Next Steps with Digital Marketing: The View from IBM

While engaging with buyers is not just about digital, more and more marketing companies have moved to a digital first approach to enable greater focus and flexibility, as well as fine-tuned measurement of marketing results and impact.

ITSMA’s recent interview with John Gallagher, IBM’s Vice President of Digital Marketing, highlights the latest thinking from IBM on current and emerging priorities, as well as the benefits of “digital first.”

ITSMA: John, as the vice president of digital marketing at IBM, I am betting you have a good answer when people ask you to define digital marketing. What does the job actually include?

John Gallagher: My job is to lead the team that manages all digital marketing demand generation programs and campaigns for the company, including digital activities, events, and partner co-marketing.

My title is digital marketing, but I actually think performance marketing is a deeper and better explanation of what we do. Today, digital is nearly everything, right? It is ubiquitous. We are doing business in the digital age. I happen to be a marketer in the digital age.

“Performance,” on the other hand, suggests seeing how our campaigns are working, determining what we need to do to optimize them, and measuring the results. And don’t forget, most of our campaigns at IBM have both analog and digital activity. For example, we have a lot of human-to-human interaction at events and voice-to-voice via our inside sellers. The performance aspect of my role is optimizing what we do relative to our buyers and the experience they want.

I’m particularly excited about where we are going in terms of our digital marketplace engagement. There’s been a lot of effort to engage with our potential customers across the world in all types of enterprises, business roles, and industries in a new and different way. I’m very excited about how marketing will bring new benefits and deliver value to those individuals.

The Promise of Digital Marketing

ITSMA: What then is the promise of making marketing more digital?

Gallagher: If I can only have one answer, it’s segmentation. The great promise of digital marketing is segmentation that allows marketers to provide more relevant offers and content to individual buyers, truly driven by their behavior. In the distant past, we simply broadcast our messages. We didn’t have this precision and segmentation.

If we are responsible marketers, we are taking buyer signals as they discover content and then reflecting back to them content that is tailored based on their behaviors. I think that’s a huge benefit both to the buyers and the business, but more than that, it is changing the role of marketing. I don’t mean that marketing is just becoming an applied science. It certainly is, but more important, marketing is becoming a service. It truly starts to become an information journey. Over time, the buyer will make choices as to with what and how they interact. Depending on his/her interests, he/she can trade information and thereby get more relevant content or precision of offers. I like that side of the benefit, too.

ITSMA: A lot of marketers today use the term digital first: We want to be a marketing organization that thinks digital first. Do you think that’s the right approach?

Gallagher: I think it’s the right general direction, but let me preface it with a comment. At the end of the day, what we’re all trying to do is connect with buyers. Buyers have their favorite ways of consuming information, examining and assessing content, making decisions, taking actions, and so forth. Obviously, a lot of that today is digital.

The key is to understand the context of where the buyer is in his/her, to use a cliché, buyer’s journey. If his preferred interactions and methods at that point are digital, then you should be digital first. But as I just said, the interactions are often human-to-human. It depends on the person, his role, the topic, and more. So there has to be a balance. It can’t be all one or the other. That said, to us, there is a real benefit to digital first. From a marketing content and design perspective, digital first allows for better reuse and investment leverage.

Keeping Up with Innovation

ITSMA: There are so many companies creating new tools and platforms for marketing. How do you keep up? What are you doing to stay on top of things?

Gallagher: We have a few ways to stay on top of innovation. The first is that we’ve organized our marketing team into precise domain areas such as marketing automation and campaign management and, within them, specialties such as paid search, social email, physical events, digital events, and so forth. With this degree of specialization, my team members become experts at their work and they are inquisitive about what’s going on. They have a thirst for knowledge and to stay current. They form networks and share with their counterparts across the company and externally. Marketers on the team have to have the right attitude—the right spirit to discover, engage, and innovate.

The second approach is more structured. We have a marketing innovation group based in New York. They explore what’s best in the market at any given moment in time. That, of course, is hard to do because everything’s changing so quickly. The best yesterday may not be the best tomorrow. That’s why the group uses an agile approach to address problems and explore opportunities. They convene small squads led by a scrum master over short periods of time, infusing partner as well as IBMer capabilities. The core of the innovation group itself is small—about 10 people. But the project squads themselves are staffed from many parts of the company as needed, whether it be by business unit, geography, or specific marketing disciplines.

This article is written by  Julie Schwartz, ITSMA. She was our speaker at GIIMS 2016. Rob Leavitt is Senior Vice President, ITSMA is going to be speaker at Great Indian IT Marketing Summit & Awards 2017. The article was published with permission.

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