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At the BMA: 'Blaze' kickoff illuminates marketers' new role

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Chicago—The Business Marketing Association's 2013 “Blaze” conference opened here Wednesday before a crowd of more than 775 marketers and agency executives, making it the largest b-to-b marketing conference in the world, said outgoing BMA Chairman Eduardo Conrado. Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions, turned the leadership of the national BMA over to Kathy Button Bell, CMO at Emerson Electric Co., during an opening ceremony that lived up to the “Blaze” name. Wearing a firefighter suit and accompanied on stage by Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, Conrado said, “We are in the perfect decade for b-to-b marketing. This is a good time to share experiences.” Conrado reflected on the past two years of b-to-b marketing in his opening remarks. “One of the things we talked about was how marketing could play a larger role in the companies we serve by being purpose-driven,” he said. “Last year, we focused on the relationship between sales and marketing, and how companies could be more focused on solution marketing.” At this year's conference, the role of marketing and the transformation of the industry is taking center stage, Conrado said. In her opening remarks, Button Bell introduced the next incoming chairman of the BMA—Steve Liguori, executive director-global innovation at General Electric Co.—who will serve for the 2013-14 term. “We are at a chaotic moment in marketing—particularly in b-to-b marketing,” Button Bell said. “We all need help right now. This is a scary and exciting time to be a marketer.” During an opening presentation titled “The Expanding Role of Marketing in B-to-B Organizations,” Button Bell presented new research conducted by the BMA and Forrester Research, in partnership with Erickson Research. The research was based on an online survey of 117 senior b-to-b marketers, conducted earlier this year. “Right now, b-to-b marketing is hot, hot, hot,” said Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research, who recently rejoined Forrester after a stint at Xerox Corp. “Now is the time to really look at b-to-b marketing and how the role is changing.” Ninety-seven percent of the marketers surveyed said they expect the pace of change to accelerate. “We know we live continually in beta,” said Button Bell, who co-presented the research with Ramos. “We iterate. We change. We have to move. We may have to iterate on the fly, but we do it with vivid transparency and we have to be unusually flexible.” The survey also found that 85% of marketers are doing things that aren't part of traditional marketing, and 76% said they believe senior management judges success or failure faster than in the past. “The feeling of judgment gets a little heavier on everyone's shoulders, particularly in the uncertain times we are in,” Button Bell said. The survey also found that 34% of senior marketers feel “overwhelmed” by change, and 21% said the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete. “New skills are desperately needed,” Button Bell said. “That is why we are all here. There is so much we need to learn now.” Ramos said a key finding from the survey is the expansion of the b-to-b marketing role. The survey found that 97% of marketers are doing things they have never done before as part of marketing, and 87% said marketing's input is being sought more often. In terms of how their role has expanded, 78% said they are having greater input into corporate strategy; 77% said they now have a seat at the executive table; and 56% said they are spending more time in front of their companies' boards. “There's always pressure to do more, but the budgets aren't keeping up,” Ramos said. The survey found that 89% of marketers have new and/or different responsibilities but no change in budgets; 68% said they find annual budgeting “challenging.” Despite these challenges, 79% said they feel more confident about their ability to navigate the chaos of change. “So be brave, and have fun,” Button Bell said. Programming for the 2013 BMA “Blaze” conference was led by Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer of Slack and Co., Chicago, who has served as organizer of the annual BMA conference since 2009.
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