GE seeks new marketing model

25 April 2012

NEW YORK: General Electric, the conglomerate, wants its marketers to become "instigators" capable of linking new technologies to the needs of customers and thinking in truly original ways.

Speaking to Forbes, Beth Comstock, who has been GE's chief marketing officer since 2003, suggested that the role of its communications teams was to serve as "instigators".

"An instigator is the one who may be agitating for a different way of doing things, seeing a different path forward, disrupting the status quo," she said.

"You have to be able to say to the engineers 'this is great technology, but there's no market for it'; or 'it has too many features'; or, 'it's targeted to the wrong user base.'"

More specifically, research by GE showed the best marketers had certain key attributes. Instigating change was one such capability, alongside strong skills in the area of implementation.

Facilitating integration was another vital gift, in terms of pulling together functions like sales, branding and operations. Finally, an innovative approach is also essential.

"It's hard to find people who have all four characteristics, so we tend to develop teams that combine all these traits," said Comstock.

General Electric has long used Six Sigma, which applies strict quality control and statistical measures, to disciplines including R&D, and Comstock argued such restraints need not be limiting.

"In some ways process helped us become comfortable with innovation, so to me, it's a myth that you can't have process with innovation and creativity," she said.

Alongside its in-house activities, GE has launched open innovation initiatives like the Ecomagination and Healthymagination platforms, seeking to ally with start-ups on environmental and health issues respectively.

"A $50m business may be awesome for some companies, but for GE it's not," said Comstock. "That led us into more partnerships with start-ups and entrepreneurs around the world where we can get ideas to market through them and share in the risk."

Field research has also played an increasingly important role, as was the case with the creation of a portable electrocardiogram costing just $1,000, developed in India, before being rolled out overseas.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff