Part 1: When design thinking is CMO thinking

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 29th, 2017.

Rambus CMO Jerome Nadel recently appeared on the “Renegade Thinkers Unite” podcast hosted by Drew Neisser to discuss the importance of design-led marketing. Nadel kicked off the interview with a brief synopsis of Rambus, noting that the company designs, develops and sells products that accelerate data movement efficiently and securely.

“Moving data through digital interfaces at lightning speed is the foundation of modern computing: the web, big data, future of IoT, AI, connected everything. Making sure that data and devices use it all in a secure way keeps us safe,” he explained.

“So, what we do is we license our designs to product companies and sell micro-components that make their products faster and more secure. “

Nadel then talked about his background, describing himself as a “bit quirky” and “not your typical executive marketer.”

“I worked on an advanced degree in Applied Experimental Psychology. I spent most of my career in the design and user experience (UX) space. It’s just interesting as we go back in time to see the language, at almost a psycholinguistics level, the language of user experience has really changed,” he told Neisser. “You know, when I left graduate school in the 80s we talked about human factors and then in the 90s we talked about usability. As we came into the 2000s, the notion of differentiation through user experience became sort of the mantra for product success.”

The difference, says Nadel, between user experience and marketing (or design-led marketing) is really quite minimal. This is because UX professionals tend to focus on the upstream concept of what makes a product great. Not just in terms of features, he emphasized, but how it should or could work and best support use specific 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 sort of beginning to end of full marketing,” he continued. “Ironically, I don’t think that such a radical construct, yet I think it’s not embraced to the extent that it should be in the profession that we share.”

Some CMOs, says Nadel, tend to focus on downstream demand-gen and lead-gen as their primary priority and KPI. While these items are certainly important, design-led marketing embraces design-thinking – and is therefore fundamentally connected to the product or service conception via design methods. It is also important to think about the accompanying use cases and stories that are created to design the product or service – and ensure they flow naturally and believably so they can be effectively leveraged as promotional tools.

“What you might think about agile, lean development, is that the CMO organizationally might be more connected to product marketing, but from a sort of 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,” he told Neisser. “So the stories that we create in product concepting and the use cases around that should be what we reinforce downstream. If we make better things, they’re easier to promote and sell.”

Nadel also touched upon the role of the Renaissance, or design-led CMO, who is comfortable with connecting more ethereally to strategy and questioning where a company or product is going to be over a 3-5 year horizon. Even more tactically, though, design-led CMOs should be intimately connected to product requirements. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where product requirements are frequently based on functional or feature requirements, rather than a human-oriented story.

“[In contrast], user experience folks think ‘What is the use case that we are trying to support? How would we do that? How does this work?’ Remember, products aren’t static – they support or services. More and more again, as we’ve gone from a hardware society to a software society, everything is just service. Everything becomes a verb and there’s movement around it,” he stated.

“I think the good design begins with looking at where are problems and opportunities. For example, 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?”

As Nadel underscores, design-led marketing can’t realistically be separated from storytelling. When a company begins to understand the advantages to this approach, the quality and the value of its products and services are immediately improved. This is because better products and services are easier to promote and sell. As such, the remit of the CMO should extend all the way upstream – not just downstream and demand lead-gen. Indeed, classical marketing tends to focus on segments, competence and providing value at a particular stage. If we step back, we can begin to truly appreciate agile development methods, which fundamentally begins with trying to understand what user stories and use cases one is attempting to address.

“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. This is really the essence of what has been, for now a couple of decades, user-centered design,” he explained. “If you think of user-centered design, you are going to do validation with a low fidelity prototype – to execute and deploy. You’re learning upfront. In fact, what I often have my group think about is what I call ‘discovery, validation, execution.’ I make sure that we spend enough time in discovery that we’re confident – and I make them bring that back to the executive team to say, ‘in discovery we have learned and we’ve validated these hypotheses.’”

Part two of this series can be read here.