Online All Stars 2010: Beth Comstock

ComstockCMO, GE

Just before 8 a.m. on a recent Friday, Beth Comstock tweeted that "after a crazy week," the song "Take a Vacation" from the Young Veins was on her mind. Not surprisingly, the high-energy CMO maintains a dizzying pace as she oversees two massive business initiatives, not to mention all marketing at General Electric.

In that role, she spearheaded switching GE's tagline from the iconic "We Bring Good Things to Life" to the current "Imagination at Work." That's not to say she doesn't have a keen appreciation for the company's heritage. Soon after her Twitter post, the avid social-media "columnist" took to her Facebook wall to display a 1926 ad about GE's production power that was soon to hang on her office wall.

In the fall of 2008, she linked past and present with the launch of "GE Reports," a blog where staffers provide updates on everything from the 10-year-old GE India Technology Center to receiving a grant to study the DNA of microorganisms. It's sort of a company news bureau, which Comstock noted GE had in the 1960s.

"In some ways, we've gone back to the future," she says.

"GE Reports" grew out of the economic downturn as the company with its GE Capital division looked for a way to foster public dialogue. "We just needed to establish a way to give context from our point of view," says Comstock.

The hefty blog has a sister YouTube channel. Many of the dozens of videos focus on healthymagination and ecomagination, both Comstock-led programs seeking to grow revenues in the healthcare and clean energy fields, respectively.

Both employ multiple digital gambits, with community-building at heart. "We have the ability to have interactions with customers that we never had," Comstock says.

Healthymagination is a colossal $6 billion effort, but recently has had success with "Morsel." That's an app that delivers a short motivating health goal each day. After thousands of downloads, Morsel 2.0 offers a reward system with an element of online gaming. GE has also introduced a pregnancy app for expectant mothers and Comstock said more are coming.

"She's got such an elastic, adaptable mind and is so articulate about concepts," says Michael Lebowitz, head of Big Spaceship, the agency that developed Morsel. "She gives a sense of constantly learning, which is probably the most important characteristic in a marketer in this day and age."

Comstock has introduced an annual internal "digital summit," where GE and outside thought leaders offer insights about best practices. "We love that she has such an appetite in digital innovation, where we have a lot of resources and help develop forward-thinking plans to have GE break through the clutter of traditional advertising," says Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD.

GE has been using Meetup to hold events about the "Challenge," where executives such as CEO Jeff Immelt answer questions and engage with budding entrepreneurs. Comstock hosted one in Washington, where she was ready to answer questions - ---and said she had some herself. "It's a good way for us to find out how things are being perceived," she says.

Asked about challenges and opportunities over the next five years, Comstock said "for communicators, there's always going to be a place for a story." Beyond that, like most, she's unsure. "We're learning in real time."

Which calls to mind the title of another Young Veins song: "Change."

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