Part 2: When design thinking is CMO thinking

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

Earlier this month, Rambus CMO Jerome Nadel appeared on the “Renegade Thinkers Unite” podcast hosted by Drew Neisser to discuss the importance of design-led marketing.

In part one of this series, Nadel provided a brief description of Rambus, talked about his background in applied experimental psychology and explored the critical concept of differentiation through user experience and storytelling.

Nadel and Neisser begin part two of the Renegade podcast by highlighting the importance of collaborating with a CEO who understands the power of design thinking. The question, asks Neisser, is whether a design-led CMO can succeed without a CEO (and company) that both understands and supports the notion.

“You can be successful but I think you’re going to be constrained,” Nadel answered.

“You know, you could look at the sort of 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.”

As such, says Nadel, it is incumbent on the CMO (the marketer), to help influence and show that more romantic view that good products do sell better. Of course, it is important to understand that this approach is incremental, where a CMO demonstrates not only to the leadership, but to those in the engineering and development space as well. As an example, Nadel highlighted Rambus’ history as a company that started in 1990 with brilliant technology that was originally monetized through licensing.

“The notion of opening up to learn from others was a huge shift culturally and demonstrated that our brand on the market improved. We became more and more an ecosystem player, which affected the views of our Board, senior management, all the way down,” he elaborated. “[Yet], the biggest impact lies with the CMO. I often say, one of the roles of the CMO is to get people to look outside-in, not just inside-out. So when we started getting positive traction externally around what we were doing [around programs such as lensless smart sensors], from Wired to Tech Crunch to even the Wall Street Journal, they’re like, ‘Wow look at the goodness of what we created!’”

However, as Nadel emphasizes, the accolades weren’t just about the technology. Rather, people were focusing on the benefits that it enabled.

“That was super exciting for me. I’ve been here five years now and that was probably the highlight of the first three. It increased the relevance of my group and I even have user experience people in my group,” he continued.

“So it’s not a traditional sort of corporate marketing [role]. The company started feeling more confident about the relevance of its technology. It comes back once again to design-lead think in that way, to imagine that a company like Frog Design [could] collaborate with a semiconductor technology company like Rambus [on lensless smart sensors].”

Brand, says Nadel, is culture, with Rambus fundamentally changing from the inside-out and the perceptions outside-in.

“You need to redefine yourself just to maintain relevance. What made this company brilliant in the 90s and IPO’ed in 1997 is different than what we need to do now to be relevant. That word is really big around here and I push that a lot,” he stated. “In terms of our relevance, we’re transitioning from, ‘we have great designs that people can license’ to ‘we use our innovation in products that are differentiated.’ There’s been a radical shift in our raison d’être. I’m proud of that and I think that this design-led approach has helped convince us that this is the way to our future. Again, without [Rambus CMO] Ron Black supporting that, where you began it would have definitely been harder. But I think it’s incumbent in an incremental way to show that this is working and that was just one example.”

Nadel also discussed the importance of amplifying downstream marketing with quality content, because the halcyon days of pitching to the journalist demi-Gods and the Dayalan smiles are gone.

“So we hired some really talented creative writers and the quality of our content and digital expression of that has really improved through time and I think we sometimes underestimate [our abilities, so] we have external agencies, PR agencies,” he notes.

“You need to create your own content and be meaningful in order to talk about what you’re doing. That was a bit harder than I would have liked. We’ve cycled through a couple of attempts at that, but I think we’re on the way to really getting there now.”

In summary, says Nadel, becoming a design-led CMO doesn’t happen overnight, so incremental improvement is key. In addition, it is important to nurture and care about your content from a downstream perspective.

“It’s better when you already have the stories that came from this design-led thinking – but content is king in terms of promotion and the quality. You need to have an internal editorial desk because if you’re just trying to buy it from the outside, I don’t think you’ll be as successful,” he concluded.