GE: Winning with Disruption and Return on Attention

November 27, 2017 Steve Acuna

GE comes up with good ideas to provide return on attention in their B2B marketing.

Just in case you didn’t know, there’s still only 24 hours in a day. And the constant demands on our time and work/life balance are nothing new. Only now, there are more options, more channels, and more content vying for our attention during those 24 hours.

That’s why there’s real value in earning a customer's attention.

We view the success of our content by Return on Attention (ROA)—we look to see whether or not the content actually provided some value for those that spent some of their precious time with it. We also ask whether getting their attention with our content results in a better or faster buyer.

As marketing strategist John Hagel states: “Anything or anyone who can help us increase our ROA will likely get more of our attention over time, especially if they can further increase our ROA over a broader scope of activities. A powerful increasing returns dynamic can be unleashed if the game is played right.”

Hagel points to three key components in attaining ROA:

  1. Achieve more of what is valuable and meaningful (to me) for each unit of time spent
  2. Make the time spent as engaging and enjoyable as possible
  3. Reduce the amount of time spent wherever possible, unless it contributes significantly to value received

So, in order to break through the noise, the pressure is now on companies to strategize how to hold onto that precious multi-faceted gem of time and attention. This is why we've taken notice of the work being done at General Electric (GE), who are focusing on ROA by rethinking their old school marketing methods to re-energize and take on the competition. 

A Streamlined, Team Approach to Innovation

GE, a 124-year-old brand, is managing to stay relevant and make locomotives, jet engines, appliances and wind turbines both interesting and accessible to its customers, all the while surviving the continuous decline in retail space.

Aligning with our own strategy of bringing the human back to marketing, GE has put their own attention on providing customers better service with their products—and in their marketing as well. Fostering a nimble start-up mentality aimed at giving the industrial giant an edge, Linda Boff, CMO of the global brand, has put experimentation at the heart of their business. They are effectively adjusting their marketing program to match the way people experience media today and offering clear ROA.

To initiate change, Boff divided her marketing team of roughly 25 people into three labs: disruption, creative, and performance—each with its own distinct goal. The disruption lab focuses on future technology and platforms; while the creative lab is responsible for media, content, and experience; while the performance lab’s aim is to measure and drive results. This agile structure and open environment promotes collaboration and innovation both within and across their silos.

“It’s energizing and democratic, and then we try really hard as a company to embrace a spirit of agility," she says. "We refer to ourselves as a 124-year-old startup.”

Bringing ROA to Life

Innovating within the marketing organization has enabled GE to focus on providing real value for the customer in terms of ROA. 

“The winning formula at GE is a combination of idea-led creative, a critical storytelling element, being unexpected and unapologetically ourselves,” says Boff. “When we talk about our storytelling, we think what’s the value exchange? Someone has given up 20 seconds or 20 minutes of their time, but what are they getting in return? That’s something as marketers we need to think about. Once upon a time we all said: ‘content is king.’ Then we said: ‘distribution is king.’ Really it’s about the user and how we are serving him or her.”

For example, to serve its customers and provide more ROA, GE is capitalizing on what they’ve specialized in for over a century: innovation and technology. They’ve taken their knowledge and applied it to progressive and personalized marketing strategies in the channels customers are engaging—delivering on Hagel's three components of ROA.

  1.  Achieve more of what is valuable and meaningful for each unit of time spent. GE marketers are looking into the potential of chatbots and artificial intelligence, as well as voice automation following the release of Amazon Echo and Google Home. As we've discussed here and here, chatbots and AI offer the opportunity for personalized, valuable customer experiences in the ever-increasingly time-crunched digital age.
  1.  Make the time spent as engaging and enjoyable as possible. The company was an early adopter of Facebook Live and is now running a series called Drone Week, in which they use their own custom-made drones to tell GE stories, showcase innovative uses of their products and live stream activity at a GE factories. By offering a storyline and personal connection for their audience within their buyer’s journey, the company presents an alternate approach to brand awareness rather than the hard sell. That’s in addition to exploring continually growing trends like podcasts and ultimately virtual reality.

  1. Reduce the amount of time spent. Boff’s team has also found quick, effective uses of social media to engage customers, including Instagram and Snapchat. More than just posting a one-dimensional photo or sharing an article, they have included filming stories at its Fort Worth locomotive facility and using Snap Spectacles to create a story from its Minds + Machines thought leadership event in San Francisco.

GE features a fan and an engine in a visually appealing Instagram post.

“Whatever the platform, every marketing decision is aimed at putting a different lens on GE’s work” says Boff. “We try to find ways to bring it to life, to tell that story in fresh, unexpected, human and relatable ways that don’t diminish the fact that we’re working on things like bringing electricity to a billion people around the world.”

Are You Living Up to GE's Example?

We took notice of GE's strategy because it is not just paying lip service to value—the company has reorganized their marketing to provide it. The brand is focusing on the customer to deliver informative and enjoyable content that rewards for engagement, providing clear return on attention. And it's paying off for the brand. Under Boff's leadership, GE’s approach to media and content has driven immense results, including being recognized as AdWeek’s hottest digital marketer and winning a coveted Cannes Grand Prix Award in 2016.

Check out our approach to more human marketing to see how your brand can drive ROA for your own customers.

About the Author

Steve Acuna

Steve Acuna, Director of Segment Marketing, specializes in go-to-market strategy and has been instrumental in developing Harte Hanks’ Game Board approach to market segmentation. He and his team are responsible for determining Harte Hanks target segments and developing and executing on strategic plans to reach these segments. Prior to Harte Hanks, Steve has been integral to developing market strategy at CenturyLink and Cypress Communications.

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