Close-Up with Kathy Button Bell, VP-CMO, Emerson

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Kathy Button Bell has served as CMO of engineering company Emerson for 10 years. This year, despite the economy, Emerson took a risk and launched a new brand campaign called “Consider It Solved,” developed by DDB Chicago. In the following interview with BtoB, Bell talks about the challenges of marketing in a down economy and how Emerson is trying to break through the clutter.

BtoB: Would you say you are taking risks or being more cautious with new marketing programs this year?

Bell: I think the word is “judicious.” We are all being hypercareful not to squander anything. We have tightened our belts as an organization. It is really a good time to differentiate yourself, because it is a quieter landscape.

We took a risk this year with our creative development for the “Consider It Solved” campaign. We thought it was a terrific idea to make our voice louder when ad spending isn't quite as high and the noise isn't as high.

It is very different for us, using computer-generated imagery and alternative music in the background. It is exciting and a little edgy during a tough time. I love that our senior management is supportive of that.”

BtoB: Have you had to shelve or delay any marketing programs this year due to the economy?

Bell: We did not really delay much. We moved our funds around a little bit. We spent a little more in Brazil, China and the Middle East, where there was still market growth. We also increased our online presence. I don't think advertising in a recession will drive a lot of sales, but you have to maintain your voice.

BtoB: Where have you invested your marketing dollars?

Bell: We've increased our online presence a little bit. Online is more targeted and less expensive, and you can measure ROI.

The other thing we've done is, we took our 30-second commercials and cut 15-second versions. As we move into next year, we will be able to increase our frequency on our TV advertising by doing a mix of 30s and 15s. Also, airports are increasingly using video screens instead of flat dioramas, and the15-second versions work pretty well on the video dioramas.

We have lowered some production costs by finding multiple ways to use the things we have produced. DDB has been very creative.

BtoB: What programs have proved most successful for you?

Bell: Airport media is proving successful for us. It tends to keep your visibility high with a broader group of people. During tough economic times, it is reassuring and uplifting to have visibility in all major airports in the world. We are showing that we are innovating our way, and helping our customers innovate their way out of the recession. That message is proving successful for us.

BtoB: How are you measuring ROI on your advertising?

Bell: On corporate advertising, it is hard to do. You can measure the online stuff, but I don't think it's practical to measure corporate advertising per sale. At the division level they can track sales, but it is much harder to do at the corporate level. We do use our brand research, as well as Fortune magazine research, which shows a shift of opinion. I can't actually count it, but I can sure see improvement.

BtoB: Are you using social media?

Bell:We are starting to do a little bit on the corporate level with tweeting. At the business level, we have some very robust chat rooms, and there are some very active people tweeting on climate technologies and blogging on Emerson's process management business.

These activities tend to start in specific businesses. The thing that makes them really successful is the individual who is running them. It takes a certain type of dedicated person with a journalistic interest. Then we can pull the information back into the organization and learn from it. For example, there have been some good ideas in product development.

BtoB: How are you positioning for a recovery?

Bell: I think we are being very specific about that. One hundred percent of our message is about how we are helping our customers innovate into the recovery, and that is what actually creates it. We are talking about people being judicious about the choices they make, and better technologies and better ingredients we offer to help them. This year, we launched a global data center, which shows our customers what we are doing in areas such as energy-efficient communication networks and climate technologies.

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