CMO 2.0 Conversation with Beth Comstock, CMO at GE

Written by on March 6, 2009 – 1:33 pm -

Beth ComstockToday’s CMO 2.0 Conversation with GE’s CMO Beth Comstock was packed with interesting insights. On a personal note it was certainly neat to get a one hour personal marketing tutorial from the CMO of one the largest companies in the world. By working in a real marketer’s laboratory, Beth must be one of the luckiest marketers around.

We touched on three main topics: the role of a corporate marketing group in a large diversified company with strong operating companies, how to foster innovation at GE, and general changes in marketing.

As a central corporate marketing group, Beth’s team is responsible for sales growth, innovation, and the GE brand platform. Even though the company has very diverse operating companies, her team has also been able to find opportunities for developing a customer platform (i.e., cross-sell accross business units), as well as product platforms (i.e., ecoimagination, the GE green platform, and a cross-operating-business battery project).

On the innovation side of things we touched on the importance of having a robust pipeline of innovations and on the need to have the right resources deployed across the right portfolio of innovations. We also discussed the need to kill ideas faster and the opportunity to create an innovation marketplace for ideas that may not be a good fit for the company. Beth described GE’s robust innovation process, and how they have both a formal process that very much resembles an in-house venture process as well as an online imagination network that relies much more on the wisdom of the crowd – in this case their employees. Other innovation related topics we covered include:

  • how they use outside coaches and customer discovery sessions to bring outside insights into their innovation process
  • the importance of including detractors in the innovation process
  • how innovation is not just about technology innovation, but also about commercial innovations – and how they are constantly looking for new ideas around product, space, and business model
  • the cultural changes required for fast-paced innovations and the creative tensions between being a process-driven organization and the inherent messiness and chaotic nature of innovation
  • how in some cases you need to step away from traditional metrics to measure progress and success of ideas that are being incubated

We also talked about the changes afoot in marketing and how the new marketing challenge is in fact a knowledge management challenge – knowing enough about your customers so you can feed them data that will make them smarter.

On the need for new marketing skills Beth listed what she is looking for in marketers – people with new world skills, people who can simplify things and engage in customer communities, and people who can curate an experience for the customer. She also described how they set up a team of “rogue marketers” within the company, whose job it is to come up with rogue marketing techniques. It would be really interesting if at some point they would publish their findings in rogue marketing innovations.

You can listen to the podcast below, in the near future we will also post the transcript from the interview.


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