THE BLOG
07/12/2015 11:43 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

IBM Systems CMO: 10 Ways For Marketing To Deliver Business Value

Doug Brown, is Chief Marketing Officer for the IBM Systems Group, part of IBM Systems and Technology, which generates annual revenue of $20 billion. IBM Systems group serves IT infrastructure executives - Head of Operations/IT, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, or application development executives - with networking hardware, servers, storage and middleware solutions. Brown (Twitter: @dougbrown700) is responsible for the classic marketing functions - product marketing, content marketing, demand generation, digital marketing, public relations, analyst relations, events planning, social marketing - expanding the globe with 25 different regional marketing teams.

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Doug Brown, CMO IBM Systems Group

Here are 10 ways for large company marketing organizations to deliver real value:

1. Demonstrate clear value proposition through effective market positioning

Brown's goal is to reposition the portfolio to be seen as helping IT infrastructure executives evolve by modernizing their infrastructure to be future proofed - able to connect and integrate with cloud-based solutions. Repositioning requires clear articulation of what you stand for and your capabilities.

"Things have been so stable for so long, people have been buying products into the architectural stack that's been defined for 20 to 30 years. People buy servers when they need servers. They buy databases when they need databases. But all of that is kind of now up in the air based on technologies like cloud computing. This is a goal that never ends and stays constant with the transformation and repositioning one's self in the market as it changes," said Brown.

Along with that, right side-by-side with it of course is good old demand generation goals, that's kind of what keeps our business operating. We are clearly in the front seat of the demand generation capability of our business.

2. The greatest opportunities lie at the intersection of speed and innovation

Brown believes that the move for digital business transformation is around the need for the speed of innovation. The speed of innovation is accelerated with disruptive technologies like mobility, social networking, big data, cloud computing, mobile apps and the internet of things.
Brown points to platforms as a service layer that enables solutions providers to rapidly develop new mobile applications. Brown notes that for an enterprise to transform, new systems of engagement have to connect and integrate within a development cycle of the systems of record that already exist on premises.

Brown says:

The issues that CIOs and IT infrastructure executives are dealing with is 'how do I create that integration of speed of innovation through cloud with what I already have'. The last thing CIOS want to do is just leap to a cloud implementation and create an island that doesn't integrate with what they already invested in previously.

What we're seeing CIOs and IT executives do is this integration of speed and innovation capabilities by cloud, along with what they already have. And there's a companion problem that has to be dealt with at the same time. And that is as the nature of these systems of engagement change, and as the nature of applications change, for example embedding analytics in them more and more frequently, the technical capabilities in the infrastructure itself have to change.

We are going through a period of time where IT infrastructure executives, CIOs have got to be able to deliver new forms of service rapidly, without really knowing exactly what those new applications are going to be. So we are seeing a lot of questioning about: 'How do I build out this infrastructure so that I can be ready for anything that comes in the form of requirements in the future?'

3. Shift from product-centric to buyer-centric marketing

Customers care more about business outcomes than product specifics. Brown has noticed a shift from customer asking about product details and competitive alternates to a deep desire to learn more about understanding how businesses should be thinking about designing, building, and managing new environments that are future proofed.

Our marketing has to shift from a product centric based form of marketing to a very authentic audience based centric form of marketing, and that takes a certain amount of skill sets and other attributes that we're all shifting on at the moment. This whole shift from product centric to buyer centric marketing is a major move for us.

Brown's team is developing a practice of thought leadership marketing at IBM. It's having a point of view. It's forcing us to work very closely with the CTO's of our divisions internally, and our development leaders, to understand what they're building into the portfolio."

As Brown's team improves their understanding of product feature, functions and benefits, they are better equipped to communicate the value proposition and unique solution differentiation in the context of delivering desired business outcomes - from the point of view of the buyer.

4. Precision marketing in a business-to-business (B2B) is really a shift to Business-to-Individual (B2I)

Brown states that knowing the buyers is as important as knowing the product. Brown views the relationship between the different lines-of-business and the makeup of a buying decision team in terms of a notion of cohorts.

In the old days it was a segment rights, common wants and needs, common buying behavior and we would build marketing plans for a segment. As we move from you know B2B to B2i marketing for the individual, we think we are doing that in an evolutionary way, and the first step of course is role-based marketing where we understand the role. But we are trying to take that to the next revel right now, which we call cohort based.

Within a role, understanding the differences in behavior of different elements of that role for example, there may be Vice President of operations who knows and understand IBM very well, and continue to buy from us. There may be others who don't know and understand IBM and buy from our competitors. Those are distinct different behaviors that we would say are two different cohorts, and so we are building our content in our marketing campaigns differently for each of those cohorts.

We are delivering content, where if you know us you could be attracted to it in one way. If you don't know us it's a different conversation, and we can attract people who don't know us to think about it differently. It puts a lot of demand on our portfolio marketing teams to build content that's empathetic to the actual cohort based on their behavior. But that's the level of sophistication that is needed.

Brown does not think about segments but more about individual buyer personas. The goal is to ultimately market to an individual, decomposing segments down to recognizable buying behaviors and at the cohort level within the role. This level of marketing sophistication requires creating specific content that can be delivered across the right channels, at the right time.

5. Empathy is a key characteristic of precision marketing

Empathetic marketing translates to knowing as much about your customer's needs as you do about your products. Brown believes the need for empathy within marketing and empathy towards the buyer is significantly important characteristics.

Empathy is actually a differentiator when we can build content that is empathetic about the buyer and the problems they have, the struggles that they're going through, and the way that they might perceive something. It used to be you could be a pretty good marketer if you understood your product and if you could stand up and pitch your product and talk about its feature functions and benefits, and link it to a business problem. That doesn't suffice any more.

Now, you've got to add to that equally, the understanding of the buyer, their challenges, their problems, and how they think about things. This level of 'buyers needs' understanding changes the whole content that needs to be developed. This is a massive shift for the skills of people choosing marketing as a profession.

Knowing the product is as equally as important as being empathetic with the user, so there is a 50-50 kind of ratio there. Increasingly as marketing becomes teaching, as causing people to act is increasingly driven by providing lessons of things that are possible, and how to do things that marketing then takes both those attributes of knowing the product and being empathetic to the user, and puts that into the context of teaching - whether that teaching is done digitally, at an event, in community circles.

6. Future marketers must have a passion for curiosity and problem solving

When I asked Brown to discuss the needs for hiring data scientist in marketing, he did not go down the path of mechanical skillset needs but rather the need for marketers to have a passion for curiosity and constantly asking questions and solving the next problem; a passion for innovation. A good marketer will deliver content and then observe the market's reaction to it. Brown equates this process to solving a big puzzle.

Brown acknowledges that this puzzle building process is a data-driven process, so there is a need for personality traits around behavioral sciences, combined with curiosity that will define marketers into the future.

7. Use marketing technology to manage the entire marketing and sales funnel

Brown's team uses technology to manage raw leads and conversions throughout out the top and middle of the marketing and sales funnel. A well-integrated platform of engagement allows the team to track the two ends of the spectrum - from social impressions, unique visitors and top of funnel activities, to responses to leads and value conversions to the sales pipeline. The focus in the middle of the funnel translates to daily performance dashboards that Brown's team uses to manage the funnel and business needs. Brown references a number of sophisticated and intelligent marketing technologies from IBM that his team utilizes to gain meaningful insights throughout the marketing and sales processes.

8. Beware of the generational divide in marketing and manage resources accordingly

Brown breaks the marketing divide into two groups - a group that started their marketing career recently (2-3 years out of school) versus and the second group of veteran marketers. The new generation marketers are eager to learn, very adaptable and expect to use the latest technology to solve problems. The biggest challenge for the veteran marketers is to adopt a beginner's mindset and stay flexible and eager to learn to technologies and processes.

Ultimately it is the leadership's responsibility to inform, inspire and ignite outcomes by communicating the importance of technology to deliver better outcomes for employees and customers. To drive greater adoption of technology, marketing leaders must lead by example and clearly articulate the 'why', the 'what' and the 'how'.

9. Innovation opportunities exist at every level within an organization

Brown and IBM have created an expectation for innovation at the individual marketer level, instead of traditional approach of driving innovation initiatives from the top-down. To achieve this grassroots innovative culture, IBM has implemented quarterly innovation awards, whereby an innovation team consisting of executive team members invite up to 5 individual teams to present new and exciting ideas and projects for additional awareness and support. A winner is selected and recognized throughout the company - a senior executive sponsor announces the innovation winner on a quarterly basis.

Brown notes that some of these innovative programs can ultimately become company wide best-practice examples with global adoption. IBM is creating a culture of innovation by openly celebrating innovation opportunities at every level of the organization, especially at the individual contributor levels. It is everyone's responsibility to find innovation opportunities.

10. Cultivate a culture that values speed and ownership through collaboration

IBM embraces an ecosystem of technology providers, working directly with the best and brightest startups and established development organizations, to accelerate the delivery of innovative solutions.

What we're doing is in the business that I represent, the systems business, because we're in everything from chip design all the way through to software that manages content on websites.

We're teaming up with other technology companies to share technologies like our power tip technology. We have created an open power foundation, we are working with Google and Facebook and others to share the intellectual property on our chip design and now we have over 135 other entities sharing the intellectual property of our power chip design together.

We're seeing firms in China building servers based on our technology, working with other companies in open standards. It is an exciting time to be in marketing to learn from different places and different people and create change and do things differently.

To learn more about large scale marketing, the right marketing performance metrics, and how to boost marketing innovation, you can watch the full interview with Doug Brown here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk -- connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.