Digital Transformation at General Electric with Linda Boff, Chief Marketing Officer

General Electric is 135 years old employs 330,000 employees in 175 countries. GE is undertaking a massive transformation to be a digital industrial company, focusing on the "internet of really big things." In this episode, CMO Linda Boff shares GE's story and explains digital transformation at this American corporate icon.


Jul 08, 2016

General Electric is 135 years old employs 330,000 employees in 175 countries. GE is undertaking a massive transformation to be a digital industrial company, focusing on the "internet of really big things." In this episode, CMO Linda Boff shares GE's story and explains digital transformation at this American corporate icon.

Linda Boff is Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric. Boff was formerly GE's executive director of global brand marketing. Linda is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking marketers in the business. Her extensive background in integrated marketing, digital media, and brand, as well as her reputation for innovation help evolve GE's marketing organization, build their iconic brand and advance GE’s digital and industrial strength.

Boff joined GE in 2003, and is responsible for driving the GE brand through innovative content, digital marketing and first-of-their-kind media partnerships. Her drive to innovate has won the company and Linda many accolades including FastCompany’s Most Creative People and Advertising Women of New York’s Changing the Game awards.

Boff’s experience also includes CMO at NBC’s iVillage as well as key marketing roles at Citigroup, the American Museum of Natural History and several large media and marketing agencies. She is a graduate of Union College.


Michael Krigsman:

Welcome to episode 180 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman and today I have and we have the good fortune and pleasure of speaking with Linda Boff, who is the Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric. And we’re going to talk about digital transformation and the internet of large machines and all kinds of exciting topics. Linda how are you today?

Linda Boff:

I’m great Michael. Thanks so much for having me on. 180s my lucky number, I’m thrilled to be on and really excited to talk to you and your audience so let’s get started.

Michael Krigsman:

Great, well thanks so much. Linda, I know everybody has heard of GE, but tell us a little about the history and tell us about GE in the present.

Linda Boff:

Yes so you’re absolutely right, I mean GEs 124 years old. We sort of like to think of ourselves as the world’s oldest startup if you will. We were founded by somebody who most people know Thomas Edison, who invented and really more famously commercialized the light bulb.

We’re a company that’s in you know 170 countries. We’ve got well over 300,000 employees. We’re in big industries, industries like health and energy, and transportation through locomotives and aviation. And you know I think the interesting thing about GE, particularly as a marketer is not that people don’t know GE. Our awareness is high, particularly in a country like the United States.

It’s we really want people to understand GE and who we are in 2016 and the company we’ve become. And in the last 10/15 years, our Chairman Jeff Immelt, has really transformed the portfolio of the company. And you know the three industries I mentioned, rail, aviation, so that’s transportation, health and energy are the focus of the company. But what I think is really interesting and you and I are going to be talking about this a lot is that GEs been a kind of company that makes things.

Today we’re a company that makes and connects things, and we use the term ‘GE is a digital industrial’. We talk about the industrial internet, the internet of really big things, connecting big iron and big data. So the GE that we want people to know is a company that’s a digital company as well as an industrial company, that’s a big change from the company that we’ve always been.

Michael Krigsman:

So digital transformation, we hear that term a lot and you’ve just eluded to some of the components or the characteristics of digital transformation, meaning connecting with things. And so can you describe digital transformation at GE, what does that mean for you in this huge industrial company.

Linda Boff:

Company, corporation all of those things all the above right, so you know here’s what it means. You know today we’ve got great machines that help to power the world, that help to create renewable energy, that diagnose in hospitals. But the world we’re imagining is a world where those machines talk to each other. And we’re big sets of machines. Big sets of turbines can share information.

So imagine Michael a jet engine that can tweet, that can tell you it’s time to come off engine, that it’s time to be serviced. Imagine what we think of what we call a ‘digital twin’. And a digital twin very simply is if you’re running a wind turbine farm and you literally have a digital imprint of that farm, and therefore you know when the machines are the most productive, when the machines need to be serviced. Think about how much more productive you can be.

So when we think about digital industrial, we think about the industrial internet. We think about a world that’s more productive. We think about a world that’s more efficient. We think about fuel savings, and again in our world GE operates in a world of scale. So you save a mile of fuel for a big railroad it’s worth millions and millions of dollars.

So we get as you can tell really kind of giddy talking about what a connected ecosystems of machines looks like. I mean we think and the industry thinks that the industrial internet will be bigger than the consumer internet, so that’s a lot to get excited about. Some people call in Industry 4.0 right, the next big industrial revolution.

Michael Krigsman:

So this change that you’re describing and connecting these large machines and adding a layer of data and analytics to these large machines, obviously there are major implications for the technology. But from a marketing perspective you’re after all the CMO Linda, from a marketing perspective what does this mean for how you tell the GE story and for marketing at a company like General Electric.

Linda Boff:

I mean so much right, you know I mean I often say so I’m going to kind of take a step back Michael if it’s okay. I often say that when we talk about GE we can show up in a couple of different ways right. We can show up as a company and I sort of did this myself as you first asked me about GE and sort of give you our facts and figures right. You know we’re in this number of countries, we’ve got this number of employees, and we’re in these industries. And that’s all true.

What we try to do as a brand and sort of kind of get into now how we’re talking about the company as a digital industrial, is we try to talk about the brand in ways that are really human, really accessible, can be a bit unexpected. People expect GE to be a certain way. They expect us to be a big company. We are a big company. We’re a company made up of fantastic individuals who are passionate, who really are on a mission to make the world work better.

So when we think about how do we market digital industrial it can be a little bit of a mouthful right, so how do you make that real. So one of the things we did and this goes back to last fall, so I guess we’re coming up on a year or so is that we thought about how do you take this idea of being a digital industrial company and just explain and unpack it a little bit.

And so we challenged our agency, we’ve been with an advertising agency called BBDO for 90 plus years, you know talk about powerful relationships to help us figure out a way to tell the story and we done it in a way that’s pretty simple, which is – I hoe you’re seeing me I’m getting a blue screen.

Michael Krigsman:

No you are, you look great.

Linda Boff:

Okay good, I mean I’m going to just keep talking and hopefully all’s good.

So we created this character, a developer named Owen and we shot a series of films with Owen insitu with him trying to explain to his parents, to his friends, just some fellow developers what does it mean to be a digital industrial and frankly he did this by talking about a new job that he had gotten at GE. And the new job was to be a developer.

And his parents kind of comforted him and his friends sort of made fun of him. And you know it was this very drawl self-deprecating, and frankly almost humble way to be talking about what we’re doing. And we kind of ended the film by saying you know GE, you know a digital company and an industrial company. Funnily enough we didn’t do this as a way to recruit people, but it turned out to be a recruiting powerhouse. You know recruiting up some 800% since we launched these. So you know that’s one example.

I’d say the other thing and again we can take this wherever you want to go is you know we’ve really tried to market in the most digitally innovative way that we can. So as we become a digital industrial company, we’re also trying to behave in marketing the way a digital industrial company would. So what does that really mean?

It means that we try to be first, often and certainly we try to be incredibly innovative on new platforms, and that might be anything from you know creating our own podcasts to using virtual reality, to being Vine or Instagram, or all kinds of new channels like Poncho and Mick-Mac and others. So that’s a little bit of what we try to do on marketing.

Michael Krigsman:

and we have a comment from Jill Rowley, who watching and she’s the queen of social selling and she says she loves Owen. So you’re this enormous company and I find it very interesting that you say you’re trying to be first on these various platforms.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, so look I often say this which is we try so hard Michael to behave the way a person would on social media and not the way a big company would. I don’t think people want to talk to big companies and I know they don’t want to talk to big companies when they’re on Twitter, or Snapchat, or Facebook.

You want to talk to somebody the way you talk to them at you know a cocktail party or something. So we try very hard on social and thank you so much to the person you mentioned, we try so hard to be human, to be conversational, to just sort of act like a human being would. It’s kind of advice I’ve given to other marketers which is why would you show up in a way that’s corporate, or that’s overly scripted you know when you can show your best self and that’s what we try to do.

Michael Krigsman:

And again inside such a large company, how do you develop the cultural aspects, the culture behind it to make it work, because you can’t simple put out a corporate edict, act like a person now, that doesn’t work. How do you do it?

Linda Boff:

Yeah you know it’s a great question. I think in some ways I think you do it by starting to do it right. so you know we kind of decided I don’t know, maybe this was four or five years ago that the first thing we did candidly Michael was we kind of just cleaned up the house right. Because you know, four or five years ago you and I both remember that it was possible to have a lot of different social channels, a lot of Facebook channels that kind of were vestiges of you know past campaigns. So we sort of said, what’s the experience we want people to have, so you know how can we have some consistency.

The second thing we did or I did was I hired the best people I could possibly find. People who understood the way that digital works, the way that social works and that’s critically important if you’re a marketer listening or watching this.

And then the third thing we did was we got on the playing field, you know we didn’t read about Twitter or Vine or Snapchat, we just started doing it, and you now so I’ll give you an anecdote. The day that Twitter announced Vine we decided that day to go up on Vine and Vine was I don’t know hours old Michael, it wasn’t even days old. And the team had a really cleaver idea which was to do a six second science experiment.

For those of you who know Vine I’m sure your listeners and viewers do. And you know we did this six second little experiment with a little petri dish filled with water and food coloring, and we dipped a Q-tip in it and it kind of got spirals out in a pretty color. And people loved it and it exploded and that lead to us doing something called Six Second Science Fair, where we invited people to send us their ideas.

And it’s funny, you know you experiment, you get a little success gives you the courage to experiment the next time. And we kept doing that and I think what we have found is  by telling our story, and by telling our story in different formats, different lengths could be six seconds, could be 60 minutes. Could be six hours sometimes, we found the way we could talk about ourselves. And the more comfortable we got with that the more intrepid we became. Does that makes sense?

Michael Krigsman:

It does make sense. It’s interesting when you talk about humanizing a brand that has to do with an industrial brand and digital with analytics, and data and all of that, it seems like an enormous challenge to simplify it to the point where you can personalize it and you can humanize it.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, so you’re asking a really really good question which we thought about a lot. So you know I think brands need to figure out what they stand for. In our case – and you have to figure out what your DNA is, and you know if a bar of soap can figure out that they stand for real beauty, everybody can figure out what their DNA is right. to me that’s always job one as a marketer; who are you.

The second is how do you want to talk about yourself. And I think for us it became very clear that science and technology, and engineering and invention were topics that were important to us but also important to the world. And we constantly look for you know this intersection – people can see me holding up my little triangle here, and that’s an intersection of culture and science and innovation.

And we look for moments, and it may not be every day, but we look for moments that we can have that conversation. So I’m going to give you a couple of examples. You know we started this god, March 14, which for those of you who are math fans is 3 x 14 is Pi., so Pi Day and we had a lot of fun and we said look if you send us a tweet on Pi Day we’ll respond and for every I don’t know like 25th tweet we sent people an actual pie; blueberry pie strawberry pie etc. so that was a lot of fun.

And we started to kind of make a little bit of science out of this if you will, and we did things to celebrate in the spring, you know a time when everybody’s going on spring break, we created something called Spring Break-it. And we went up to our global research center; one of them. We have them all over the world, but we went to one in Albany and we used everyday objects. Frisbees, beach balls, baseballs and we took the machines that we use to test our materials. And one of the things GE is really good at is material science, maybe the best company in the world ceramic, matric, coding’s, you know all kinds of different material science.

So we took these everyday objects and we used the same machines we use for our regular materials and we tried to break things – Spring-Break-it. And my favorite was we took a baseball and we compressed it, and if ever as a kid torn apart a baseball it’s really quite amazing what’s inside. And it went viral and it ended up on Imgur and Reddit. And so you know we found ways Michael to kind of take culture and science and find that lovely intersection. Can I give you one more example just because it’s such a fun one and it’s one that sort of speaks to something else we try to do in marketing, and that is reach new audiences.

You know GE has been around for 124 years and you know I think the challenge is, how are you relevant every day, and how are you relevant to new audiences? So we thought about okay, how do we take a moment and in this case it was the 45th anniversary of the moon landing. You know Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon a couple of summers ago, two summers ago I think and we took the moon boot and GE was part of the moon boot. Our silicon carbine was in the iconic boot, first step on the moon, first step for man, first step for mankind we all know it and we recreated them as a pair of sneakers; a pair of Kicks. But we did it with our current materials, silicon carbide and literally the materials that we use. And we worked with a media partner called Thrillist, and we created these actual sneakers. We put them on sale of the day of the moon landing, actually not just the day the minute of the moon landing.

We put them on sale for $196.69 – 1969, and the sold out in I don’t know seven minutes or something and they were on sale and they maybe still on EBay for about $4-5,000. So why am I telling you this story and your listeners? I think it’s because you know when you’re a company like GE that makes very big and very important technology, and now technology that’s being digitized, how do you make what we’re doing every day? How do you make it relatable? How do you make it tangible? 

You know a lot of what we do, wonderful as it is you take for granted. You know you take your electricity for granted until it goes out. So doing something as tangible as a sneaker we made ourselves very real. We appeal to a new audience, and in this case sneaker-heads which is quite a large audience I’ve learned. So just a fun example of how we’ve tried to bring the brand to life.

Michael Krigsman:

And what are your reasons for wanting to present yourself almost as a consumer brand given the fact that you’re selling large industrial equipment.

Linda Boff:

Yeah I love this question because I believe that all of us, you, me, the CEOs of the companies that we sell to everybody is a consumer. People don’t log onto a different internet at night because they run Shell or Exxon or CSX right.

So you know today information is so distributive. Once upon a time not all that long ago marketers could reach just about everybody they wanted to three, four, five block, it was pretty easy. I mean god, maybe it would have been fun to be a marketer back then. I actually think it would have been boring, but nonetheless.

Today, how we all absorb content is so distributive. Now I’m not saying that you know, the CEO of one of our airlines is looking at Snapchat every night, but we believe that by taking our content, making it approachable, making it interesting, making it relatable. And then this is the other important part, putting it in the place of where the right audience can find it. That’s the way you market today. And you and I both know that Facebook has what, you know a billion and a half six or so people who are on the platform. Facebook is the single best performance tool out there. It’s a pretty good social media tool, but if you want to reach about just about anybody you can target them on Facebook. you can target them on LinkedIn.

So you know we are looking to create content that tells our story, and then we look at to distribute it in a way that matches of how people are spending their time, and then to layer on top you know, the data, the analytics to be able to sort of super target them. does that make sense?

Michael Krigsman:

Yeah, so you’re very much into segmenting by these different types of audiences, and where in your marketing efforts, where does social figure relative to say television or other channels.

Linda Boff:

Yeah so you know look, we are steadfastly committed to being where people are spending time. Today, people still spend time watching television. I believe, we believe that where they spend time watching television is less important than in some ways, and where we have the greatest likelihood for them to not skip our commercials. So the formula that we have tried to put together, is one where we are looking for an audience that is likely, or at least not unlikely skip what we are putting on air. So that puts us someplace like Sunday night football, a live programme where people tend to not DVR a football game, you know, there are only 16 weeks a year.

So we look at life programming or late night, those are our two favorite pref’s. But as I said before, as people’s time gets distributed our media gets distributed. So the percentage of weight, the percentage of money that we put on digital only goes up, because the percentage of time that people spend on digital is only going up.

At the moment, people are still watching television and we will be on someplace like Sunday night football, until they stop watching Sunday night football at which point we won’t be there any more, right. That’s a bit of how we think about it.

Michael Krigsman:

Now I know that storytelling is very important to you and to GE, so maybe can you talk about that aspect and how does social media fit in, how do all the pieces fit together regarding storytelling.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, thanks it’s a good question. So I’ll give you two different examples if it’s okay and if I’m giving you too many examples, you’ll just say.

Michael Krigsman:

No we love examples.

Linda Boff:

What we try really hard to do is to find ways to talk about our technology, what we are doing in terms of digital industrial, but frame it in a way that’s inherently interesting that has an emotional arc to it.

And so the first example is something that we did rather recently called Impossible Films. And the idea here was we took popular idioms; a snowball’s chance in hell, catching lightning in a bottle, talking to a wall. And because we at GE called to work every day, because we want to solve really tough problems, we sort of took those idioms as a little bit of a challenge and said well let’s show the world how we solve tough problems.

So we took - I’ll take snowball’s chance in hell. So we went to our scientists and said okay you know how can we take literally a snowball and show how our materials can withstand the absolute hottest temperatures. And we actually Michael thought about going to a volcano, but it’s kind of hard getting to a volcano.

So we created a film all around the journey of this little snowball. You know to get to a big smelting area, and dropped into flames. And then do kind of an opening of the contraption it was in, and showed that our materials can withstand the hottest temperatures. And therefore this little snowball made it all the way through.

So to me, and I don’t feel like I have told that story very well, but I think that we could talk about that we’ve got great super materials that withstand heat. I guess that’s a story. Or you can show this amazing film, and in this amazing film you watch and you root for this little snowball making its way through.

So when we think about storytelling, that’s kind of an example. A second one, and this one, if you will let me brag a little bit and I think I am going to do it whether you let me not. This one I am about to tell you about just one a big award at the Cannes Art Festival, so I am particularly proud of the team and the work they did there.

So back in the 50s, long before you and I were around there was something called GE Theatre that was hosted by Ronald Reagan and this was before he became president, well before and it was incredibly popular. So we decided to kind of take a page out of GE Theatre, but bring it all the way into the present. And you know, you and I know podcasting, audio very very popular right now. So we recreated this idea of GE Theatre, but it was GE Podcast Theatre, and we worked with some talent and created an original podcast series called That Message. That was run over a period of you know, six, seven weeks last fall. And it was very sort of sci-fi, War of the worlds like it was a podcast within a podcast, and it got to number one on iTunes. I mean, it did really really well. It won this big award a week or so ago.

So that’s kind of storytelling, and if I can I’ll sort of finish this question by just saying because I think if you are a marketer you know, there are words thrown around like content marketing, brand of content, sponsored content. And you know, to me that kind of can mean crummy content, and so the bar that we try to use is just really good stories. The kind of story that would be just as good as I don’t know, House of Cards, right.

You know, our standard is great content, not great branded content, because that feels like a little bit of a false compliment.

Michael Krigsman:

So I’d like to come back in a moment to talk more about stories, but we have a question from Twitter, and Zachery Genes makes a comment that large companies tends to be defensive and slow on social media. And so how do you attain this agile status that you’ve been able to

Linda Boff:

Yeah I mean look I think – Zachary that’s for the question. I think if you’re going to be slow and corporate you probably shouldn’t be on social media. That’s my two cents not you, but the companies that are thinking in those ways, because that’s not how social media behaves, right. I mean we all know what our feeds look like. We all know how quickly your feeds go by.

So you know, our social media team, terrific team, led by a woman named Cindi Williams, who is fabulous, works with a group called VaynerMedia and we are kind of always on, which doesn’t mean that we are tweeting at people 24 hours a day, that I think can be a little bit inconsiderate but it depends on what you have to tweet about of course. But we are listening all the time, and we’re responsive.

And we all remember, and I’m sure Zach you do to you know that moment in Super Bowl, what a couple of three years ago where there was a temporary blackout and Oreo was smart enough at that moment to send out a tweet. And I know the people there, you know, they had a war room set up or a football room set up, and they were prepared to be spontaneous. If they had had to send their tweet during the whatever it was, the six minutes of the blackout back to headquarters for somebody to approve it, for somebody to do due governance on, you know, you sort of create the right running roles. You have the right team, and you let them do a great job and that’s what we’ve tried to do. It’s a great question, and I think a lot of companies probably do wrestle with.

Michael Krigsman:

Now going back to this storytelling, you think a lot about stories. What are the components of a good story? Maybe you can teach us from your experience.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, so I think most good stories have emotion of some kind. It could be happy emotion, it could be wistful, it could be droll. But I think you know you want to sort of route for somebody in a story. So you know, the Owen ads that we were talking about a few minutes ago. You know, Owen is this lovely kind of quirky developer. He’s a nerd, right. He’s got like his nerd glasses. You know he is sitting there trying to tell his parents that he’s got a great job, and his parents are like every parent; they have no idea what he does for a living.

And you know, even though it’s short, I mean it’s 30 seconds. Still within their you have a protagonist, you have IGS an antagonist in the parents, and you’ve got this arc of humor. And I think you know what we look for in storytelling is an emotional hunk, we look for a little bit, and again you can do this very quickly of tension or conflict. And again, tension or conflict doesn’t mean anger. It just means tension where you’re kind of rooting for an outcome of some sort.

You know, there’s that famous six word Hemingway story, let’s see, baby shoes, for sale never worn. I think that’s the six words, right, let’s go with it, baby shoes, for sale never worn. I mean that’s kind of a perfect story right, because you are sitting there saying wait a minute, what happened, you know, all that sort of stuff. So I say that and if I mixed up the words a little bit, because in six words you can tell a story, and in six seconds. You can tell a story.

So I think the emotional piece, super important to us. For GE because you expect of us of certain things, you expect perhaps corporate. You would expect scale. We try to sometimes play against this type, because you know I kind of mentioned this earlier, to me corporate is a bit of a four letter word. You know, if something is corporate it means it’s very sort of in the box and a little boring. A couple of us were talking about this the other day, you know, this is what we push against. So humor, emotion, somebody you can root for, a little bit of tension. Those are to me a really important things in a story.

Michael Krigsman:

And now when you are applying this to GE, again you know jet engines, power plant equipment, how do you integrate those piece which really are the domain of relatively few people, even though they touch all of our lives.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, so you know we were talking about this employee earlier today, who works at GE Rail; we make locomotives. It’s actually unbelievable, Michael maybe I can lure you to the locomotive factory. It’s one of the great factories we have, my God, it’s just amazing.

So there’s a term for people who love trains is called foamos. I don’t know if you have heard that before. I always think it’s people who foam at the mouth, but I don’t know. So this gentleman who works at GE, I think he is second or third generation GE, and every weekend he takes his kids out and they bring lawn chairs. And they love trains so much they are such foamers that they sit and they watch the trains go by on the Saturday afternoon, and they sort of make a picnic out of it.

And I tell you that part two and see your question because they are super fans of some of what we do, right. So there are people who just become eight year old boys. I become an eight-year-old boy when I go to our GE rail factory, but there are people who just absolutely melt at things like trains and planes. And they are sort of this natural audience they are. And whenever we can we try really hard to play into that, because it’s a genuine passion point. It’s been like a fan of Real Housewives, right, these are fans of planes and trains.

The other thing that we do, which again I think is its passion points, you know, maybe four and a half -  five years ago, GE went up on Instagram, so again, getting back to this idea of early to discover. And we did it because to your point, so much of what we do with these machines is not necessarily in your life or in my life. But there’s a nobility, there’s a majesty to machines, and we kind of forgive me show you know, big ass machines out in the open. So that sort of became the beginning of our Instagram feed, and it is still very much a steady part of that diet which is showing beautiful wind turbines, showing a Yenboc machine, this big biomass turbine.

We show them you know around the world. We invite people to do Insta-walks, to walk through our facilities. So you know it’s a little bit of what you and I have been talking about, right. Some of it is how do you tap into the inner nerd, inner geek and get people excited about you know what it is that we produce. Sometimes it’s about telling the story and telling the outcome of that story, you know what happens. You know we’ve shot films for instance of a young boy taking his first ever ride on an aeroplane in China.

Sometimes it’s the people who are using our technology. There’s a doctor in Japan who uses a jet ski to get to his patients. He jet skis between islands, and he has a GE piece of equipment, a handheld ultra-scan called a B-Scan. And you know because it is very light, he can jump on his jet ski and that is how he uses this to offer ultrasounds to people in remote parts of the area. So I don’t think there is one way that we try to sort of tell the story, but we do try to make the invisible visible in our storytelling.

Michael Krigsman:

We have question from Marsha-Elaine Walker and let me remind everybody, we’re talking with Linda Boff, who is the Chief Marketing Officer of General electric, talking right now about storytelling, and you can ask her questions on Twitter using the hashtag cxotalk. So Marsha-Elaine Walker is asking how do you develop stories that resonate globally, for example the Middle East, and Africa. And she’s wondering does Owen work worldwide?

Linda Boff:

Oh thank you so much Marsha-Elaine, because I can get to tell you first I’m going to start with Owen. So your question was really good one, the hardest part I often find of what we do is to figure out about how to create stories that scale globally, but actually have a lot of global resonance and relatability. It is really a challenge.

So Owen is the great example and you kind of T-up this question for me, which is because this works so well in the US it’s probably been our most effective campaign in at least a decade maybe or more based on the response and the awareness that it drove. We decided that we could do this globally, so we went to France and we cast this delightful young woman named Sophie, then created a film about Sophie as the developer in France. And it’s working really well. We’ve just launched it a couple of weeks ago. We’re doing something similar in China.

Obviously in all of these instances it’s local language, its local actors, it’s local nuances, it’s local insitu. Some ideas work that way, some do not. In the case of something I described a little bit earlier, where I was talking about impossible films, but what we did there was we had an idea. You know idiom, and make a film about this and how science debunks it, and we went to universities globally and said to engineering students – any students really, give us your idea. What’s an idiom and what’s a scientific workaround that you would like to see us bring to life. And we are going to take one of these admit an ad out of it this fall.

So you know we’ve worked to do it. I think you know a couple of other thoughts, I mean I think you do need to pay a lot of attention to local nuances. It matters a lot. And at the same time, you know we are all in a world where many of the social platforms that we are on, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp are global platforms. So it’s that combination of you know taking advantage where you can take advantage of scale, but making sure that you’re driving a relevancy that’s culturally interesting and appropriate. So hopefully that’s helpful to you, I appreciate the question.

Michael Krigsman:

And we have another question from Jill Rowley again who apparently is at a helipad in Maui. I wish we were at a helipad in Maui. And she said she was thinking about predictive analytics, and using analytics for preventative maintenance. And I know just a little bit off center from we were just talking about storytelling, but we’ve just a few minutes left, so maybe weave that into the picture because it’s so important.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, thanks so much for the question and I so wish I was you right now in Maui on a helipad. So predictive analytics is really in my of simple way of talking about it, about creating a scenario with no unplanned downtime. If you’re in industry – whatever industry that is, and it could be operating a big food and bev facility or an elevator company or health or transportation company you really want to minimize your downtime. Downtime is bad. Downtime for people like us who want to go to the beach and read is good but in industry it’s bad.

So what we’ve tried very hard to do and I haven’t really talked about this, but I will now is to talk about how GE through this industrial platform we’ve created called Predicts, is helping to create what we call industrial real strength strength. So if you are operating a helicopter company, let’s go with where you are and sort of extrapolate a little bit and you want to store your data, that data needs to be secure like crazy secure. It needs to be able to hold may be petabytes of data. So the platform that we’ve developed called Predicts is designed for industry. And as I said we talk about industrial strength strength, and we have been marketing this. In fact, I think we had a clever idea, we sort of do a bit of a roadblock every Tuesday. Tuesdays is the most productive days of the week – apparently. So we are running everything from cartoons to little crossword puzzles, to radio ads, we’ve got some videos all talking about the importance of having an industrial strength cloud.

And you know, a big piece of this to your question is about predictability, but predictability to drive the right outcomes. And I think that’s increasingly the conversation we tried to have as we are marketing what it means to be a digital industrial company. It’s not just so you can check the box and say you have analytics; why do you have analytics? You have analytics so that you can optimize the amount of time that you are performing well. That’s what this is about, and you save time, you save energy, you know etc. so I don’t all of a sudden I’m doing a commercial and you don’t need to be, but that’s kind of the way that we think about predictability if you will.

Michael Krigsman:

Linda, again we have just a few minutes left, but in our closing minutes can you talk about adding that layer of data and analytics on top of these big machines. What are the implications for GE and what are the implications for your customers and I realize we can spend hours talking about that, so maybe just summarize it in just a few minutes.

Linda Boff:

So I’ll try to summarize it a bit tightly. So the first thing we did in becoming a digital industrial company is we tried it on ourselves, right. there’s this expression in software, eat your own dog food, drink your own champagne, and you know for us the first several years we’ve been involved in being a digital industrial company it really has been about, how do we make sure we were an industrial company, you know we’ve got the advantage Michael of operating these big plants. So we know what it means, we have the sort of domain experience right in these businesses but we also want to apply it to our own selves.

So you know in using this predicts platform and using this – I referenced this earlier, digital twin capability. We refer to this as a digital thread right, which is how do we make sure that our machines are connected and we are saving really hundreds of millions of dollars in doing this.

And you know it goes back to what we were talking about a moment ago with Jill, which is how do you create more efficiency, how do you create more uptime by having machines talk to machines, by seeing that ecosystem. You know that to us is where things are – not just headed, it’s really today right. and we’re seeing it ourselves  and I think maybe the greatest proof of concept if you will, you know we go  out and talk to industries, the fact that we ourselves GE, this big industrial company has become a  digital industrial company so therefore we’re in a good place to be to help some others.

Michael Krigsman:

And finally GE has obviously undergone this tremendous transformation internally, so what advice do you have for other CMOs – Chief Marketing Officers who are themselves, their organization undergoing this type of dramatic change.

Linda Boff:

Yeah, you know I think I love this as the last question because you know there’s that expression “Culture eats strategy for lunch”, and I think the culture transformation is probably in some ways as significant as  everything else we’ve talked about; portfolios, digital industrial etc.

So you know, very quickly at GE we’ve kind of adapted and learned from Silicon Valley a lot. We have something we call FastWorks that we kind of glean from Eric Ries, lean startup, David Kidder you know people helped us with this thinking but it kind of boils down to a few things. It’s about iterating, it’s about failing fast. It’s learning how to pivot.

You know I said this before in terms of being on the playing field. You know you have to create enough in terms of what you are going to learn from you know a minimum viable products that you actually can then you not realise that this could be good or could be tenable and we’re going to tear it up and start again.

You know, I would say more so to sort of as I relate to it as from our team. I think it’s giving people room to fail, but it’s also making sure that when people fail you’re learning from it. You know, those are lessons that startups are very good at post-mortems. Having a post-mortem, what’s happened good and bad and applying it. And how do you take smart chances? You know, people often when I ask them about you know the risk of doing as much as we’ve done on social media, I think the bigger risk is not being on there. Because you know, to be a marketer, be a brand, be a company and not be communicating in ways that are contemporary I think it’s a huge risk. I think you risk becoming irrelevant. So you know, hopefully a couple of helpful things for people.

Michael Krigsman:

Well that has been fantastic, the time went by so quickly. I wish we had another hour. We have been talking with Linda Boff, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at General Electric on episode 180 on CXOTalk and Linda, thank you so much for taking the time and being with us today.

Linda Boff:

Michael thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. 45 minutes went quickly. Next time I’m on the Maui helipad right?

Michael Krigsman:

That works for me.


Companies mentioned on today’s show:

















Linda Boff:



GE Theatre Podcast on iTunes            The Message

Published Date: Jul 08, 2016

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 362