So You Want My Job? Rakuten Rewards CMO Dana Marineau on building its in-house creative team

Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest roles about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week we talk to Dana Marineau, chief marketing officer at Rakuten Rewards.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?

My childhood dream was to become a news anchor. I was obsessed with watching the news and inspired by women anchors such as Connie Chung and Barbara Walters. I would beg my parents to let me stay up late to watch them.

I held on to that dream all the way until college. But once I took a few journalism classes, I learned something about myself that ruled it out as a career – I absolutely hated being on camera. I realized that what attracted me to journalism was storytelling and crafting a narrative that shapes how people understand and interpret the world.

Things pivoted from there. I took writing and marketing classes and I quickly found marketing was the perfect venue for my love of storytelling, and would be a great career path.

How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.

My journey to chief marketing officer of Rakuten was anything but usual. I started during the beginning of the pandemic when nothing about ‘work’ was normal. Joining a new company is difficult enough. It’s twice as hard when you can’t physically go to your office or meet anyone on your team. We did all our interviews on Zoom. There are certain teammates I still haven’t met in person.

Making it even trickier was our desire to build an in-house creative team. I never would have guessed we could build a whole new team, evolve and elevate the brand, and refresh our storytelling – all while working from home.

It has been an amazing learning experience for me – leading and motivating a large remote team, completely virtually and without face-to-face connections to build from. I had to establish connections with everyone on the team or run the risk of losing their trust and interest.

I host weekly ‘Coffee with Dana’ Zoom events where a variety of people from different teams are invited to share a virtual cup of joe and chat about whatever is on their minds – celebrating big work wins, addressing personal challenges or roadblocks, or sharing personal highlights from the weekend. We also use our team Slack channel for team bonding. Every Wednesday, we choose a ‘Quarantheme’ that prompts everyone to share something about themselves. We have had Quaranthemes about everything from favorite Olympic sports and dream travel destinations to regrettable fashion choices from our youth.

We miss the sense of community that comes with working together in person, but thinking outside the box has given us the chance to recreate some of the camaraderie.

OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

I joined Rakuten at a pivotal time in its brand development in the United States. Some great work had been done to raise awareness of the Rakuten name, and now we are focused on bringing real purpose and meaning to our brand.

My job is to champion that ambition. We’ve invested in two high-profile marketing campaigns since I joined that have put us firmly on the path to becoming the first place our members go when they want or need to shop online.

One of the most effective moves we made was building an in-house creative team to better align our marketing with our business goals. Our first milestone as a new team was the launch of our annual ‘Big Give Week’ sales event, for which we produced a TV commercial parody of Salt-N-Pepa’s Whatta Man and partnered with Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow to increase our appeal to luxury shoppers. These types of investments have allowed us to newly define the Rakuten voice and tone as we expand our audience and evolve our brand.

My most important day-to-day job is empowering and supporting our team. I do so by unblocking any hurdles in their way and by upholding a leadership motto my very first boss, Carolyn Feinstein, taught me: “You don’t work for your leader; your leader works for you.”

Do your parents understand what it is that you do?

This is a funny question. No, I’m not sure my parents really understand what I do. They are retired now, but my mom was a lawyer and my dad worked in women’s clothing manufacturing. The concept of marketing isn’t something either of them thought about much in their day-to-day careers. I think if you asked them they might both say I get to make cool TV commercials and I enjoy managing people. I guess both of those things are true, too.

What do you love most about your job?

There are two things that I love most about working at Rakuten. Firstly, our team is absolutely extraordinary. Even though we have only worked from home, I feel truly connected to our teammates and other executives. It’s been a wild 16 months together, and I honestly believe the circumstances of the last year and a half have brought us even closer.

Secondly, I am energized every day by our hopes and dreams of evolving our brand into a household name in the United States.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

The most important thing is choosing the person you want to work for – not just a company. You are in the best position to have career-long success when you are confident that the person you work for is your advocate and will help you grow.

Being in a position where you can learn is more important than choosing a company for its name recognition. Learning and growing are crucial to finding long-term success, especially if you have leadership ambitions. I’ve been very fortunate to have a few mentors who gave me the guidance and feedback I needed to learn effective leadership and management skills.

What advice would you offer to others entering the marketing industry, especially at this weird time?

Join an organization that works as a team – not siloed by division. Especially when nearly everyone has to be remote, it takes a ton of effort to ensure that teams are close-knit and all employees are engaged.

It is really hard to join a new company, let alone start your career, when face-to-face time just isn’t possible. Luckily, I’m in a position at Rakuten to build the sense of community that a high-functioning marketing team needs to be successful, even when it’s remote. People entering the workforce or changing industries don’t always have that luxury, so they should make it a priority to find a team that provides a sense of community from the day that they start.

What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?

I am very adaptable and flexible to change. I don’t get ruffled when I need to pivot on a strategy or change direction on a campaign. I’ve worked across several industries – from gaming to finance to retail – and the one thing that’s consistent is that business needs change, market dynamics shift and consumer demands fluctuate. As a marketer and a leader, you have to adapt and move with the tide or you’ll be left behind.

Who should those who want your job read or listen to?

Anyone with leadership aspirations should read Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s about the importance of honesty and transparency when communicating to your team – both in areas of success and where they need improvement. Relaying feedback is an important part of the job, and this book will help you do so in a constructive and empowering way.

Last week we spoke to Simon Sikorski, global chief operating officer at Craft.