GE's New CMO: How to Market a Digital Industrial Company

Linda Boff Discusses GE's Transformation and How She Will Market the Brand

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Last month, Linda Boff was named CMO at industrial manufacturing company GE, succeeding Beth Comstock, who was appointed as the company's first female vice chair.

Linda Boff, GE CMO
Linda Boff, GE CMO

Ms. Boff, who has been with GE since 2003, was most recently executive director-global brand marketing, and before that served as executive director-global digital marketing. She has spearheaded many of GE's recent digital efforts, from innovative social media campaigns to virtual reality demonstrations of locomotives and power generators.

Here, Ms. Boff dicusses how GE is transforming into a digital industrial company and how she plans to market the brand.

Advertising Age: How has the company evolved since you've been at GE?

Ms. Boff: Massively. GE's portfolio today is really very different than when I first got here 12 years ago. As a company, GE is very focused on being a digital industrial company, focused on transportation -- which is rail and aviation -- on health care and on various forms of engery. When I joined GE, the company was more diversified. A big part of the company was financial services, appliances -- obviously very much a part of the company -- so it's taken a lot of evolution.

Ad Age: What does it mean to be a digital industrial company?

Ms. Boff: It's turning information that we gather into productivity and helping our customers achieve outcomes; it's making sure that as a company we're leading that intersection of the physical and the analytical; it's the marriage of big iron and big data; and for us, the whole notion of being an industrial leader in this space. You need industrial companies like GE to solve big industrial problems. GE has a unique perspective on this -- we are the same company that we're serving; we have the same challenges that our customers have.

Ad Age: What are some of those challenges?

Ms. Boff: Things that revolve around making sure we deliver the best possible outcomes -- being productive, being efficient, saving money where we can. When you're an industrial company, everything is at a different scale -- saving a mile of fuel for a locomotive, or making sure a jet engine can share data about the plane vs. taking the engine off and having to go to the repair shop. These are really big numbers: 1% of savings or 1% of productivity for an industrial company is enormous. And so we face those same challenges, and as a result, we have the domain expertise, and now we've created a digital P&L called GE Digital, which will be operating as a new model across the company.

Ad Age: What are your top goals as CMO?

Ms. Boff: The first is marketing GE as a digital industrial company. How do we bring to life being a digital industrial company, and how do we tell our story? Part of that is establishing Predix as an industrial operating system. Similarly, how do we continue as a brand to experiment with purpose? We were early to embrace many new platforms as storytelling mechanisms, and we are leaning into more digital channels.

No. 2 is really defining what a superb customer experience will be for GE. As we increasingly have offerings that are digital in nature, how do we make sure that the experience we're delivering is simple, is frictionless, is one that enables our customers to discover our offerings and understand what outcomes we are delivering, and purchase from us.

Third is making sure I'm partnering as closely as possible with all of our businesses to drive growth -- digital revenue, ecommerce and licensing where it makes sense.

Ad Age: How much of your marketing budget is spent on digital?

Ms. Boff: We're big believers in being where our audience is spending their time. And increasingly, people are spending their time on new platforms -- that is where we will drive attention and impact. So percentagewise, our digital spend is about 35-40% of our budget.

Ad Age: Which digital platforms are proving most effective for you?

Ms. Boff: We find Facebook is a terrific place for performance marketing. It is also one we feel is increasingly a great place to target CIOs who are on Facebook. We love the experimental nature of platforms like Snapchat -- we are doing a great deal there. We've done a lot with what we call "emoji science" -- we're speaking the language of emojis through a scientific lens.

We're experimenting with a few new ones. In the next couple of weeks, we will do something with Wattpad -- a social network for stories. We are going to take six GE classic comic books from the '50s and '60s -- things like "Adventures in Electricity" or "More Power to America." We are putting them on Wattpad and asking authors to use them as inspiration and write sci-fi stories rooted in GE history. A lot of people on Wattpad are women, and there are also a lot of young people in their 20s and 30s. It's a new audience for us. We find it is very important to make sure GE is relevant and contemporary with new audiences.

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