CMO ClubHouse Conversations with Jerome Nadel

CMO ClubHouse conversations with Jerome Nadel, CMO of Rambus, talks about his career and his penchant for Design-led Marketing.

The Person Behind the Brand

Jerome Nadel


The CMO Club recently sat down with Jerome Nadel, CMO of Rambus Inc. and our Chapter President in Silicon Valley, California. Jerome is an advisory board member for such organizations as the Silicon Valley Executive Network (SVEN,) Crowder, a technology company located in the UK, and TRAYT, a patient-centric data analytics company helping to improve diagnosis, treatments and quality of life for patients with autism, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental and brain disorders. He’s held international leadership positions for such companies as Option NV, Sagem, Human Factors International, SLP Infoware, and Gemplus.

Jerome is a trained psychologist, specializing in Industrial/Organizational and Human Factors Psychology, specifically, the line between design technology, human interaction, and productivity. He is also a competitive and accomplished cyclist, logging an average of 11,000 miles annually, and recently won the United States National Championship race for his age group.

Jerome lives in Woodside, California. He has two grown children and is currently engaged to be married.

CMO Club–The bicycle racing thing blew us away. How did you get into competitive cycling?

Jerome Nadel–“I’ve been a racing athlete since I was 12. I ran through college and at some point, I transitioned to the bike through triathlon and fell in love with it. I race about 45 times a year. I love the competition and the drive it takes. It’s hard to describe. You stick yourself in, and it’s immersive, full, invigorating, scary and reinforcing all at the same time. I love everything about it.”

CMO Club–I understand that you are a trained Psychologist. That’s very atypical for a CMO. How did you get into marketing?

Jerome Nadel–“Well, my first job out of Graduate school was with Unisys. I was doing scientific research on product design, the factors involved in the interaction between product design, human usability, and performance. It was strictly research-oriented stuff. One day I was asked to present the research to the senior management. They asked me to join the marketing team, suggesting that my research was a “marketing attribute.” My career from that day forward spanned that line, back and forth, between design, user experience leadership roles and traditional marketing. I definitely have a view of what marketing is that’s tainted by my design orientation. That’s one of the things I stand on my soapbox for, “Design-led Marketing.”  CMO’s who just do marketing automation and lead-demand generation are missing the fun and advantages of getting connected to product concept and design from the very start.

CMO Club–Can you name one thing you learned from that early marketing experience that’s still very relevant today?

Jerome Nadel–“At the beginning of my career I proposed that we allow prospective customers to trial our systems for free so we could demonstrate that their user performance would improve. I thought “let these people try it, and they will be convinced.” My boss and mentor at the time said to me “if people don’t pay for something they’re not committed to it.” I believe that to be true and a lesson I still use today. We talk about making things “friction-free,” but, actually making people work demonstrates and increases their commitment. They become more of an advocate. I learned that lesson early, and it’s something that I try to employ in how we think about the work a consumer does in making a purchase decision.”

 CMO Club–What are some of your current challenges?

Jerone NadelI think the classic dichotomy of product and sales, where sales sells things which are not the product and isn’t connected to the voice of the customer is a challenge for a lot of organizations, including mine. Again, I think the role of the CMO is in bringing product closer to sales and sales closer to product. It’s incumbent on the product marketer to narrate the story, create collateral, bring it to the salespeople so they can quickly go out and share it and get voice-of-customer feedback. It’s much easier when you’re small and much harder when you become large and public, but that just drives the need to stay lean, leveraging your salespeople, promoting internally and getting more buy-in, bringing everyone on-board.”

 CMO Club–What are you excited about in the next twelve months?

Jerome Nadel–“Design thinking” is becoming more and more effective for marketers. Stories are a fundamental part of that. To the extent that marketers get involved in product-service “concepting” early on is, I think without a doubt, the big thing going forward. Marketing automation has been a huge step for everyone, data-mining and the like, but it misses the real art of marketing. There’s still a place for the renaissance marketer that is connected to the strategy and concept all the way from concept and design to promotion and close. I’m excited to continue to work and advocate for this approach.”

CMO Club–Any companies or heads of marketing that impress you lately?

Jerome Nadel–“I like to see companies that can transform and redefine themselves. I think, locally here in Silicon Valley, NetApps is an interesting story. They’ve redefined three different times who and what they are. It’s exciting when you see that ability. Maintaining relevance in such fluid and dynamic times, by redefinition, is something that’s a fundamental contribution of the CMO. I appreciate that.”

 CMO Club–Looking back, is there any advice you might offer your 25-year-old self if you could?

Jerome Nadel–“I joined a French-based start-up back in 1999 that had as its Chairman of the Board Don Lucas, an original investor in Oracle, head of so many great companies, and an absolute icon in tech circles. Back in 1999, I interviewed with him in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he has one of his many houses. I’d heard through the grapevine that if Don invited you back to his ranch after your meeting that you’d done well, that he liked you, and if he didn’t like you he’d quickly drop you back off at your hotel. Well, Don picks me up for breakfast and, after we eat breakfast we get into his SUV. He’s driving along, and he stops the vehicle somewhere along this remote road and points up to this huge home that’s sitting on top of a butte overlooking the whole valley. He turns to me and asks “What do you think of that home?” I think for a second, knowing how important a question it was. “Don, that’s a beautiful home, I say, but I think the top of that hill should be for everybody to look at and homes should be down in the valley.” He smiles, steps on the gas and drives me to his beautiful home on his wonderful ranch sitting smack-dab on the floor of the valley. Long story short, say what you believe even if it gets you in trouble. It gets you where you need to be in the long run.

CMO Club—What are you passionate outside of work? Is it all about the cycling?

Jerome Nadel—“Cycling is not everything, but it ranks pretty high. I sort of live in two separate worlds. Work is big, but at the same time, I love the bike. Last year I won the US National “Old-Guy” Championship, and this year I’m leading in the all-around rider rankings in California, elite category, for my age group. My colleagues know I’m a bit wacky with how much I ride, but I don’t think they appreciate how involved I truly am in the racing world. I’m absolutely passionate about it.”

Jerome, (center, with blue jersey) competing in one of the many cycling races he participates in annually.
Jerome, (center, with blue jersey) competing in one of the many cycling races he participates in annually.

CMO Club–Is there anything else most people don’t know about you?

Jerome Nadel–“Most people would think I’m extroverted, but I’m much more introverted than you’d assume. I do love order and structure, and I’m sort of OCD in detail and procedure, but I don’t necessarily come across that way. I come across much more add-lib and spontaneous. Go figure.”

CMO Club—Do you think a CMO like yourself can change the world?

Jerome Nadel–“I do. It all depends on how you perceive this role we have as marketers. If your perception is that our job is to receive something and promote it, sure, you can have an influence on connecting people to products, but, if our role is to be more connected to the product itself, we create the things that change the world. We live in a remarkable time where technology is an enabler. Back in the day when a smoke detector’s batteries were running out it was an obnoxious chirp that more often than not went off in the middle of the night. Now with sensors integrated inside, we can still know we need to act but in a way that makes our lives a little easier. It’s in how we look at new opportunities through a new lens. Marketers, especially those who are design-led, are empathetic to users and their needs. When a marketer leads with empathy, they think about products and services in the context of “what good would it do for the person who’s going to use that product or service?” When we think that way, we automatically make things better for society. It changes everything.”