Turning the Impossible Unimpossible

November 8, 2017

By Linda Boff



How does a 125-year-old company keep its brand fresh and relevant year after year? It helps when the roots of the company are grounded in innovation, experimentation, and disruption from its founder, Thomas Edison. Add to that formula dynamic talent, engaging storytelling, and swift exploration into new channels — it's our marketing DNA at GE.

When it comes to talent, my challenge as CMO is ensuring that I create the ideal environment to foster innovation and keep the team motivated to constantly reach beyond what they think is possible. Marketing today requires using all available channels to bring our brand to life in whatever way makes most sense for the person consuming the content on the other end. Our work isn't reliant on one single individual, but the collective talent and collaborative, pioneering spirit of the team.

At GE, we spend $1 billion per year in talent training and development. My job is to assemble the best possible team, provide them with opportunities for growth, and then coach without oversteering or dampening creative thinking that could lead to our next big campaign. In some cases, new talent can serve as amazing reverse mentors, helping to find new paths we didn't know existed. Having said that, with more than 2,000 marketers at GE, I also need to ensure our efforts stay on brand, and that we have enough structure to maximize our efficiency and effectiveness across the globe.

Some of the traits I value most in new talent are digital acumen and passion for working in a fast, test-and-learn environment. We look at experience from a variety of industries and stages, with digital proclivity as an important skill set. Mindset is equally important. Innovation, creativity, imagination, and a strong desire to win fuel our campaigns and position GE as accessible, human, relevant, and playful, regardless of channel or format. These traits allow us to remain nimble and forward-thinking as a marketing team and carry through in how we work with our partners.

To unleash the creativity, you have to provide the right environment and opportunities for development. For instance, every couple of months, we host an emerging technology day to showcase new thinking. It offers the whole team an opportunity to collaborate and get smart on things like blockchain, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. We offer deep dives into supporting tools like decoding. We also invite our partners and major platforms in for collaboration sessions where we learn from each other and plan for the future together.

Key to activating the innovation is creating a runway to test and learn new ideas. Often, we may have our finger on a story we want to tell, but haven't quite figured out the best application — is it a Snap, a six-second video, or a VR reel? In which channel and in what format will it resonate the best with the consumer we'd like to engage?

As we incubate ideas before scaling, we also evaluate local variations for every idea. I have 20 marketers on my team who collaborate with more than 2,000 business marketers around the world, so it's critical that we always have local needs front and center. The flip side works equally well, where we source great ideas for the local teams based on what works best for them in their market. Our mission is to provide best practices and enable cross-geography sharing to empower our full team of marketers across the globe.


Linda Boff is the chief marketing officer at GE. To read her lessons for CMOs, download the ANA CMO Talent Challenge Playbook. The playbook features case studies from more than two dozen CMOs from the ANA Masters Circle who are redefining the rules of what it takes to be a great CMO. Learn more about the ANA Masters Circle.

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