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BMA14: Marketers must disrupt or be disrupted

By Kate Maddox for the BMA Show Daily

Steve Liguori

Steve Liguori, the incoming chairman of the Business Marketing Association, says that in the midst of tumultuous change going on in the industry, b-to-b marketers must “disrupt or be disrupted.”

Liguori, executive director-global innovation and new models at GE, took over the leadership of the BMA Wednesday from Kathy Button Bell, VP-CMO at Emerson.

In the following interview, Liguori talks about the state of b-to-b marketing and his vision for the BMA.

BMA Show Daily: What are your goals as incoming chairman of the BMA?

Liguori: I’m very excited to be the incoming chair, and I want to build on what my predecessor Kathy Button Bell did, with a lot of input from a lot of people—she refreshed the BMA brand and image. We have an updated logo and a comprehensive website for all the chapters, with one BMA look. So to build on that, my goals are going to be twofold. No. 1, I want to make sure that we are maximizing member value. How can we maximize your professional development, help you with your education and provide the resources you need, whether that’s research or professional networking, to help you become an outstanding b-to-b marketer?

No. 2 is, how do we secure the BMA’s future? What do we need to do to build a more robust and secure platform for growth so that the BMA becomes an ever-greater organization and is here and strong for the long term?

BMA Show Daily: How would you describe the state of the b-to-b marketing industry?

Liguori: Disrupt or be disrupted. There has never been a time that has been more tumultuous, whether it’s competition or technology or globality. There is not a person I know on the client side or agency side who doesn’t see their business models getting ripped up in front of their eyes. There has never been more of a need and demand for the types of skills that b-to-b marketers can bring. So the juxtaposition really is, there is the most disruption going on, which means there is the most opportunity for b-to-b marketers to jump in and get involved. As [GE CMO] Beth Comstock and I would say, ‘If you’re not prepared to lead as a 360-degree marketer, you should consider firing yourself.’ Marketing has got to be involved from Day 1 in the strategy. If you think marketing is just doing promotions and online ads and social media, you should fire yourself. You have to go all the way back and get involved in the strategy of the business from Day 1.

BMA Show Daily: What are the greatest challenges facing CMOs and marketers?

Liguori: If you are the CMO in a firm, and you don’t understand that your job needs to be totally comprehensive on the business’ strategy, you are not leading your team right. For example, GE Ventures reports to Beth Comstock, and we are crowdsourcing a whole bunch of projects. We just signed a deal with a startup called Local Motors, which makes desert race cars through crowdsourcing. We just hired them to help us design appliances of the future. What that means for CMOs and b-to-b marketers is, your skill set needs to dramatically expand. You may not be an expert in all of these areas, but you need to know as a leader how to access them and help your organization access them.

BMA Show Daily: How can the BMA help marketers and agencies do their jobs better?

Liguori: The fact that the BMA is a volunteer army is one of the things that is completely unique vs. probably any other large organization. People only get involved if they see the value and want to contribute to the value. The value is obvious, but the community is also unique. You can join as a firm member, whether that’s Kathy Button Bell from Emerson or me from GE. I can join also as an individual. We have three types of memberships—client firms, individuals and agencies, and it’s that unique blend that brings us to life.

BMA Show Daily: To address the theme of the show, where is b-to-b going?

Liguori: Where b-to-b is going is to the front of the class. It’s our time for b-to-b marketers. B-to-b has always been the majority of the GDP but has only made up 2% of marketing activity. B-to-b is really coming into its own—not because it’s better than b-to-c, but it’s starting to get appreciated. 

 
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