This post was co-authored with Anna Chavis and Jace Moreno, MBA students, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.
At a recent roundtable discussion at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, Beth Comstock, the Chief Marketing Officer of GE, described how GE approaches marketing: “You have to create a platform that invites innovative ideas.” Unfortunately, we teach marketing and many companies approach marketing as if the organization does not exist. As a result, marketing often fails because it sits outside, or is layered on top, of the most important activities in companies. Marketing needs to be down in the trenches and marketing leadership needs to foster a culture of innovation that creates new products, new services, and new customers.
GE has written this approach into its DNA. In particular, GE’s culture ensures that technological innovation (the historical backbone of GE) and commercial innovation (managing with deep consideration of the customer’s needs and wants) are inextricably entwined. We interviewed Beth Comstock during her visit for the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University. From this talk and from other press accounts, we derived four capabilities that constitute GE’s organizational platform for innovation. We discuss these capabilities and offer examples of the new products, services, and customers that have resulted.
Capability 1: Create Marketing Innovation Internally
A big feeder of GE’s marketing innovation is the ECLP—Experienced Commercial Leadership Program—GE’s first externally focused leadership program. ECLP began in 2002 as part of Jeff Immelt’s commitment to grow GE’s commercial pipeline and aims to position GE as the “gold standard in marketing.” The two-year post-MBA program develops a pipeline of future leaders and also teaches the company what good marketing is and how it has the potential to change traditional views of product development. The program is viewed as a mutual learning experience—the graduates bring an external perspective and unique talent to GE and program participants learn from GE’s R&D expertise. As Comstock noted, “Marketing must bring a different viewpoint to tough problems. This involves data analytics that produce customer insights and the ability to address customer needs in a creative manner.” She went on to point out that “The best marketers are the ones who have both the creativity and analytical skills in the right proportion.”
Capability 2: Integrate Collaboratively Within GE
There are two key illustrations of this capability—the Commercial Council and the Imagination Breakthrough Process.