A few weeks ago, I shared some valuable lessons B2B marketers can learn from SAS CMO, Jim Davis. Continuing the series, I’m happy to share with you this useful advice from GE CMO, Beth Comstock.
On her Twitter profile, Beth describes herself as a “marketer on a mission”. What’s interesting to me is that her “mission” is not an easy one. In her own words, “Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen.” So how do you really “make things happen”? For as we know as modern marketers, a lot of what goes on with our sales and marketing activities happens because our customers are in control; they call the shots. They have the entire digital media powerhouse at their disposal to steer the success or failure of companies. And yet, as marketers, we want to be in the driving seat. We must.
What is Ms. Comstock’s advice for us?
- Get out of your comfort zone. “To be an effective marketer, you have to go where things are,” says Beth Comstock. “You have to see what’s happening and be a translator. You have to immerse yourself and not be comfortable sometimes.” Complacency can drown you out faster than you know. It’s happened to large corporations who believed they were sitting pretty at the top of the market until one day, all of a sudden, sales dropped, stocks plummeted and customers couldn’t wait to switch loyalties. The thing is, it never really happens “all of a sudden”. It happens while organizations neglect to immerse themselves and get comfortable looking at historical data in the security of their board room. Meanwhile, the dark horse has taken huge strides leaving competition in the dust. As our world continues to shrink, we cannot undermine the speed and efficiency with which emerging markets can grow and take over what used to be a market dominated by established global brands.
- See the patterns and connect the dots. That is how Beth describes her role at GE. In order to spot emerging trends or future risks, you have to stay alert. Reporting and analytics can bring the power of Big Data to your CMO’s desk, but there is still no substitute for the conversations with real people and observations to be gleaned from getting out into the field. Social media channels offer a useful listening post to further enable this. GE, for example, effectively uses channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube to engage with audiences interested in scientific and technological innovation. Given that there is already too much “noise” about brands in the social media space, I can see why a marketing savvy brand like GE has chosen to focus on engagement by studying the patterns and connecting the dots in their industry. Close to 150,000 people “follow” GE’s photos of engines and power modules on Instagram. How do you explain this? “Instagram is a way to go into our factories and get shots you wouldn’t normally see,” explains Comstock. “We’re targeting the inner geek in everyone. Most people want to know why things work.” So GE has chosen to be the leader that shows people how things work!
- Support innovation through collaboration. By its very nature, scientific innovation requires a free exchange of ideas and knowledge-sharing. Through their customer innovation centers in places like China, GE encourages collaboration between local people, research scientists and marketing teams. That is a huge step towards decentralized marketing and breaking down of departmental silos. Something that I have been long advocating on my blog. In addition, GE, under Ms. Comstock’s supervision, also invites innovative ideas through competitions, guest talks and partnership opportunities. This is a good lesson for marketers to remember that innovation doesn’t necessarily have to happen behind closed doors. On the contrary, the more you open up and allow ideas to flow in from the outside, the better your chances to truly transform the lives of the audiences you serve.
- Find “disruptive” thinkers. When it comes to the latest, most advanced technology fields such as robotics, companies like GE realize the dire need to think outside the box. For this reason, they invite professors and industry experts to visit and discuss new ideas with GE staff. As Ms. Comstock says, “We look for the most disruptive people we can find. We don’t want to think too traditionally.”
- Go where your audiences are. Make the effort to understand and behave like the locals do, but stay true to your brand promise. That is what makes a truly successful global brand. Yes, you can hire agencies and consultants to study a market and bring you back tons of data. Going into those markets and experiencing customer behaviour first-hand is, however, a far more valuable education. As Ms. Comstock says, “Experts can help translate, but being there is essential.”
I hope you are enjoying this series spotlighting CMOs and the valuable lessons they share with B2B marketers. I look forward to your comments.