GE gives marketers new goals

28 January 2013

NEW YORK: General Electric, the conglomerate, is seeking to transform the role of its marketers so they focus on "creating and developing new markets" alongside their more traditional functions.

Speaking to Think with Google, Beth Comstock, the chief marketing officer of General Electric (GE), argued there was a pressing need to move beyond the basics of the discipline.

"It's no longer enough to just be about brand and communications," she said. "Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen."

GE has 5,000 marketing staff around the world, who are charged with "connecting the dots" across its various operations, from aviation and green energy, and identifying individual and common trends.

"When you're in this business, you see a lot of things," said Comstock. "Marketers are in a great position to notice if something's happening in an industry like energy or healthcare."

As part of this process, it is crucial for executives representing global brands to gain on-the-ground insights, rather than being "too academic" or relying on data provided from other sources.

"To be an effective marketer, you have to go where things are," Comstock said. "You have to see what's happening and be a translator. You have to immerse yourself and not be comfortable sometimes."

Digital media has played such a role, and currently takes some 40% of GE's marketing budget. Video is particularly important, whether that be clips showing a robot falling from a wind turbine to more in-depth pieces demonstrating how its systems work. 

"The idea of an ad as a separate entity is fading fast. Brands are content publishers and consumers are, too. The days when we had separate swimlanes are over," she said.

GE is also present on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, as well as YouTube, the video platform, plus Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, the content-sharing properties. Comstock said its marketing now resembles a kind of "digital factory".

Elsewhere, it has partnered with innovative start-ups via open innovation schemes such as Ecomagination and Healthymagination, taking new ideas and enhancing them with GE's strength, size and scale.

"Start-ups have great ideas and work fast while we have access to markets and great technology," Comstock said. "We look for the most disruptive people we can find. We don't want to think too traditionally. We have had to open up a lot more."

Data sourced from Think with Google; additional content by Warc staff