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CMO Close-Up with Steve Liguori, executive director-global marketing at GE

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Steve Liguori is executive director-global marketing at General Electric Co. For the past year and a half, he has been involved in an effort to roll out MarkNet, a private online community for GE's global marketing group of almost 5,000 employees. In the following interview, he talks about the development of the network, why it's important to GE and the results so far.

CMO Close-Up: What was the genesis of this online community?

Liguori: Our vision is to become the best marketers of the 21st century. This is no easy feat, given the complexity of a multinational conglomerate like ours. About 18 months ago, we did some early work to start to figure out how to become the world's best marketers. If you asked people from the different GE divisions, such as GE Energy or GE Healthcare, what the definition of marketing was, you would get a different example from each different business. This is a slight simplification, but when we were in London, we met someone from GE Healthcare on the fourth floor who was the pricing leader for GE Healthcare for all of Europe and Asia. Then, on the fifth floor, we met someone from GE Capital who was the pricing leader for all of Europe and Asia. They didn't know each other. Now this is just a slight exaggeration of a true story, and it was repeated several times. As I was going around talking to people about the need (to define marketing best practices) something clicked. As opposed to talking about marketing business by business, maybe we could talk about it functional skill set by functional skill set.

CMO Close-Up: So how did you create the internal network for your marketing group?

Liguori: We needed to figure out how to be stronger together, combining our knowledge and building a community of marketers. We knew we couldn't fly everyone in every week to corporate headquarters, so our digital friends suggested the use of social networks. The genesis of that idea was about a year ago, and we set up an initial version using blogging tools and other technology. However, in a world of Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter and everything else, the internal technology is not as good. So we decided to partner with Think Passenger, a software-as-a-service company that really impressed us with their service to customers. We didn't know how to run this community.

CMO Close-Up: How does MarkNet work?

Liguori: Everything in MarkNet is organized to achieve our Gold Standard vision. [GE Senior VP-CMO] Beth Comstock has talked about our Gold Standard program, which involves getting rigorous about our marketing skills. Now, we have all these skill areas organized into hubs, such as pricing, branding, digital and market research. So far we have seven or eight communities, and we're in the process of launching another one. The hubs bring together marketing professionals in each skill set, and each community has an executive-level sponsor, such as the CMO of the different GE businesses. If the community sees a topic popping up on a blog board, they might bring a person in and put on a webinar. The leadership team has also developed a certification process for anyone who wants to go through training (for example, on customer segmentation). It's not like Facebook, where you can see who had yogurt for lunch. These are communities for like-minded professionals. We have lots of best-practice sharing, vendor sharing and a group to help rank vendors.

CMO Close-Up: What are some practical applications for MarkNet?

Liguori: We had a request from a mid-level manager at GE Capital in Mumbai. He had to do some market research and didn't have a lot of resources. So we were able to track it down and get a response from someone in GE Aviation in Israel. We call it our “silo buster.” Whatever your business, your need can get solved by someone if you go into the community and ask for help. One division was able to save a quarter-of-a-million dollars by posting a question on how to do a segmentation study. They were interviewing external vendors, and someone from GE Capital saw the posting and said, “We have an analytics team. We will do it for you for the cost of team.” It's not just capabilities; we are turning up savings and will be able to show revenue and profit.

CMO Close-Up: What kind of response have you gotten internally?

Liguori: We've had more than 3,000 members sign up, with more joining every day. Six-hundred-plus people signed up to be part of the pricing community. We have 150 people or so in webinars every few weeks. Every hub once a month has a “Lunch and Learn” webinar, where we invite a GE expert or outside expert to do a webinar with live chat. We are giving them access to GE marketers, free training and exposure to world-class talent. MarkNet is becoming our “secret sauce” on spreading best practices and getting great examples in our community.

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