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For more than a century, IBM has enjoyed a prominent position in the pantheon of successful and enduring businesses. Buffeted by what have been some fierce winds of change over the years, it has nevertheless stayed strong through its remarkable ability to reinvent itself.
A profound shift in marketing culture
ITSMA’s case study charts how IBM is yet again responding to fundamental competitive upheavals by embracing a marketing culture characterized by three core principles: becoming buyer-centric, data-driven, and outcomes-focused.
The New Work of Marketing initiative, begun in 2015, is transforming the way IBM’s 5,000 marketers around the world work. Success is now based on a deep understanding of the buyers’ role, their challenges, and their actual buying behavior. Displaying a comprehensive knowledge of products and services, and the ability to explain features and benefits, is no longer good enough for IBM marketers to succeed.
1. Buyer-centric: getting into the buyer’s head
IBM ultimately aspires to business-to-individual marketing. It has taken a big step along that road by developing a sophisticated buyer profile library based on cohorts.
Cohorts are groups of buyers assembled from profiles while recognizing that not everyone in the same role behaves the same on the buyer journey. For example, some CIOs have worked with IBM for years. Others are new to the company. So their behaviors differ.
Marketers increasingly act more as educators, helping buyers achieve their business goals through meaningful content and thought leadership. They call this taking buyers along a ‘path to proficiency’ rather than acting on the more traditional path to purchase.
As Teresa Cook, IBM’s vice president, worldwide global technology services product marketing, explains, “Of course, ultimately we want to sell more, but as you shift a mindset to a path to proficiency, you provide far more value to buyers as they engage with you.”
2. Data-driven: replacing gut feel with insight
Over the years, IBM’s marketers have certainly not been short of data. Now the emphasis is on value rather than volume alone. They have a raft of sophisticated marketing tools to give them the ability to execute more effective and agile marketing campaigns through an iterative process of launch, test, measure, and refine.
Using the data intelligently means that even small changes in the marketing plan can have a huge impact on campaign performance.
3. Outcomes-focused: building the right content
Every piece of marketing content and activity has to have a measurable impact, whether through engaging buyers, improving their proficiency, providing a high-quality experience or increasing knowledge.
The hard part: driving change
No one suggested that cultural change on this scale would be easy. IBM’s approach was to devise a 26-step marketing operating model, sub-divided into four deliverables to make it more manageable.
IBM’s 26-Step Marketing Operating Model
Source: IBM, 2017
The best strategy in the world won’t work without getting the people involved on board. IBM has formed cross-functional teams to break down silos, strengthen collaboration, and accelerate time to market with new marketing initiatives.
These Diamond Teams comprise a product or portfolio manager, a content marketer, a campaign expert, and a team leader. They break up and re-form based on circumstances while, critically, they are self-directed. This sense of empowerment motivates them to optimize and refine marketing plans whenever the feedback demands it.
Another important factor has been the reversal of the policy that allowed marketers the flexibility to work at home. The company realized that working face-to-face can make all the difference to faster decision-making and collaborative innovation.
Embarking on the Big Bang approach
The company could have implemented this enormous change program gradually. It didn’t. Moving quickly and decisively, IBM conducted 32 identical three-day summits in 10 countries with over 5,000 participants.
The summits were characterized by a lack of hierarchy, interactive exercise and, importantly, a sense of fun to build trust and respect among team members. The results were impressive: 90% of marketers felt ready to activate the New Work of Marketing, over three-quarters felt confident using content mapping to progress the buyer relationship, and another 61% were ready to optimize campaigns through testing.
Has it worked?
Definitely. In the two years since inception, IBM can already chart the changes in terms of:
- Improved agility.
- The cultural shift from enablement to activation and a willingness to ‘fail fast.’
- Revenue growth year-on-year.
For the complete ITSMA Case Study, see IBM and the New Work of Marketing. This document is available at no charge to ITSMA members (password required) and for sale to everyone else.