Global Marketing Strategies & Tips With Ex-IBM CMO

An exclusive interview with Greg Ellevsen: International Marketing Consultant, publisher of The Brandthropologist website, and recent VP of Marketing and Communications for IBM Middle East and Africa.
1. What is the difference between integrated marketing communications and key account marketing?
Greg: Key account marketing is a specific approach which enables us to craft a highly-customized marketing strategy that will grow our brand, relationships, and sales within a single, strategically important client account.  

Each key account marketing strategy is unique to the individual account.
The process includes:

  1. Deeply researching the client’s specific business needs, challenges, operating environment, competitive pressures, key decision-makers, influencers, etc. The research techniques and sources that we leverage include social media listening, Net Promoter Score verbatims, insights from our key account sales team, industry analyst reports, and traditional media searches. We also apply insights we’ve learned from modelling common large account behavior across similar large accounts.  
  2. Leveraging this deep understanding to craft a unique targeted set of campaign tactics and experiences that build engagement with the client, typically around how our offerings and services can solve their individual business challenges.

So, it’s a tightly focused approach for use with high-value clients, leading to bespoke strategies.
Integrated marketing communications is a broader concept, typically used to address larger marketing segments. It’s the science (and art!) of orchestrating all of the specialized techniques of marketing communications: from advertising, social media, influencers marketing, direct marketing, events, product trials, media relations, analyst and influencer engagement, etc – into a 360-degree campaign that surrounds a segment with complementary messaging and experiences.  

In that respect, I suppose it’s similar in concept to what we now call “omnichannel”.

While we used to configure our integrated marketing communications campaigns with a specific customer journey mapped out, it’s now more about providing opportunities for individual customers to easily find their own path forward, regardless of where they are in their individual purchase journey
2. What are your best tips for developing a global marketing campaign?
Greg: That’s a huge question… might require more of a thesis than an interview 😉 But here are some key areas I’d suggest you initially focus on.

First, understand that compromise is inherent to the very idea of a global campaign. Local campaigns – optimized to take account of local market conditions and cultural differences – will always be better than a “one size fits all” strategy across multiple markets.   

Unfortunately, multiple individual campaigns are prohibitively expensive to develop and execute.  Campaigns which span borders are inherently more cost-efficient in development and production. Done right, they can also be quite cost-effective

In my experience, the “sweet spot” is a platform which works “great” in the most important markets, is “workable” in others, conveys a consistent core brand promise, and retains many common elements so as to exploit global production efficiencies.

The concept of a “platform” is key. A platform is a common campaign “approach” which can be applied across different marketing and communication techniques. That approach will typically prescribe the core value proposition, creative idea, perhaps a tagline/slogan, and probably a set of visual identity guidelines (eg. fonts, colors, layouts) that are to be used across all tactical executions of the campaign. In this way, all the elements of the campaign will clearly be from the same family, even though the specific executions/messages will vary across the executions.
The best global campaigns aren’t so rigid or prescriptive that there is zero scope for local market customization. In my experience, enhancing the campaign’s relevance and appeal to local customers can significantly increase a global platform’s local effectiveness as measured by the usual metrics of response rates, engagement rates, leads, conversion, etc.

Customization might include the use of local idiom, modifying the ethnic mix of the featured talent, using local case studies instead of international ones, etc.  

While local customization is generally productive, you do need to guard against “not invented here” syndrome. Marketers love to create their own campaigns. To ensure responsible customization of global campaigns, I set limits on local production budgets, I check that every proposed customization remains true to the core brand promise and the central campaign idea, and I ask local marketers to explain why they believe each customization is necessary.  

That not only helps filter out wasteful and unproductive customization, it also helps me learn interesting cultural and market dynamics for leverage in future campaign development.

A few other tips, briefly:

Get input from participating countries and segments early on in the process. Before you have a preconceived idea, seek insights on local customers’ unique needs, buying triggers and purchase behaviors, and any other unique market circumstances. Look for commonalities of customer need which you can use as the foundation for your campaign platform.

Put people with genuine global experience in your development team. Look for individuals who have worked in multiple countries – not those who have merely been  responsible for multiple countries from the comfort of their home country desk. But avoid creating a United Nations of individuals who have only marketed in one country. They will often see their role as merely “representing their country” instead of helping craft an effective multi-country campaign.

Finally, it’s worth pre-testing your draft campaign with sample audiences in key markets. While we’d all rather spend all of our budgets on media and execution, $50K invested upfront on research which optimizes a $5M campaign is often money well spent.
3. Which enterprise tools do you use for global brand monitoring?
Greg: I’ve been fortunate to have at my fingertips a proprietary tool which analyses multiple data streams – social media sentiment, digital share of voice, Net Promoter Score, influencer blogs, traditional media monitoring, marketshare, campaign responses rates etc – to display key brand metrics on a simple dashboard. IBM has been developing and piloting the tool internally, and is working with some clients on versions customised for their use.

Beyond the top level brand health index, the tool enabled me as CMO to dig down into detailed brand metrics by topic, country, issue and competitor. Even better, I could see which key themes and topics my target audiences were discussing, and how they were impacting my brand.

Because the tool utilizes real-time data, it not only tracks brand health trends over time, it also provides early warnings on any brand “spot fires” which may be erupting in social media.

The next exciting phase of brand health research will be the use of AI agents to “ingest” all the available data, and create new models around the key drivers of brand health. They’ll help us focus our marketing efforts and investments for maximum brand impact. This year will be a breakthrough year for martech uses of AI, with many large enterprises adopting or trialling it. I’m really excited about the opportunities for AI to streamline campaign development, help us manage our assets, and help us optimize campaigns.
We’ve certainly come a long way from the expensive, slow primary research interviews that were once our only option!

4. What’s the biggest driver of change in B2B marketing over the years?

Greg: Overall, it’s that B2B customers are increasingly behaving like B2C customers, and are being influenced in their purchase decisions by their B2C experiences.

B2B purchasing was once slow, process-driven, centrally managed by a procurement department, bureaucratic and painstakingly fact-based. Now it’s much more decentralized, with line-of-business (LOB) leaders enjoying much greater say in the purchasing decisions for their department.

LOB leaders often translate their familiarity and preference for consumer products into their business purchasing. That is, they will prefer the industrial version of a product they initially became familiar with as a consumer. Some are also attracted to experimenting with the latest, much-hyped next-gen consumer brand, and less inclined to stick with their company’s “same-old, tried-and-true” B2B suppliers.

That’s why I’ve long advocated for B2B companies to invest more in modernizing their brand, and create experiences which appeal to their B2B customers as consumers.
5. And while B2B learns from B2C, what can B2C marketers learn from B2B?

Greg: Successful B2B marketers are adept at gaining the maximum leverage from often very limited marketing budgets. They take the time to really study their target customers – pain points, buying behaviors, purchase triggers. They gain additional insight from talking to sellers, channels and the customers themselves.

B2B markets need to target, optimize and cull their marketing tactics in the ruthless pursuit of ROI. They ensure their marketing efforts support – and are supported by – the rest of the company, especially their sales colleagues force and channel partners.

In a more cashed-up B2C marketing environment, it’s easier to invest broad brush across a wide variety of media, channels and techniques. But with so much going on concurrently, there can be less time and pressure to really focus, refine and optimize, tactic by tactic.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity for B2C marketers to adopt some of the more targeted marketing and optimization techniques that are the bread and butter of B2B marketing, to multiply the performance of their B2C campaigns.
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