More than 400 b-to-b marketers—the largest turnout in years—convened at the Business Marketing Association's annual conference in Chicago last month to share strategies for marketing in a challenging environment.
With a theme of “Unlearn,” the conference featured marketers from such leading b-to-b companies as General Electric Co., IBM Corp., Siemens and W.W. Grainger who discussed how they're changing their game plan when it comes to marketing in the downturn.
From developing products to help the environment, as GE and IBM are doing, to using more social media to reach business executives, b-to-b marketers are finding new ways to survive and thrive in this economy.
During a keynote presentation, Matt Preschern, VP-marketing, demand programs at IBM, discussed the company's “Smarter Planet” initiative, a campaign introduced last fall that shows how IBM is developing products and services to help the planet economically, socially and technically. “This has been a difficult time for everyone,” he said, pointing to the global economic downturn, frozen credit markets and energy shortfalls.
“In the September/October time frame, our senior leadership team said, "Is this the right time to launch an agenda-setting campaign or would it be perceived as something that is too heavy-handed?' ” Preschern said. “Eventually, we made a decision as a company that this is exactly the time for a company like IBM to get in the marketplace.”
The integrated campaign includes TV, print, online, radio, outdoor and social media, but Preschern said the effort is much more than just an ad campaign. “If we are serious about "Smarter Planet,' this cannot be IBM talking to you and IBM telling you what a smarter planet needs to look like,” he said. “We need to build an entire ecosystem of partners, and the only way they will be interested is if we give them tools to engage in dialogue.”
Some of those tools include online communities, social networks, blogs and thought leadership conferences to foster discussion about pressing global issues.
During another keynote presentation, Tom Haas, CMO at global manufacturer Siemens, said his company is also pushing a thought-leadership agenda as part of its strategy.
“It's all about getting our executives out there more, speaking more, getting more involved in panels, blogging more and becoming resident experts,” Haas said. “All of us in this space are doing a lot of thought-leadership events, and we are using our media partners to create unique events so we can discuss issues that are important to the industry.”
For example, Siemens is hosting a series of events called Siemens Salons that are intended to draw a C-level crowd to talk about important industry issues. The company is also beginning to use social media as part of its marketing efforts, Haas said.
“We are experimenting with social media,” he said. “We're just beginning to dip our toe in the water. You have to make sure you have the right content people. By hiring editors and content people who are experts in the field, it gives you credibility.”
During a panel discussion, marketers shared best practices for gaining customer insight and intelligence.
John McDermott, senior director of brand strategy at W.W. Grainger, discussed a program called Grass Roots that was started about three years ago at the facilities maintenance organization. “Our objective was to go out and talk to customers to get a more customercentric view of who our customers were across the organization, then bring this insight back into the organization and in the form of specific deliverables,” McDermott said.
To accomplish this, Grainger developed a cross-functional team of about 40 people, which McDermott called a “massive corporate initiative.” The team went out to visit more than 80 customers, primarily manufacturers, to conduct in-depth research on who the customers are, which segments they represent, why those segments are important to Grainger and what the customers need.
As a result of its research, Grainger developed an interactive application on its Web site that showed manufacturing customers that the company understood their needs and how it could provide specific solutions, McDermott said.
Also during the panel discussion, moderator Jason Cordova, director of strategic initiatives at GE, discussed how customer research is important to the company's segmentation strategy.
“No. 1 is objective setting. It has to be the whole organization, not just marketing,” he said.
Cordova discussed how GE uses field research to gain customer insight and develop segmentation targets.
“We may do a segmentation process and come back with five segments,” he said. “We know we can't serve all of them well, so we go through a targeting process where we learn where we can put our resources and focus on those segments that mean the most.”
Also during the conference, Jeff Hayzlett, CMO of Eastman Kodak Co., received the 2009 G.D. Crain Jr. Award, which recognizes a BMA member for career achievement in b-to-b marketing communications and exceptional service to the association. The award is named for the founder of Crain Communications Inc. M