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GE's global marketing opens online community

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General Electric Co. is realizing significant cost savings and other benefits from MarkNet, an internal online community designed to improve communication and create best practices among members of its global marketing group.

MarkNet is powered by technology company Think Passenger and provides collaboration tools for GE’s global team of marketing professionals. It is part of GE’s Gold Standard mar­­­keting excellence program, which debuted in January.

“We have about 5,000 marketers across GE, which is [up 40%] since 2002,” said Beth Comstock, senior VP-CMO at GE, during a speech at the Business Marketing Association’s annual Engage conference in June. “We need to be strategic marketers, and we need to understand the skills we have in our tool kit. This year, we launched a Gold Standard marketing skills program, which has really had a positive impact on our organization.”

Steve Liguori, executive director-global marketing at GE, said in an interview: “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.”

Planning for the Gold Standard effort began about 18 months ago, when GE’s senior marketing leaders came together to establish marketing best practices, common definitions, priorities and skill sets. “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,” Liguori said.

There were challenges in bringing all the marketing teams together to collaborate on the strategic vision. “We can’t fly everyone in every week to corporate headquarters,” Liguori said. “Our ‘digital friends’ suggested social networks, so we set up an initial version [of a social network] about a year ago, using blogging tools and other social media.”

Eventually GE decided to partner with Passenger, a developer of private online communities, to create MarkNet, which was officially launched April 1.

MarkNet is organized into online communities, called hubs, around the skill sets in GE’s Gold Standard program, such as innovation, market research and pricing. Each hub is “sponsored” by a senior marketing executive. These include the CMOs of GE’s different business lines, such as GE Capital, GE Energy and GE Healthcare.

Employees use the hubs to share best practices, ask questions, collaborate and learn new marketing skills. GE has also developed a certification process to give employees special training via webinars on such topics as customer segmentation and pricing.

GE is already seeing results from MarkNet that are contributing to the company’s bottom line, Liguori said. “One division was able to save a quarter of a million dollars by posting a question on how to do a segmentation study,” he said.

“We were interviewing external vendors [to conduct a segmentation study], and someone from GE Capital saw a posting and said they had an analytics team and would do the project for us, just for the cost of the team,” Liguori said. “It’s not just capabilities; we are turning up cost savings.”

Since the effort’s April debut, more than 3,000 GE marketers have joined the network, with several hundred new members being added each week. Each webinar attracts 300 to 400 people, compared with an average of 50 in the past.

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