Tangerine’s CMO on her first 100 days

Nicole German shares what she's learned so far and which marketing opportunities she's tackling first.

By Will Novosedlik

Nicole German is well on her way to hitting the 100-day mark as Tangerine’ CMO. And while the marketer’s so far gotten a good lay of the land, and the challenges at hand, she’s eager to “get on with it.”

Nicole GermanGerman joined the bank in November last year, coming directly from Scotiabank (which owns Tangerine), where she was global head and VP, enterprise digital marketing. She came to that role from the tech world, having spent 20 years in brand and marketing roles at companies like IBM and LinkedIn.

“I grew up in tech, which is about digital data and innovation, and I’ve done marketing from brand to demand. How it all works together, from the principles and practices of marketing to the way in which we build customer experience to understanding how tech enables high-skill growth – this is my sweet spot,” says German. “It means I can relate to the engineering and IT team, I can relate to the chief revenue officer and I can relate to customer experience and design. It’s that breadth that I think will equip me to deal with the challenges we face.”

Beyond what she brings to the role, we caught up with German to discuss the challenges that lie ahead for her at Canada’s first all-digital bank.

Now that you have had a couple of months in the CMO’s chair, what differences have you noticed between  Scotiabank and Tangerine?

The beauty of staying within the Scotiabank family is that all the back-end stuff, HR systems and databases are the same. But Tangerine is definitely a different culture, a different environment. Being much smaller in size allows us to be more agile and gives us the ability to bring innovation and ideas forward more quickly. Because we have the ability to move more quickly than the larger bank, we can put up our hand to say ‘Let us try that first and if it works, we can pass it over to Scotiabank.’

My role at Scotiabank was about helping to drive transformation from a marketing technology and a marketing operational perspective. And I learned that it’s a huge ship you’re trying to turn. I came from tech, which is a high skill, aggressively growth-oriented culture that moves really fast. So at Scotiabank I had to learn how to slow down and drive influence to get buy-in. The strategy, the delivery and the optimization all have to be in place and they have to be working efficiently together in order to do it well. And that can feel overwhelming to people in larger organizations.

It’s funny, but in big companies, you sometimes come up for air and look around and say, ‘You know what? We’ve actually made a lot of progress.’ Other times things don’t feel like they are moving fast enough. I’m really excited that Tangerine isn’t such a big ship. In a way, joining Tangerine means I am going back to the scale and culture of the tech world that I came from.

Another key difference is, of course, being in the C-suite. Since I’m sitting at the table with the leadership team, the circle of influence is much, much smaller. I will have a bigger hand in the vision, the strategy and the prioritization of opportunities.

What do you think your biggest challenges are going to be?

While our small size is an advantage from an agile perspective, it’s a challenge in terms of prioritization. We’ve defined a number of white spaces and identified many opportunities, but our team is only so big. The entire employee base is about 1,500 people. So we need to rigorously prioritize for impact.

When we think about the evolution of tech and about how our consumer demands are changing, we have to keep an eye on optimizing our ‘business as usual’ while thinking about the next transformation. It’s the difference between running the bank versus transforming the bank. When you have a smaller [team] and trying to do both at the same time, you need to put rigor around prioritization and align across the leadership to make sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction with speed and agility. So I think that’s a big one.

Next on the list will be how to keep our talent base. How do we continue to upskill our talent in the midst of all of the changes going on around us? Whether you’re a brand new marketer or you’ve been around for 30 years, we all have our challenges keeping up. What I’ve seen in recent years is this notion of reverse mentoring. It’s not about tenure. It’s about skill. So how do we think about the skills that we need to be great marketers? To me, it’s about having a performance mindset. It’s going to be a challenge to get work done while keeping our people engaged and learning, and it’s a lot harder to deliver that virtually.

Last, but certainly not least, is customer segmentation. I really want to have a thorough understanding of our customers. I really want to understand who those broad segments are. So, as an example, we are the official bank of the Toronto Raptors. How do we think about Raptors fans as an audience? Some of them are Tangerine customers, but many of them aren’t. So our marketing opportunity is to ask, ‘How do we engage Toronto Raptors fans with Tangerine and get them to love both brands? What is in the sweet spot between Raptors fans and Tangerine fans?’