Close-up with Deborah Murphy, VP-global marketing, Zebra Technologies

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Deborah Murphy was recently promoted to VP-global marketing at Zebra Technologies, a manufacturer of bar code printers. She was previously VP-market and channel development, specialty printing solutions. Murphy discussed the critical role of market research at Zebra and marketing's role in overall corporate strategy and product development, not just communications.

CMO Close-Up: What are the objectives and goals in this new job and why was it created?

Deborah Murphy: To get to the objectives, first I've got to give you a little history. We have reached a point where we had several different marketing organizations, both corporate marketing functions and regional marketing functions. It was decided as we accelerate our expectations for growth for the business, in both core product areas as well as core emerging geographies, that we needed a much more effective, aligned marketing organization. Regional marketing is a big part of what we do, and I'll talk about that in just a minute.

We are now serving the global organization more effectively through a streamlined organizational construct. It's much more unified around the corporate strategic direction. Regional marketing exists in each one of our four operating regions: North America; Europe, Middle East, Africa; Asia-Pacific; and Latin America. Their focus is on demand generation. A lot of the work around demand-gen and leading-edge methodologies around the marketing mix, we like that to happen at the regional level. How customers want to receive information is slightly different in each region, dramatically different in others. We feel that marketing rooted close to the customer is very important. The difference is, through this new global marketing construct, we will be better-aligned. I think we're going to be better able to more efficiently and effectively meet objectives at the corporate level

CMO Close-Up: What about your background has prepared you for your new job?

Murphy: Why I'm sitting in this chair is probably more because I like to build new markets. I like to support new growth and I like to take a very disciplined approach to market understanding. With social media today, everybody is trying get their arms around trying to market our products through social media. I spend less of my day thinking about that and more of my day understanding how do we reach our customers, through which channel do they want to purchase and how do we develop products on an ongoing basis to meet our customers emerging needs? How do we bring new technologies to bear that customers want to purchase? An important part of our role in marketing is really to drive—whether it's M&A, whether it's new product development—understanding of the customer and of the emerging markets. To do that, we invest heavily in market research around the globe. CMO Close-Up: What can you tell us about Zebra's market research efforts?

Murphy: I can tell you last year we made the largest investment in market research in the history of the company. We started that process in late 2009. Even with the downturn, we invested in understanding our customers through market research. I led a very comprehensive study in core and emerging markets globally. That gave us a much better idea, both quantitatively and qualitatively, of who our customers are and what applications are going to be the growth applications in each one of those markets. We segmented that data pretty specifically. So, for example, we gained an understanding of the most important product attributes by vertical market and by application. It was a pretty rigorous research process that gave us the level of detail that will lay the groundwork for where we want to invest, not just in marketing execution and media mix but ... where are the investment opportunities in product development, in market development and in channel development. So now we've got the high-level strategic market plans that have been laid, and now we're building those out. We will be very disciplined in terms of making sure that we're focused on the marketing strategy globally and regionally.

CMO Close-Up: How central is channel marketing to Zebra and has it changed a lot in the past decade?

Murphy: Absolutely [the channel] has [changed] for Zebra. It's very dynamic—in today's marketplace especially. It really goes back to how to a customer thinks about and wants to purchase our products. When the printer [was] the solution at the height of the adoption of bar coding in the supply chain, we sold primarily through a bar code value-added reseller. Today, our channel makeup is much more diversified. If you look across our very diverse verticals that we serve today, the way that the end users in each of those verticals want to get information about printer products and software, and the way they want to purchase or procure those products, is very different. Our marketing efforts and our go-to-market strategy are very much aligned to those vertical markets and the way that people think about and want to purchase supply chain software, and hardware and associated applications.

CMO Close-Up: It sounds like the sales process has become more consultative. Is that correct?

Murphy: On the printer side of the business in particular, nobody is worried about the [bar code] printer. When somebody is putting in a medication administration system in a hospital that is going to give them positive identification for a patient—matching that identification to the right medication at the right time—it's all about the software. The wristband printer—the printer that sits behind the pharmacist and puts the bar code on that medication that's going up to the floor—that's the backend of the solution. So we want to make sure that on an ongoing basis we're aligned to the channel partners that are going to influence the sale of our printers. And even on the [location solution] side of the business the tracking of assets of people, of transactions is often also sort of rooted within enterprise software that is either being deployed or is being built around new functionality. So our channel and the way that we develop our channel is very, very important to our marketing efforts. We learned a tremendous amount about the channel through this research that we did in our core and emerging markets. And we are very focused in our marketing plans to facilitate new relationships, and to build on existing relationships with those most critical channel partners and then support them with co-marketing opportunities.

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