ISBM identifies 10 key roles for b-to-b corporate marketers

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The role of the corporate marketer is becoming critical to the success of b-to-b organizations, according to a research study from the Institute for the Study of Business Markets at Penn State University and marketing agency Blue Canyon Partners, Evanston, Ill. The study, based on ongoing conversations with b-to-b marketers, identified the following 10 key roles for corporate b-to-b marketers: 1) Drive marketing planning: “What we’ve seen across many of our member firms, whether large or small, is that the quality of marketing planning is at best mixed,” said Ralph Oliva, executive director of ISBM and professor of marketing at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State. “A key role for a strong corporate marketing function is to develop a marketing plan that is high-level enough to be used flexibly but tight enough so it enforces discipline.” He cited General Electric Co., DuPont and Kennametal Inc. as examples of companies that get this right. 2) Be the brand steward: “There are two pieces to this,” said Atlee Valentine Pope, president of Blue Canyon Partners. “One piece is around making it more obvious to the stakeholders inside as well as outside the company what the really big idea is—the strategy or vision of the company and how to mobilize everyone around that. The other side, as organizations acquire new companies, is to make sure marketers can help unify these brands under a very strong brand architecture.” 3) Ensure that voice of the customer informs business strategy: “We hear a lot about voice of the customer,” Oliva said. “When we see what firms are doing, it’s often not voice of the customer—it’s voice of somebody else. A strong corporate marketing function can bring strong voice of the customer to corporate strategy—inform business strategy and corporate investment strategy at the C-level.” 4) Train and develop marketing talent: “At firms that we would call benchmark-level firms, the corporate marketing function has grabbed the reins on better understanding that technology-trained people are moving into the marketing function,” Oliva said. “A strong corporate marketing function will spend time and care understanding the differences between the minds of technologists and engineers and train them to do business marketing.” 5) Deploy specialist teams: “Organizations are starting to recognize that in order to drive smarter decisions and more efficiencies, it is important to become more reliant on a central specialist team,” Pope said. “We are seeing many leading marketing organizations that have built specialist teams to be deployed inside business units and really up the game and raise the level of thinking when required to face certain challenges or take advantage of new opportunities.” 6) Teach and communicate: “Many folks, especially in a b-to-b firm coming from a scientific or engineering legacy, often don’t understand what marketing or branding means,” Pope said. “Corporate marketing executives are charged with explaining and disseminating a common language throughout corporate marketing and getting everyone on the same page—understanding the value and terminology of branding and marketing throughout the different business units.” 7) Drive internal integration: “Integration used to be focused on messaging and alignment,” Oliva said. “Now, integrated marketing means aligning the entire firm to achieve an objective—all the employees in a firm, all communicating with the marketplace. A really big idea can overcome barriers to execution, can get financing and can get manufacturing and sales all working together.” He said GE’s “ecomagination” platform and Emerson’s “Consider it solved” positioning are good examples of such integration. 8) Communicate during a crisis: “Over and over again, we find that a crisis is not just in the purview of the PR department,” Pope said. “Oftentimes, the corporate marketing department is owning part of the responsibility, or co-owning it with the PR group or with other organizations. Crises do come up, and good corporate marketing people have it all figured out and are ready when such a crisis comes to bear.” 9) Introduce new-to-the-world trends and tools: “I’ve seen corporate marketing take the lead in sitting down with senior executives and identifying trends coming on, such as social networking, and saying, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about what it is,’ and push trends forward so business leaders can understand them,” Pope said. “A strong corporate marketing leader makes sure they are not getting behind on trends, looks to the future and sees how tools can be applied most effectively in their organization.” 10) Understand marketing funding and measurement: “Strong corporate marketers understand and embrace a connection with the CFO and recognize that CFOs get where they are by understanding how to invest money in areas with a reasonable level of risk,” Oliva said. “Strong corporate marketing functions have a good dialogue going on with CFOs and help them build a case that this is an investment that is very important to the firm.”
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