With 25 years of diverse marketing and business development experience, Gaurav Bhatia has traveled a sometimes non-traditional yet highly-productive path to his current role as CMO at PenFed Credit Union. A business and digital transformation expert, Gaurav has helped both start-up and legacy companies grow between two- and five-fold. He’s currently a member of a venture capital advisory board, a guest lecturer and has been a featured speaker at marketing and digital conferences from coast to coast.
CT: Tell us about your path to CMO.
GB: The path has been quite interesting and not a typical CMO path. I have an engineering undergraduate degree and an MBA, and my first role was in finance and strategy. From there, I moved to a product marketing role in the travel industry where I launched products in global markets – starting in the US and Canada and then Europe and Asia. As my career progressed, I began managing joint ventures, partnerships and global teams.
I have had the good fortune of building online/digital companies in the financial services industry – including product, technology, marketing, and digital experience. So quite a broad experience and going deep in each area.
I’ve also served in consulting roles, where I solved business problems for clients with a heavy focus on marketing, product and digital experience.
There were also opportunities to lead digital and marketing transformations for a few organizations. Some were building marketing and digital teams from scratch, and some were rebuilding the existing marketing team – going from a brand marketing focus to a fully integrated brand, digital and data-driven marketing organization.
I always have an appreciation for the business and an understanding of how the business makes money, its model, the customer experience and needs. This is important in determining how to market the business to customers.
Having a whole picture helps my role as a CMO. CMOs need to focus on the “What” first, and then the “How.” “What” is the business impact marketing is having, and then the “How” is how you execute the marketing campaigns.
CT: Who would be your first three hires if you were building a marketing team from scratch?
GB: I believe marketing has three core pillars – brand and creative, digital and data, and content. When customers look at the brand, they want to ensure they are doing business with somebody they can trust and that the brand has a look and feel that resonates with them. Marketers must focus on the customer they want to target, so data and digital are the way to find them. Content is king – people consume content all the time – whether it is blogs, videos, emails, or social media posts. You can leverage content to create a brand image, educate, engage, and eventually get a customer through good content.
CT: What is one skill that you want every marketer on your team to have?
GB: Curiosity, the world of marketing and business is changing every day. Without curiosity, you won’t be able to learn and experiment. You may not have the answers when you start, but you can always learn and evolve. Without that, it is very difficult to learn new things and grow as a marketer. Marketing used to be creative and advertising a decade ago, and now it is so different – data, digital, creative, and always on!
CT: What’s your favorite “One Day We’ll Laugh About This” marketing disaster story?
GB: I wouldn’t say it was a disaster, but it wasn’t great timing. A lot of marketing campaigns developed and launched in late 2019 and early 2020 had to pivot because we couldn’t foresee the global pandemic and its impact. In early 2020 my team launched a “Better Together” campaign focused on the value our company provided consumers when they joined us as members and used multiple product offerings together.
Shortly after we launched the campaign, the term and concept of “social distancing” became very popular and marketing around togetherness or anything implying close physical proximity didn’t hold the same meaning or evoke the same emotions as it had just a month prior.
The pivot leveraged the concept from the original campaign without using the actual “Better Together” messaging. It promoted product building by taking multiple financial products to complement each other and to realize even more value and savings for our members. For example, with a premium checking account and a credit card, they could earn 2% cash back instead of 1.5%
CT: What’s the best business advice you have ever received?
GB: Listen more and be flexible! It is true, good ideas can come from anywhere! It is true, listening is a skill that most of us must work hard to hone.
CT: What business/corporate buzzword would you like to eliminate forever?
GB: I just don’t like all the buzzwords marketers use to explain what they do. All the vanity metrics may be good for teams, but not when you measure the impact. I think they should talk about the business impact – the language of the board, CEO and other business leaders – including revenue, profitability, customer experience etc.
CT: When interviewing candidates for your team, what is your go-to interview question?
GB: What motivates them, and if they are an “I” player or a “we” player. They must be competent, but besides that, can they work as a team and help the team be successful to achieve the team goals? Having a good attitude trumps aptitude any day!
CT: If you had an extra hour of free time every day, how would you use it?
GB: I like reading and writing. Learn from others – books are a good way to learn. Writing helps me be more concise and frame my thinking. I also like running and am on a quest to run 10,000 miles. I started tracking my running on January 1, 2020, and hope to achieve the goal in 2023. So far, I’ve completed over 9,000 miles.
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