- GE has embraced technology and platforms where its audience is, and that reinforce who it is as a company, says Linda Boff, its chief marketing officer and VP of learning and culture.
- In an interview with Business Insider’s Tanya Dua, Boff said that the brand has always leaned into innovation and technology that’s core to its DNA, and is bullish on voice tech and AR.
- GE has also evolved its stance on programmatic advertising and started to use programmatic tactics – something it has stayed away from until now, said Boff.
- On the issue of brand safety, GE believes that it’s on the same team as the platforms, but that there needs to be accountability, and that makes things challenging.
- Check out Business Insider’s full list of the the 25 most innovative CMOs in the world in 2018.
Tanya Dua:So GE is an industrial tech brand, yet you’ve managed to completely change its marketing around, changing its image around. How have you managed to do that?
Linda Boff:You know, I think in many ways it is by being this great industrial tech company that looks for ways to express ourselves through technology and through platforms that reinforce who we are. And what we’ve tried to do is rather than say how do we attack every new platform, we’ve said our stakeholders – and those might be employees, they might be customers, investors – share our love of science and technology. They share our love of innovation. And it kind of follows that they spend time on the types of platforms where we want our messages to be heard.
So as a result, A, we’ve leaned into what we think is core DNA to us, innovation, technology. In a lovely way, the proliferation of those channels has been great for us because it’s given us a variety of different avenues with which to communicate with those folks. And I would say secondly, we’re a company that I believe is inherently interesting and we’ve embraced what that interestingness is around jet engines, around wind turbines, around power plants, and we’ve just found unexpected ways to talk about those things.
Dua:So, you know, in a way you’ve been able to humanize all these technological functions that you deal with.
Boff:I would like to believe that very much. And it’s deliberate, Tanya. We firmly believe that people like to talk to people versus talk to some big faceless company. And the more we put a face on GE, and sometimes that face, or people themselves, but sometimes it’s tone, right? It’s the voice that we use. It’s the images that we show. It’s where we show up. It’s how we talk about advanced materials and super materials and putting them on a sneaker to show that here’s an accessible way to understand what we’re doing.
So the human side is, A, it’s deliberate, very deliberate, and in some ways, it’s almost a North star for us. If something we’re doing feels too corporate, generally we’ll turn away from it because it’s not reinforcing the best of us and I don’t think it makes us approachable. And I certainly, to what we just said, I don’t think it makes us very interesting. So yes, humanity, we sometimes use the phrase “B-to-H, business to human.”
Dua:So obviously a lot of technology has kind of been a tool for you to be able to do that, whether that is flying drones across deserts, or I remember the “Emoji Science Lab” a couple years ago.
Boff:I love your memory. We did the periodic, the chemistry periodic table in emojis. And it was early days for emojis. I’ll tell you, sometimes I think my team is so remarkable, they’re so creative. Sometimes we do things too early. You know, we’ve jumped on emojis before it even became as popular as it is today. But yes.
Dua:Right, so when the stickers came around…
Boff:Yes, new platforms, new expressions. Yeah by the time the stickers came around we were like oh yeah, been there done that.
Dua:So what are some of the technologies that you’re very bullish on now, as a brand, for your marketing and communication?
Boff:Yeah, so on, hard to sit here and not talk about voice and audio. I have personally always been a great fan of voice. A zillion years ago, truly, a zillion years ago, I was a disc jockey. I love radio. I think there’s a great intimacy to audio that I think we’re seeing born out in the prevalence of podcasts, in the devices in our homes, be it Google Home or Alexa or what have you. So I think voice as a frontier is incredibly exciting.
And for brands, how do you show up in voice? You don’t have some of the tools that we’re used to having, like visuals. You don’t have, you know, in a sight sound and motion world you have auditory and yet, to me that’s part of the challenge, is how do you tell that story?The flip side of that is the opportunity is the intimacy, the utility side. So if a brand can figure out what their utility is in audio, I think there’s alchemy there. I think there’s magic. So that one I’m really excited about.
Look, I think like everybody, I’m incredibly intrigued with AR. It can’t come fast enough but it doesn’t really feel as though it’s quite here now. And then, sometimes what’s old is new again. So we’ve had great success with things like targeted newsletters that are simply serving the right message to the right audience. And feels kind of crazy to be sitting here in this wonderful high tech office talking to you about newsletters, and yet sometimes it’s those tools used the right way that can actually reach the right folks.
Dua:Yet one thing that you’ve chosen to sit out of – and for a long time now – is programmatic. It’s supposed to account for over 86% of digital dollars spent by 2020 and GE has chose to sit out. Why is that?
Boff:So we’ve chosen to sit out but we’re also doing it our way. So let me unpack that for a second. So initially, the reason we chose to sit out was that so many of the media programs, the content programs, that I’m really proud to have done with any number of different publishers, have been highly customised, really bespoke, almost hand-stitched. Something I often say, I like to buy what isn’t for sale. So that is usually crafting with a partner what that program is going to be. And that’s in some ways the opposite of programmatic. You can’t, you would never think of it in that way.
Of late though, what we’ve started to do is think about some of the programmatic tactics, but apply them in our way. So I’ll try to make it real for you. So when we’re introducing something in GE power, an energy reservoir, and we wanna reach a certain audience, we’re serving content, we’re driving them to a website, we’re pixelizing the website, we’re learning about their behaviour, and then we’re nurturing those customers within our own stream.
So rather than have the boomerang of now we’re going to serve you ads in your feed for giant power plants – which, it is a particular audience that’s looking for that – we try to drive customers through the funnel using behavioural tactics, using the right kind of content. So I’m still not gonna wear a tee shirt that says “I’m programmatic girl,” but I think there are tactics there that are the right tactics, particularly when, as a marketer that markets to sometimes very finite customer pools where you wanna develop that relationship. So I don’t know, my answer has evolved.
Dua:So you’ve started taking baby steps?
Boff: I think we’ve started taking baby steps our way. I’m still not interested in pray-and-spray. I’m still not interested in tonnage, for us. Every brand is different. What might not work for us might work beautifully for a consumer packaged goods company. But I think there are things that we can learn about targeting, about first party data, about how to nurture our customers. And there I have tremendous enthusiasm.
Dua:So if I were to ask you to break down your budget?
Boff:I would just say I can’t do that.
Dua:So maybe like five per cent now is programmatic?
Boff:That’s a good question. So here’s how I think about it. More and more, every day, is digital. And that’s, I can’t imagine anybody sitting across from you is gonna say much different than that, right? And it’s something because of where audience behaviour is. If everybody were spending all of their time watching a network we’d all be spending our money there, but we know that that is less and less the case with cord-cutters and binge programming, etc. So I would say, what percentage would I put on it? Small but growing, so under 10%. But you know, a year from now when we’re sitting here, if we can find a way to drive great results and great brand so that we have both awareness, consideration, and ultimately, we’re nurturing leads, that’s pretty exciting.
Dua:So are you trying to develop something like what JP Morgan Chase did? When they went back into YouTube they developed their own algorithm. So they did programmatic.
Boff:They did, in their way.
Dua:In their own way. So what is a tangible example of you guys doing that?
Boff:Yeah, so I think, I would say they’re probably further ahead than us in that regard. I have to give them a lot of credit and I love the experiment that they did where, what did they do? They sort of took down half, three-quarters, 80% of the (websites they advertise on programmatically), and the effectiveness remained the same. So for us, it’s more about when we know who we want to reach, and we’re pretty specific.
There are 300 airlines. Now within the 300 airlines there are multiple different audiences that we want to talk to. That being said, if we can find a more effective and efficient way to put information in front of them, and do it without sacrificing the, what I think, modestly, is a real distinguished standout voice, that’s something we’ll want to do more of. And it can be very efficient. Now the question will be can it be effective as well as efficient? So the efficiency is there. We all know that, right? The numbers were there. And if we can drive more than just the brand awareness we’ll do more of it.
Dua:Cool, so another thing that you said before is…
Boff:This is about repeating my words and seeing how well I’m doing with them.
Dua:…I’m trying to see how you’ve changed in the last six months that I’ve not spoken to you. So another thing you said was you never care about vanity metrics and you wouldn’t miss seeing an impression ever again.
Boff:That’s still true.
Dua:What are those metrics that you’re actually concerned about, that you’re watching closely, that you think serve as proxies for actually driving results?
Boff:I very much still hold by that statement. I think impressions are just empty calories most of the time. So I think it’s things like engaging in high value tasks. So what’s a high value task for GE? If we’re driving people to read a white paper, or sign up in a contact me form, or watch a video, those are really valuable for us. Those are tangible. They’re hard hitting. Said in a much higher level way, it’s engagement. So what bothers me about impressions is I literally, Tanya, have this image in my mind of something just bouncing off, right? There’s no stickiness. There’s no sort of sense of I want to be here, no sense of intent, whereas high value tasks, engaging in content. And again, I would say things, you and I have talked about this before, sharing, huge. If somebody chooses to share a piece of your content, boy is that valuable. If they take another step or a parallel step and they engage by reading, by asking for information, by saying you can contact me, by giving us their email address, that’s pretty great stuff. I’ll take that to the bank every day.
Dua:So another thing that I really wanna know is where do you stand on issues of transparency and fraud, and particularly brand safety? This is, again, things you said very recently, but at the New Fronts you were on a panel with YouTube and you said that there was a real partnership developing in terms of brands and platforms working together to address the issue of brand safety. Yet this morning, there was yet another snafu with YouTube.
Dua:So where do you stand? What’s your relationship with them like?
Boff:Yeah, I very much believe that we need to be on the same team because in the end YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the brands, I think, have similar if not the same goals. We want to put quality content in front of real people who will consume that content and hopefully, if you’re a brand, decide they like you, they wanna get to know you, they wanna transact with you, obviously depending on what the brand is. So I think we’re on the same team. That’s number one. And I want to work with these, all of them, all the ones we just talked about, to get to that place. I’ve talked about this before.
Saftey’sjust a prickly one because the person on the other end, the viewer watching a YouTube video, somebody who’s seeing something in their feed, are rarely distinguishing whether a brand chose to put something there or it got there by accident, programmatically or ad network or what have you. So the presumption, I believe, as somebody who always thinks about behaviour, is that the person presumes you chose to put your content potentially in a compromised position if whoever, whatever today’s example was.
Dua:Yeah they don’t care how you..
Boff:They don’t care how you get there. And look, it takes years, sometimes decades, to build a brand. It takes a very very short amount of time to turn the other direction. So I’m a steward of our brand. I will always sort of put my body, so to speak, in front of or in between goodness and badness because that’s what we have. That’s what we’ve built. So I think all the teams, Google, Facebook, Twitter, are trying very hard. I think their stomach falls when things like today happen. They’re not having a good day when that happens. But we have to hold each other accountable, so we’re on the same team, but at the same time when there’s an accident, there’s accountability, and that makes it, it makes it challenging. I don’t think it’s a reason not to be on the platforms. I think it’s a reason to be thoughtful, to go into it with the best intent and with your eyes, being steely-eyed.
Dua:So kind of nudging them from the inside?
Boff:I think so, I think so. And I think these days there’s a lot of nudging going on inside as well. I think they’re kind of nudging each other. As I say, we all wanna get to a place of goodness, of transparency, of safety. I don’t think they’re bad actors saying “God, how can we screw the brands today, how can we put them in this dark place?” I don’t think that’s happening. So hopefully we all get better at this. There are more humans involved. There’s more, we’re asking for accountability and we have people on our side, which is back on the shoulders of the brands, to make sure that we’re tracking it ourselves.
Dua:OK, let’s put the spotlight back on you before we end.
Boff:Yes, my dear.
Dua:What do you think is the most powerful tool in a CMO’s arsenal today and what do you think is the biggest marketing myth?
Boff:Most powerful tool is talent. Nothing comes close. Having great people is everything. Biggest myth, I feel like data is a myth that is put out there as though it’s the panacea. Because of course it isn’t data. It’s insights that lead to behaviour that ultimately lead to purchase consideration. So I think when everybody throws out data performance without a sense of context, what does it really mean?
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