I wish I was fearless. That may seem like a strange skill but it is an important one when making those hard decisions. I almost backed out of the merger due to fear of the unknown. Fear can keep your company stuck in one spot and prevent growth. Although I leaped, I am sure that there are other opportunities that I avoided due to fear over the years.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Cyndi Fifield: “How NOT to start a business” I feel that I could write a novel on this subject.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Cyndi Fifield for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Cyndi Fifield or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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