Digital Technology
Sep 08, 2015

GE to CEOs: Unlearn marketing to drive innovation

On September 1, 2015 something very unusual happened in the corporate world: GE announced the appointment of Beth Comstock, GE's marketing and innovation leader, to vice chair (an operating, executive position). It's worth recalling that, as recently as a few years ago, GE was not sold on the strategic value of marketing, the consensus being that marketing doesn't really matter all that much in a technology driven B2B environment. It's a belief I suspect shared by many engineering- or product-led B2B companies worldwide today.

What caused the shift in opinion at GE about the importance of marketing? Ultimately, it was the need for innovation in a market requiring breakthrough, non-incremental solutions, as well as wide-scale thought leadership about the “art of the possible"—all areas where Beth has excelled. GE's industrial internet story is not only the single most quoted example of the Internet of Things (IoT), but also a catalyst for GE's strategy, alignment, and go to market. It helps the company hire great people, too. Can you imagine GE without that today? Beth was instrumental in the development of that story—and not just from a “messaging" standpoint, even though telling the story became, to the surprise of technically or financially minded executives, extremely important.

Large B2B product development and sales have changed radically in the last five years and catapulted marketing into a new role. Digital has revolutionized the way prospects look for information, the way products are developed, and the kinds of engagements that take place prior to engaging with the sales force. Marketing, by engaging in dialogue and providing thought leadership that prospects and their teams absorb, helps create influence at scale. And marketing helps with a kind of reading of tea leaves—because all of those engagements leave traces that savvy companies can read to understand what clients really care about. Interestingly, early testing in the market of stories about new solutions actually helps get to the right product faster. That isn't a traditional “Big Advertising" job, but it is still a marketing job, so long as the CMO understands company strategy, customer centricity, and innovation. Perhaps we need a different marketing genome in companies, and recruiters need to take notice, but that's a different story.

Genpact spun off from GE in 2005, a time when the “new marketing role" was still in its infancy at GE. That change wasn't a no-brainer, yet it made sense to us and our investors, and so we made it. In Genpact, we have done away with draconian demarcations between market strategy, innovation, and traditional marketing. Our Lean Digital efforts, driven in part by the work of Genpact's Research Institute, which I chair, are a good example of the kind of cross-company innovation that becomes possible through this approach.

Marketing isn't marcomm anymore. We all need to grow out of that mindset and embrace marketing as an engine of innovation.

About the author

Gianni Giacomelli

Gianni Giacomelli

Chief Innovation Leader

Gianni serves as Chief Innovation Leader where he drives and sponsors Genpact’s strategic initiatives aimed at sustaining clients’ transformation into digitally-enabled companies. He also co-leads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) efforts to set up a Collective Intelligence Design Lab.