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'We think like a 124-year old start-up', CMO Linda Boff shares some secrets to GE's marketing success

One of the key challenges for B2B marketers today is to bear in mind that "your customers do not log onto a different Internet at night," advised Linda Boff, chief marketing officer at General Electric. “The risk of not being out there is much higher than the risk of not trying because the opportunity passes you by."

Boff was the keynote speaker at the annual ANA/BMA16: Masters of B2B Marketing Conference in Chicago this week and her focus on the importance of reinventing storytelling for business-to-business showed once again how GE is not afraid to try something new. She explained that GE, which is involved in aviation, rails, healthcare, invention and innovation, was challenged with the task of translating its company's DNA. In this particular case, Boff said that it was not only OK but highly important to "geek out" on areas like science and invention, and by following its passion, the GE brand has become the most recognized and iconic marketing success stories in the B2B sector today. "We are constantly reminded that we need to know our company's DNA. When General Electric embarked on the idea of telling our story, we went back to our founder Thomas Edison while also looking at ourselves as the 124-year old startup."

By taking its passion and working on it with the mentality of a start up, the GE team has introduced highly successful campaigns across multiple channels. Boff notes that bringing these campaigns to life requires finding people out there - fellow geeks so to speak - who are making waves on social media, YouTube, or other channels.

"We worked with the group 'I $@)* Love Science,' the late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon whom we found out absolutely loves science, as examples," she said. The company also began its very successful social media campaign called 'What's the matter with Owen?' which features the self-deprecating Owen who tries to explain to his parents, and disinterested friends what he does at GE. The ad campaign resulted in a highly successful recruitment campaign for GE, and the Owen videos successfully reinforced GE's position as a digital industrial company while recruiting young people as industrial Internet developers. “There is a lot of talk about native content, branded advertising and the like and I don't like to speak in those terms. Is it native or is it branded? I don't know but it is just great content."

Translating great content to the GE brand is a concept that had to translate easily, Boff notes. Showing people what a digital industrial company is and illustrating it through good storytelling is an evolving process - and Boff believes that to do so you have to "set the tone right or it will fall on its face." So what is the tonality or approach that works so well for GE?

"We show up on social media the way a person would," Boff said. "We don't want to be considered 'corporate.' We have successfully turned to platforms that are visual. For example, Instagram has shown the industrial beauty of our products, while podcasting and virtual reality has offered us a different approach to storytelling." Boff cited the success of GE's drive to 'shout louder than we spend but notes that as important as it is to have the customer weigh in and grow their audience, "we can't hand over our strategy. A lot of our ideas are developed in house in our creative, disruptive and performance labs. The disruption lab is the cream of the top with Beth Comstock, the first female vice chairman in our company in charge of that."

"When you look at the top of the funnel as fame and the bottom of the funnel as fortune we see our GE story as one that has changed so much and is constantly changing. We imagine things and put them to work," Boff said.

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