Drew Neisser of AdAge recently spoke with Rambus CMO Jerome Nadel about the importance of adopting a design-led approach to marketing. As Neisser explains, design-led thinking is essentially the unification of product development and marketing. By closely integrating the two, each formerly disparate function informs and ultimately improves the other.
For example, instead of using customer stories at the bottom of the funnel (downstream), these important elements of the customer journey are introduced upstream to improve the product, based on what customers need and want. By thinking about marketing during the design process, the product can be improved, which makes it easier to market.
“You need to be thinking about these user stories and be connected, because that’s going to be the foundation of the narrative you’re going to use to promote later,” Nadel told AdAge. “If you look at a company like ours that was good at, say, designing an interface within a chip — there isn’t a lot of story around that. As we’ve moved up the chain, trying to get closer to the consumer, we’re convincing the engineers that as soon as you start opening up to more complex solutions, you had better start by thinking creatively because they involve more human interaction.”
According to Nadel, design-led thinking as a philosophy hasn’t changed much over time, as it is actually the product of multidisciplinary teams coming together to create user stories.
“When they agree that here’s the story, this is how we’d solve it, then when we get the information architect or the business analyst to diagram that out in terms of process and technical flows, things go way better.”
Empathy, says Nadel, is another critical prerequisite for successfully executing design-led strategies.
“The notion of empathy is that you’re really putting yourself in the mind and the body of somebody who was looking for a solution to their problem,” he explained. “At Stanford’s design school, for example, students are encouraged to look at an experiential problem from as many angles as possible, a practice referred to as “’diverge before you converge.’”
Nadel acknowledges that while this practice can make ambiguity-averse engineers and product developers anxious, such ambiguity is essential during the first steps of design-led thinking.
“Of course, you need to distill it back to a solution. That’s why you’re almost training those muscles, the divergence muscles, of letting people say, ‘It’s OK, but look, we’re going to come back. Don’t worry,'” he stated.
Perhaps most importantly, adopting a design-led framework requires shifting nearly everyone’s perspective on marketing, a feat that Nadel says has been his greatest accomplishment at Rambus so far.
“The perception of the value of this group and how I sit at the table from a strategy, an execution and an interaction-with-the-board level is really exciting for me,” he noted. “I think I have elevated the perception of the corporate role of marketing where it’s really in the fabric of this company.”
Like almost any paradigm shift, Nadel’s design-led transformation didn’t happen overnight. He says he mostly leaned on a framework of three key activities: being inclusive, explaining his actions and showing, early on, small successes. To be sure, it is important to regard both your reports and your superiors equally when it comes to sharing information.
“That’s really, through time, the approach that I’ve tried to adopt even in how we do investor relations. “[While] you can’t lean too far forward, you’ve got to be clear about your proposal and incrementally, you need to show that you’re working hard to get there.”
Showing your successes, emphasizes Nadel, is also crucial to affecting change.
“You’ve got to come in and get quick wins. Don’t talk about problems until you gave them something good. Then you get to say, ‘Next time, this is what we should do.’ And you’re incrementing towards better process and better outcome,” he said.
Put simply, the sooner a CMO is involved in product development, the better.
“I’m just maniacal about that. If you start well, you’re going to end well,” Nadel added.