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INSEAD Participant Interview

Refresh your knowledge and discover new strategic approaches to digital marketing

Rachel Arellano

Director of Marketing

"Leading Digital Marketing Strategy was relevant and fast paced – three days to refresh your knowledge and discover new strategic approaches to digital marketing"

Can you please begin by introducing yourself?

Even though my background is marketing, I stated by working in business development in the automotive industry and over the years I’ve worked for Siemens VDO, Continental and now AVL.

Early on in my career I moved into a strategic customer orientated role, in which my job was to liaise between the sales function and the project management teams and provide them with the right match of solutions for our customer needs.

I was in that role for many years, working in Germany, then in Japan, followed by China. Over the years I took on greater responsibilities. I finally ended up in France with Continental.

It was at that point that I wanted a change. I wanted a new challenge after having done business development for many years. I wanted to go into marketing and was headhunted for my present position in AVL and now work in Austria.

So, I’ve spent 20 years outside of my home country, living in only non-English speaking countries.

It is an environment in which I thrive. I loved the international aspect of the job and the opportunities that so far came my way.

What kind of perspectives does your professional and international experience give you today?

It gives enormous perspective. The many hours spent sitting with customers and talking to them, forces you to have a strong customer orientation. Had I worked in marketing, especially in B2B, I wouldn’t have been given that exposure. Often in B2B, Marketing plays a minor supporting role, we must challenge the organisation and boldly show how Marketing can contribute to the bottom line.

My time spent in business development gave me credibility in front of technical audiences (AVL, like Conti & Siemens is run by engineers). I grew to know what to talk about. This has really helped me take on my current role. I better understand what the customer is thinking, what they want, what their industry is like, what their challenges are etc…I see both sides of the story.

In a sense it’s made me a professional diplomat! International business has given me open mindedness. I am able to see the nuances and understand that no one size fits all.

Moving back into marketing, and having spent time in business development, I already knew that communication, tailorisation, orientation, adaption are all vital components in understanding the customer and speaking their language.

So, my background has been a perfect stepping stone to taking on a bigger role in the company.

What attracted you to the Leading Digital Marketing Strategy programme?

Having been out of marketing and then coming into it, I had been on the lookout for some executive courses that could assist me in bringing the latest and greatest ideas into the marketing function. Shorter courses were especially interesting, and ones that could help me in the areas we want to develop at AVL. When I saw that the INSEAD programme contained digital marketing, customer orientation and experience, I thought it was a good fit.

What are some of the challenges you face at work when it comes to digital marketing?

Some are classical B2B scenarios.

I work in an environment in which the engineering function is very established. It is on the cutting-edge. In the eyes of many outside of the marketing function, marketing is about creating a brochure or organising an event. It is very much seen as back-office support, part of the central business function. It’s a very old school way of thinking which does not lead to many expectations towards the marketing efforts.

My challenge is to change this way of thinking. I have a greenfield approach to set priorities, set the vision and build up the team to execute a five year plan to move us away simply backoffice support to critical value add for our sales teams and customers. So far, things are on track and I am confident of achieving this.

Achieving this means changing the company culture?

It is paramount to change the culture. I am not leading a digital transformation project. I am leading a change management project.

Change management requires cultural change and rebranding based on the role marketing could deliver in terms of its organisational value. It’s about aligning and targeting key stakeholders in the organisation and getting them on-board; explaining where we want to go and why. It does require a social and mental shift and convincing people that marketing could possibly have a wider role beyond events and advertising.   

What were your expectations ahead of joining the programme?

I was hoping for validation; that what I was going to learn wouldn’t be too far away from my vision and from what I was already doing in the company. Was I on the right track? Had I missed anything?

In terms of this, the programme delivered. It offered trends, landscapes and some concrete ideas on how to adapt marketing strategy in the digital age. It also spoke about how digital impacts marketing strategy. About how it fits into the overall marketing strategy, It’s not about throwing everything out window. It’s simply about adapting your marketing strategy in order to be able to take on new challenges and new opportunities that digital provides.

The other expectation I had was to look at marketing tools and approaches. How to deal with specific marketing tasks that are inherently complicated and provide tools that can simplify these. Again, the programme delivered.

I also expected to get some hints, tips and tricks to help me communicate my marketing vision, and sell digital, to stakeholders.

What surprised you about the programme? What weren’t you expecting?

I really appreciated, and was surprised by, the guest speaker. It was a blogger from France who was only 17 years old, but who was a brilliant public speaker. He spoke about YouTubing, how he sees his audience and how he has built his own brand.

YouTube is a channel that not many of us use strategically and so it was fascinating to get his insights and perspectives. He was a very smart and intelligent person to put forward.

The programme involves a lot of cases. Were they useful?

The cases were paramount. Theory is only one part of the story. What was really interesting was to then hear how it is being adopted, adapted and tailored across industries.

This is the value that INSEAD can bring. As executives, we don’t often have access to the university driven research and results. To be given insights into something that we don’t often see is incredibly important.

The examples brought forward were very good.

How important was the participant mix?

It was just as important as the curriculum. When you are the head of marketing, it is very difficult to build up a network of professionals, especially when changing countries. You also don’t have the time to do so. You look for people with a broad outlook and with international experience. This is hard to find, especially in the smaller places in which I have worked.

So, I was looking to INSEAD to help set up the network for me.

Another benefit of having such a mix in the class was the time spent talking and listening to each other. A good half came from B2B. This is good because we are quite far behind B2C. It was good to hear where we are all are in terms of the challenges and opportunities.

What did the programme teach you about the customer journey?

I appreciated the hands-on session on customer journey mapping. During it, I got the chance to select another team member’s business case. I rather did this, than choose my own as it gave me the opportunity to learn from their case; to get other perspectives and insights and whether they could adapt the methodology learned in class to look at mapping in a more strategic way in their company.

A key takeaway from this session was when customer mapping is done strategically, it has the potential for complete differentiation in a given market.

It was also great to see hands-on how you could use journey mapping in a much more strategic way. Not only to evaluate where the pains of the customer lie through their journey, but also to learn how to use this pain and turn it into potential solutions for them.

How would you describe the programme to someone?

Relevant and fast paced – three days to refresh your knowledge and discover new strategic approaches to digital marketing.


To find out more about the Leading Digital Marketing Strategy programme, click here.

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