Fordham’s Center for Positive Marketing began its annual conference on April 3 with two in-depth stories about the difference that such marketing efforts can make for companies.
The storyteller was Maureen McGuire, chief marketing officer of Bloomberg L.P., who was involved in creating marketing strategies at both Bloomberg and IBM, where she worked for 30 years. She delivered the keynote address at the start of the 3rd Annual Conference For Positive Marketing, held April 3 and 4 at the Lincoln Center campus.
The IBM story focused on the company’s turnaround from the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when the company–dubbed a “dinosaur” by Fortune magazine—was widely seen as out-of-touch and unwieldy, and employee morale was “at a low ebb,” McGuire said.
“Inside the company, we couldn’t believe that we were so close to failure,” she said. “Serious change was needed, and fast.”
The company made big changes under CEO Lou Gerstner, such as shifting toward e-business services, and also started paying more attention to marketing, formerly “a second-class citizen at IBM,” McGuire said.
New television advertisements were funny, topical, and “very human,” unlike typical technology-related ads that focused on products’ features and functions, she said. The ads got people talking about the company, won awards for creativity and effectiveness, and created “buzz” that had a measurably positive effect on employees and the company generally.
The campaign restored employees’ confidence and “[made]them feel proud to be working at IBM again, and that’s what I call positive marketing,” she said.
While the campaign certainly didn’t turn the company around by itself, “it sure helped change peoples’ perceptions of the brand,” she said. “We became relevant again, and that in itself was a major achievement.”
At Bloomberg, positive marketing can be seen in the company’s efforts to communicate its ethos of giving back, she said. It’s a “huge motivator” among employees to know that the company’s profits support founder Michael Bloomberg’s various philanthropic efforts, and the company also promotes service and social responsibility in other ways.
For instance, it strongly supports employees’ health and wellness, encourages them to volunteer, works for sustainability, gives out food on World Hunger Day, and supports various other causes, she said.
“A large part of marketing’s job at Bloomberg is to continue to support these efforts internally and externally,” which fuels employees’ pride in the company, she said. “The marketing function gets the opportunity every day to help get the message out about how serious we are in our commitment to all sorts of causes.”
While taking questions, she spoke about the importance of developing relationships within one’s company so that people will listen up about the importance of marketing.
Marketers “[force]businesses to answer very serious questions that they don’t particularly want to answer” about why they’re developing certain products and whom they’re meant for, she said. “You have to build relationships so that they don’t just give up on you and say, ‘I’m not going to answer all those questions.’”