(Ed. note: Just this week, General Electric Co. promoted Linda Boff from executive director of global brand marketing to chief marketing officer. Its goal: to position itself as a digital industrial company. In an interview with CMSWire late last year, Boff said she's committed to making the GE brand "relevant, contemporary and accessible," largely by connecting with its customer. "No one remembers product specs and features. But a great story well told hits home," she said. Learn more about GE's new CMO in this exclusive interview with Bill Sobel, originally published in December 2014.)
Linda Boff is a digital explorer, Mad Men enthusiast and modern art lover. She's also executive director of global brand marketing at Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric, where she's responsible for GE's global advertising and digital marketing along with the company's brand and design strategy.
Boff said she focused on "embedding meaningful marketing strategy and instigating change" throughout the global conglomerate.
Previously, Boff was CMO of iVillage Properties, part of the NBC Universal (which was previously part of GE). Boff joined GE in early 2004 with 18 years of experience in marketing, advertising and communications including senior roles at Citigroup, the American Museum of Natural History and Porter Novelli.
In 2012, she was named B2B Magazine’s 2012 Digital Marketer of Year. A frequent speaker at digital and social media industry events, she lives with her husband and two children in suburban New York City.
Keep It Relevant
Boff describes GE as a 130-year-old global leader with the energy of a Silicon Valley start-up — and said she is fortunate to work with "an amazing group of innovative leaders."
CMSWire is fortunate, too: We recently had a chance to sit down with Boff to discuss digital marketing, corporate strategies and keeping brands relevant.
Sobel: What are the challenges of marketing a brand that is so diversified and in the digital space?
Boff: The GE brand has constantly stood for innovation and solving the world’s toughest problems for over a century. At our core, we are a company of builders — engineers, technologists, scientists and developers. We power the world through access to energy, affordable health, efficient transportation and, increasingly, we power a new level of industrial productivity through brilliant machines and insightful analytics.
All that said our challenge is more around how to make the brand relevant, contemporary and accessible. We operate at scale and a lot of what we do is invisible to many people. So we look to be relevant to people who share our affinity for science and technology. We do that on platforms as diverse as Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Yo and many others.
Sobel: You're a big fan of content marketing and storytelling. Can you give us a few examples of some of the most successful programs you have been involved with and why, and maybe share with us some of the less successful and why
Boff: Compelling stories bring a brand to life – they make us relevant, poignant, vibrant, droll and hopefully memorable. Our CMO Beth Comstock (Ed. note: Comstock was recently promoted to vice chair, the first woman to hold that post in the company's history.) has a great expression: We tell to sell. I love that because no one remembers product specs and features. But a great story well told hits home. A few examples are #sixsecondscience, a program we launched on Vine asking people to share their favorite science experiments with us, in six seconds.
We received incredibly creative entrants and simultaneously got people to spend time with our brand. I love our Instagram feed. It shows the majesty and scale of our big machines. It’s GE at our badass best. And recently we had a lot of fun with a video spoof featuring Jeff Goldblum (alias Terry Quatrro) to promote our new connected light bulbs.
Sobel: When you joined GE from NBC (then a GE owned company) GE was very much in the media business. Since the sale of NBC to Comcast it seems that GE has backed away from media and is now focused on health and environment. Is that a correct statement?
Boff: It’s correct we no longer own a media company. GE has become an industrial powerhouse in health, energy and transportation and a very global company operating in more than 170 countries. What’s interesting is that as a brand we are increasingly a publisher of content.
Between our social, owned, earned and paid channels, we are creating great content and sharing it with like-minded audiences. We have a journalist who writes our corporate blog GEReports. So yes, we no longer own NBC. But we are deeply involved in media as a way to talk about our brand and connect with key stakeholders.
Sobel: You (and your boss CMO Beth Comstock) are big fans of social media and you seem to understand how to use it better than many other businesses your size. What is your secret sauce?
Boff: First, we experiment a lot. As a company that has always been about invention and technology, we bring that same spirit of innovation to marketing including digital and social platforms, often being one of the first companies to embrace a new platform.
Second, we try hard to behave as a person would in social media vs. a big corporation. Third, we reach outside our walls to connect with other great storytellers. This has led us to work with creators like Baratunde Thurston, ASAP Science, Kid President and many others. And this brings connects our brand to new audiences and helps us be relevant and contemporary.
Sobel: Many of our readers are entrepreneurs, consultants and business owners. What tidbits can you provide from your perspective at GE?
Boff: Everyone assumes we have a large budget and we don’t. We take a lot of pride in shouting louder than we spend. I am a firm believer that budget constraints lead to greater creativity. Finally, Here are some principles to consider (direct from GE’s Media Manifesto!)
Telegraph your values. Determine what your brand stands for and make sure that everything you do – from planning to content, distribution to buys – is driven by those core values.
Be relentlessly creative. Great content finds its audience and grows organically. Develop content that engages, compels and differentiates your brand.
Offer utility. Content created to help, sells. Content created to sell, doesn’t. It’s all about utility and interacting like regular people. And always understand the context. Platforms are unique and the content we create for each platform needs to be native to that context.