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 October 2013 | Vol. 6 Issue 4

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The Innovator's Guide to the Digital Revolution in
B2B Marketing: An Interview With Emerson's
CMO Kathy Button Bell

Kathy Button Bell
Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer

Interviewed by Frank Smith

As vice president and chief marketing officer at Emerson Electric Co., Kathy Button Bell knows what it takes to be a true marketing innovator. She is also the 2013-2014 chairwoman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), and delivered the keynote address at the 14th Annual MARKETING WORLD 2013: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange. We caught up with the dynamic Ms. Bell for a conversation on the digital revolution's impact on B2B marketing as well as how to create a culture of innovation inside your organization.

Frost & Sullivan: You've discussed how major brands need to be more nimble -- what are some strategies for that, especially for B2B brands, which aren't as historically nimble as in B2C?

Kathy Button Bell: I don't think brands or companies are nimble -- people are. So I would say that the most important thing is to hire talent that, as I like to call them, are agile learners, which is a Korn/Ferry turn of phrase, who are extremely flexible, quick learners, undefensive, willing to take on unknown challenges. You're seeing that as the only option you have, especially in the B2B/industrial marketing world.

The wealth of people are component marketing people that grew up on the traditional four Ps [ed. note: price, product, promotion, and place] approach -- a lot of them are engineers, and it is very tough for them to face this incredibly, fast-moving, daily-changing environment we're in.

Frost & Sullivan: Is it newer employees that can provide this? Younger people, millennials?

Bell: You need talent. New talent doesn't necessarily mean young talent. It could be new to an organization. You could get them out of consumer marketing. I feel that a lot of people think that it's a talent capability not necessarily a skill. You have to be really open minded. If you look at the numbers in the report [conducted by Forrester Research Inc. and the Business Marketing Association (BMA), working with Erickson Research] 85 percent of marketers are doing things that aren't traditional marketing, so you're having to learn things you didn't already know how to do before.

Frost & Sullivan: How do technology and marketing converge? It can't all be exclusive to social media.

Bell: The transformation that's going on isn't social media. The transformation is digital. For anybody who grew up thinking a trade ad was a picture with a product in it and a press release is going to do it is really going to get left behind.

Frost & Sullivan: With that in mind, what are those digital skills marketers need?

Bell: Your personal skillset of personality and lack of defensiveness is probably the most important thing so you can face the barrage of technical options you have: Coping with your IT department; coping with your human resources department, who you have to work with all the time now. The blend of internal and external environments is enormous, too. Where you've had empowered customers all along, now you have empowered employees. So your employees are in a very different place than they used to be. Between LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and some of the environments out there, you have complete transparency into what people make, what their benefits are, what it's like to work at other companies, what jobs are available. So if you're sitting in marketing, you need to be a cultural leader, a change agent, a technology expert, and a communications expert all at the same time that you have to be good at pricing value and market research. The other ones are more sweeping, leadership skills that are different. With that, you need some of these other skills or you need to hire people in your group or outside the company that can do the really specific things you need.

Frost & Sullivan: With that transparency being so important -- how can you retain talented people? How do you inspire innovation?

Bell: I think you want to inspire your culture and that can mean lots of different things. It can mean making your organization a more inviting place to work, more diverse. Fast-paced isn't a bad thing in a business environment, it's actually good. People love to be challenged; they get bored if they're not. And, staying current. You have to stay aware of what's going on. As a company you have to be transparent. Employees will find the transparency anyway. I think authenticity and honesty for companies is really important. People want to build a career and not just have a job, so you want them to be involved in longer-term, impactful, exciting things.

Frost & Sullivan: Could that be blending a startup mindset with a larger organizational structure?

Bell: I think that's a dangerous path to go down. I think you mix up two different ideas. I don't think we've bred an entire generation of entrepreneurs -- lots of people aren't made out of that cloth. I think you need an engaging culture, and some people are more engaged with a bigger one, which is not as entrepreneurial by nature. Entrepreneurial cultures are much riskier for people to work for, so some people actually like the stability of something larger and the trick is keeping a larger, industrial organization interesting.

Frost & Sullivan: What are some strategies for doing that? Breaking down silos?

Bell: I'm big on breaking down silos. Breaking down silos makes your culture more pleasant to work within, and it means you can get things done faster, more efficiently. It's more fun, it socializes your work, which is what you need, and it creates a really good environment to collaborate. Given how work is different now, you have to create more of an environment that way.

Frost & Sullivan: You've said that the digital revolution could benefit B2B marketers more than B2C —how is that so?

Bell: I do believe that. It's less expensive. If you think about it, one of the things you tend to have in B2B marketing is just an incredible depth in information and education. For the kinds of decisions engineers tend to have to make in these environments, they are information starved, and they're going to go look for a lot of it before they come to a sales person, before they make a decision. They will socialize your information before you have a chance to usually. So you have to make that information really accessible to people. I think, the depth of information you have when making an engineering decision is deeper than you have on toothpaste [laughter].

It's a big opportunity. Whereas, I think B2B companies were hamstrung by television advertising, it was too expensive; by print advertising, it had no depth. The internet and the digital ability to share rich, deep kinds of information -- anywhere from 140 characters to catch someone's interest on Twitter, to YouTube where you can show how-to or why-to, to a 100-page white paper —allows you to offer whatever level of depth a customer or someone with a question needs to know.

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