GE's Liguori stresses importance of marketing ‘Gold Standard'

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Chicago—The struggle to sync a company's global marketing expertise with its shifting size in a down economy is an issue facing many b-to-b marketers. In a speech Thursday to the Chicago chapter of the Business Marketing Association, Steve Liguori, General Electric Co.'s executive director-global marketing, discussed how he addressed this challenge at GE.

Last November, upon assuming his newly created position with the $183 billion technology and services conglomerate, Liguori set out to fix the conflicting marketing strategies he noticed during his three years in senior marketing roles with GE Money-Americas. “I kept stumbling over the same wheel being built over and over again,” he said.

In response, Liguori created a system for evaluating the critical aspects of GE's marketing scheme. The system, which he calls the ‘Gold Standard,' highlights eight skill sets its marketers must obtain—including segmentation and targeting, market knowledge, and strategy and innovation—each with 25 to 30 specific approaches to achieving proficiency in the given area. Liguori took Thursday's luncheon as an opportunity to encourage others in the industry to create similar models to address their marketing needs.

“Saying you're a strong brand doesn't cut it anymore,” Liguori said. “The goal is now to move from differentiating commoditized products to finding simple solutions in a complex world—where world-class companies will move to in the future.”

Liguori stressed that, in a declining economy, when the competitive landscape dramatically changes, a marketer's focus should be on developing a closer relationship with the customer. “In a recession, half [of the companies] will make it, half won't,” he said. “Standard stuff doesn't work. Breakaway companies focus on providing customer solutions.”

For GE, a company in which 66% of its marketing department has no formal training in the field, this has proved paramount. “We all had a limited budget and [limited] expertise, and we did the best we could,” Liguori said. “Our strategy was to be global, drive innovation, build relationships and leverage strength.”

Like most companies, GE still struggles to hone its marketing strategies in an evolving economy. But unlike some of its competitors, it sees the downturn as an opportunity to address its weaknesses. “We were taking our lumps like a lot of companies were,” Liguori said. “But you got to get up on that horse again if you've been knocked off by the recession.”

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