3 marketing leaders share their best advice

At last month’s Connections conference, Salesforce executive VP and CMO Lynn Vojvodich was joined by a trio of the biggest fish in the marketing pond: GE SVP and CMO Beth Comstock, Twitter CCO Gabriel Stricker and LinkedIn VP of marketing Nick Besbeas. The approximately 40-minute session is worth a watch for marketers. Here were some of the highlights as the trio discussed customer journeys and the future of marketing.

Joining the customer journey

Despite representing very different companies (GM compared to Twitter/LinkedIn, especially), the speakers agreed on the critical importance of focusing on the customer journey. How can you deliver better work for your clients? How can you add value to your product offering?

“How do you deliver better outcomes for customers? …You have to wrap yourself around the way your customer’s company operates,” GE’s Comstock said. “You have to understand the journey from the CFO’s office, the CEO’s office, the CMO – whether it’s a chief marketing or a chief medical officer, the entire C-suite.”

“I think for the longest time what you saw in the world of marketing is this conflation of real-time meaning short-term,” said Twitter’s Stricker. “The beauty of the journey is that so much of what we’re seeing is this series of incrementally compounding short-term interactions – real-time interactions – with people that build out this long-term, journey-filled relationship. I think the most effective marketers are able to see the fruits of that over time.”

As Comstock pointed out, your customers and clients will do their homework on you; much of the time, this homework is done before you are even in contact with them. The responsibility, then, is for your business to do its homework, too, and understand the specifics of your customers’ situations.

Customer-centric collaboration

Customers increasingly expect to have collaborative relationships rather than old-fashioned transactional relationships with brands and companies. Comstock notes that GM is constantly looking for new collaborative ways to amplify the customer’s voice. As consumers make increasingly thoughtful and well-researched purchasing decisions, the depth (or potential depth) of their relationship with a brand will become increasingly important.

“The dynamic in communities today has really changed – from companies trying to manage the conversation to participating [in them],” said LinkedIn’s Besbeas.

Driving marketing innovation

Whether you’re working for a global giant defending your market share or a bootstrapped startup trying to carve a niche for itself, the path forward requires innovation – and innovation shouldn’t be owned by any single branch of the company. At GE, for example, Comstock says that typically the R&D and engineering teams would have been counted on to provide the innovation, while the marketing team, ostensibly, would simply figure out how to marry a message to the innovation. Now, though, there’s a clear directive for the marketing team to be innovators, too.

“We’ve said marketers have to be the force for the company that knows where the world is going,” she said.

Stricker says the era of isolated innovation is over – or at least should be over. “There has to be – and there is, in the best of companies – a fairly competitive culture of innovation where, yeah, you have the marketing team that is taking pride in trying to come up with the most innovative solution to whatever they’re doing, just as it’s the case that you want to have a finance team and an accounting team and a legal team and so on who are challenged by this culture of innovation, want to compete in that, and exhibit whatever the next trailblazing thing is in their space,” he said.

Marketer as ultimate collaborator

When asked for a single piece of advice for aspiring marketing leaders, the speakers stressed the importance of collaboration. Simply by focusing on listening, Stricker said, marketing can position itself as the crucial bridge between company and customer.

“Someone needs to be the integrator in the company – and I think it’s marketing,” said Comstock. “You have to bring together the product, the sales, the operations… Someone needs to take the company by the hand and force them on the customer journey. And if not marketing, who? And I would say: don’t wait to be asked. It’s your responsibility; grab the authority.”

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.