Marketers are often challenged with advertising a product as it exists. Even if that product has a glaring need or opportunity for improvement, there’s nothing the marketing team can do about it. Fortunately, Rambus CMO Jerome Nadel has something to say about that. He guides a design-led marketing team that influences product creation. This forward-thinking strategy helps Rambus stay on the cutting edge and deliver first-rate materials.
Jerome discusses the challenges and rewards of being a design-led CMO on episode 35 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. You can listen to that episode here. If you don’t have time to listen, you can check out this sample of our interview below.
Drew: From our past conversations, I’d describe you as a marketing renegade. Is that fair and is there room for you to be a renegade in your role at Rambus?
Jerome: I’d say independent of my role here, I would probably be a renegade with a capital “R.” As you mentioned in the intro, I was working in Paris and came here in 2012 — and was recruited by my current boss, Dr. Ron Black who I had worked with before in Europe. So he knew that I’m a bit quirky and not a typical marketer. He, as a serial entrepreneur, has been an advocate for the value of user experience and design thinking. When he brought me in, he knew what he was getting. I’d say that I’m not a typical exec marketer.
Drew: When did user experience and design thinking really take off?
Jerome: As we came into the 2000, the notion of differentiation through user experience became sort of the mantra for product success. So, as we go deeper in the conversation, what I’ll suggest is the difference between user experience and marketing or design-led marketing are really minimal. What user experience professionals focus on is the upstream concepting of, what’s the narrative that makes product great? Not just in terms of its features but how should it work and how does it support use cases? Often what marketers are focused on is telling stories about why products are great. If you connect the stories that made the product great with the stories that reinforce and articulate their greatness, you have beginning to end of full marketing. Ironically Drew, I don’t think that such a radical construct but I think it’s not embraced to the extent that it should be in the profession that we share.
Drew: What I thought I heard you say is, through the design process we can actually bake a marketing idea into the product. Did I oversimplify that?
Jerome: No, it should be simple and it’s exactly that. You know firstly –and it’s interesting for me with respect — I had come to Silicon Valley through my career on multiple times, even as an interface design consultant. I was so excited to be part of the CMO community out here. What I find is many people in very senior level roles, especially in larger organizations that sort of segment contribution, have CMOs today focused very much on downstream demand-gen, and lead-gen as their key priority and KPI. That’s important, but again, design-lead marketing embraces design-thinking, and is fundamentally connected to the product or service conception through, what I would speak to, is design methods.
Drew: Can you go a bit on what you mean on design-led marketing?
Jerome: So on that, we’re thinking about use cases and stories that are created to design the product or service, and are natural and believable. So they should be used in promotion, and I really advocate this approach. Simply what we’re saying when you think agile, lean development, is that the CMO organizationally might be more connected to product marketing. But from an NPI or a new product introduction methodology, the MRD (marketing requirements document) that lead to the PRD (product requirements document) and ultimately the engineer requirements, start with this way of thinking. So the stories that we create in product concepting, and the use cases around that should be what we reinforce downstream. We make better things. They’re easier to promote and sell.
Drew: Do you think a design led CMO can succeed without a CEO who understands and supports it as well?
Jerome: Well you can be successful but I think you’re going to be constrained. You know you could look at the foundation of Silicon Valley — a lot of brilliant technologists become the leader of the company and they’re intrigued by the technology. Or you go to a public company where CEOs unfortunately feel (especially when you’re public) that it’s all about quarterly revenue and they get a bit myopic in terms of the value of the product. It’s more about the revenue it creates. I think it’s incumbent on the CMO, the marketer, to help influence, to show that more romantic view that good products do sell better. I love the notion of incremental, where this doesn’t all happen at once. You need to have quick wins where you demonstrate not only the leadership (perhaps your boss, the CEO) but to those that are in the engineering and development space, that this is working.
Drew: It feels like design-led marketing has the potential to be more strategic and more focused on the long-term. Is that a fair assessment?
Jerome: The design-led CMO is definitely connected more ethereally to strategy and asking, “Where are we going to be in a 3-5 year horizon?” But even more tactically should be intimately connected to the requirements that go into products. One challenge with Silicon Valley is often product requirements are highly function based or function feature. They’re not story based. So what user experience folks think about is, “What is the use case that we are trying to support? How would we do that? How does this work?” Products are not static — they support or services. More and more again, as we’ve gone from a hardware society to a software society, to everything is just service. Everything becomes a verb and there’s movement around it. I think the good design begins with looking at where are problems and opportunities? How might we solve them as we go to our classical market segmentation? What would the use cases be by segment we’re trying to address? How does that get codified into requirements for the product? What is the narrative around that? So I’m coming back to storytelling again and I think when a company begins to think like that, the quality and the value of their products and services are immediately improved. And then when you move downstream — and again I’m not backing off on KPIs connected to demand lead gen and a direct connection to sales — I’m just suggesting (humbly) that better products and services are easier to promote and sell. I think the remit of the CMO should go all the way upstream not just downstream to demand gen and lead gen.
SPECIAL NOTE: In the show, Jerome mentions providing a resource guide to design thinking and design-led marketing. Here’s a great reading list to get you started:
- Accelerating branding with design-led marketing – Rambus
- Time to Re-Think Design Thinking | HuffPost
- The Shocking Truth About Surprise-And-Delight Strategy | Fjord
- A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking — Stanford d.school
- SAPVoice: What Is Design Thinking?
- Harvard Business School: Design Thinking Comes of Age
- FastCompany: Design Thinking… What is That?
Meet the Guest
Jerome Nadel is the Senior Vice President and CMO of Rambus, a high-tech public company based in Silicon Valley. He joined Rambus in 2012, where he drives a design-led marketing team to transform the company’s business model. Prior to working at Rambus, Nadel held high-ranking marketing positions at a variety of organizations. These businesses include Human Factors International, SLP InfoWare, and Gemplus. He also advises startup organizations on marketing, positioning, and product service design.
What You'll Learn
- How to become a design-led CMO
- How to address the need for change within your company
- How to see your brand from the outside in
- How to unify product development and marketing
Quotes from Jerome Nadel
- Better products and services are easier to promote and sell.
- Future CMOs, future marketers: think user stories. Think in a verb...and action-oriented way.
- One of the roles of the CMO is to get people to look outside-in, not just inside-out.
- You’re going to fail to succeed and you just have to accept that. It’s easy to highlight the thing that worked.
- For everything that works, there’s a set of them that don’t.