Little Big Blue, Come Blow Your Horn

Eisenhower led the Allies to victory in World War II, so people thought he could be a great president. Dana Carvey was a great SNL cast member, so people thought he could have a big comedy career. Michael Jordan, history's greatest basketball player, could not hit a baseball and struck out in the minor leagues.

Those examples came to mind when IBM's PR agency wanted to connect me with John Kennedy, vice president of marketing, Global Business Services, to discuss the company's presence in marketing tech. Could the world’s definitive enterprise software company really compete with the more nimble digital natives operating in the space?

This is not the kind of conversation I like to have, as a rule, because they tend to turn into ads for the vendor. What intrigued me about Kennedy, however, was his philosophy -- in line with what I've been propounding for years -- of replacing mass marketing with the large-scale aggregation of individual relationships.

Well -- biz dev being what it is -- the conversation turned into an ad anyway. But if you can read between the self-promotion, there are valuable lessons within -- not the least being that when Big Blue starts thinking about individuals, for the purveyors of ever-declining mass, that's a big red flag.



BG: Books have been written about destruction of the old marketing model built on mass reach, thanks to fragmentation, ad avoidance and other effects of digital revolution. Books have also been written about the "Relationship Era," when in the absence of mass-reach marketers must somehow cultivate individual relationships at scale. But "individual at scale" -- that sounds like a paradox. Is it?

JK: Only in the sense that it's been difficult to achieve with the kinds of technologies available to us in the past. But we're entering a new era of computing creating new possibilities of harnessing data, analytics and content that can support the kind of personalization we're describing. New tools are providing marketers with far more power to deliver personalized experiences, to cultivate the kind of relationships you're referencing. Meanwhile, customers’ expectations for personalization are growing all the time, which is then driving greater innovation and investment in this space. 

BG: What does IBM bring to the table?

JK: IBM now has one of the most comprehensive portfolios of marketing technology in the industry -- all built around Big Data, analytics, mobile, social and cloud computing. We have completed hundreds of marketing-technology engagements in recent years. IBMInteractive, our digital agency, was just rated one of the top 5 digital agencies in the world by Ad Age. IBM continues to invest in marketing technology (in recent years, IBM has spent more than $3B on commerce technology acquisitions, $14B+ on analytics technology acquisitions, plus a five-year, $100M investment in analytics R&D).

Marketing acquisitions include Unica, Coremetrics, Tealeaf Technology, Sterling Commerce, Demand Tec, Emptoris and many others.  IBM also has marketing and industry expertise: thousands of marketing analytics consultants, more than 400 Big Data scientists, more than 700 patents in commerce and analytics, and thousands of marketing technology customers.  IBM regularly produces comprehensive business research to identify trends and insights. This included the massive 2011 study of 1,700 CMOs that is being updated this fall, plus annual studies of the state of marketing and regular retail benchmarks.

BG: There are obvious privacy obstacles attendant to keeping track of individuals. How do you anonymize marketing while simultaneously personalizing it? 
JK: Marketers need to protect the data entrusted to their company and consistently update (and proactively communicate) their privacy policies to address any emerging issues. They should also build privacy protections into both technology and business processes from the ground up, instead of trying to add protection after the fact. Marketers must return value in customer knowledge back to the customer -- to sustain a sense of trust that any personal data is being used in a way to service and enhance the relationship. 

BG:  Can you describe some of the software IBM sells?

JK: IBM has a broad portfolio of software for marketers. It's broad because marketing is no longer just driving marketing activities. CMOs are influencing how products are designed, sold, manufactured and distributed. They're meeting customer demands, orchestrating supply chains, managing availability of products and services, and personalizing customer experiences across channels so they can create customers for life. That involves product development, supply chain logistics, and virtually every strategic part of an organization.

[Here he lists all 17 marketing-tech product categories he sells. But I need you awake.].

BG: People aren't listening to brands. They are listening to one another talk about brands. Yet as Facebook and others have discovered, the vast power of social is often inaccessible, because people do not want their social lives corrupted by advertising or anything else that smacks of marketing. 

JK: True -- and that's why marketers just do a better job listening to what is happening in the social sphere vs. showing up uninvited to these kinds of interactions. And then combine what they are learning through these external channels, and combine that with what is known internally in way to create a deeper understanding of their customers. Then they can market in a way that does not feel like marketing -- often what is called "marketing as a service," where the marketing does not feel like marketing at all.

BG:  You’ve mentioned the hitherto unvoiced power of a company's own employees. Historically, management wanted those voices muted. What has changed and how can it be turned into a benefit?

JK: The fundamental change here is in the total transparency of the world today. Customers can see behind the firewall now and as a result, a brand can't be built around what a company promotes it to be. The world can see behind messaging and promotion into how a company (or the company behind a product) treats its employees, participates in a community, or which companies it partners with.  

So how a company operates -- its culture -- is now a major factor in the trust customers place in companies. When companies build a powerful culture that is in line with the brand promise, then employees can become a major asset through social channels to create brand power. This is something we take seriously at IBM, dating back to 2005 when we began encouraging employees to be active in social media and we issued our first social media guidelines. To this day, IBM remains one of the largest social businesses in the world.  

1 comment about "Little Big Blue, Come Blow Your Horn".
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  1. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, September 16, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.

    You seem to be asking the question: how do brands aggregate and scale individual relationships ... (where individuals are both content creators and a distribution channels to one another), which is where marketing increasingly happens.
    Whereas IBM seems to say, we help solve the problem of scaling the conversation between *brands* and individuals at a highly personalized level using big data.
    Feels like two different conversations.

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