5 Things I Know About Marketing – GE’s Sean Burke

 In early January, GE Healthcare CMO Sean Burke was appointed to a new role as president and CEO of GE Healthcare Asia Pacific. As he prepared to move to GE’s offices in Japan, he talked with Executive Director Kay Lemon about GE and the challenges of marketing today. 


Increasingly, customer outcomes are what matter. 

As our founder Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs and then I proceed to invent it.” Edison didn’t say, “I invent and then find people to sell it to.” If he were here today, I’m confident he’d define what the world needs in terms of better outcomes.

Whether in healthcare or in any of GE’s markets, it is becoming an outcome-based world. Particularly for marketers, we need to continually push beyond product features and ask: What can our customers accomplish with our product or service?

As healthcare becomes more integrated and consolidated in many markets, there is lots of change. We must be certain to focus on the customer’s whole problem—including the perspective of the many stakeholders involved. What outcomes are important to them at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels?

This focus on outcomes enables us to address some of the world’s biggest problems like improving infant and maternal health in Africa. Our question was, “Can simple ultrasound, in the hands of mid-wives with basic training, reduce the maternal mortality rate?” Advanced technology alone can’t solve this—there are huge issues with access to care. We had to solve for power, for training, for service and warranty, for financing—the entire ecosystem. Technology is important, but it is the results that matter.


Marketing is about the end, not the means.

As marketers, are we really focused on the benefit for the customers and driving growth for the business? We falter when we get caught up in our own marketing metrics only, rather than thinking about how to mobilize the whole business … enabling the sales force or driving the supply chain, for example.

At a recent meeting, our Chairman said, “There should be no awards for the best function.” Instead, we should ask, “How do all the functions come together to enable what we’re trying to do for the customer?” We’re never in competition with other functions; we are in competition with the competition. Marketers need to focus on how to drive opportunity and share for the whole organization.


More than ever, marketing must solve for speed and scale.

We have to be faster in everything we do. Our customers expect that. The era of spending more time planning than doing has given way to an era of agile. At GE we do this through “FastWorks," a program that brings us back to Edison and the culture of experimentation. We’ve moved to prototyping and quickly validating our key assumptions. What is the minimum viable product? When should we pivot and when should we persevere?

We’ve scrapped the annual review cycle. Instead, our feedback is more like coaching: “How do we get ready for the next game?” It doesn’t mean we won’t do any planning, but we’ve got to run in bimodal mode.

I recently met with the Deputy Minister of Health in a country facing many challenges. They don’t have time for a nine-month study, they’ve got to get building to serve their population. We worked with them in a FastWorks approach. We developed education programs for medical professionals. For the NICU we quickly prototyped what would work in a city ravaged by conflict. We helped them look at their processes to build hospitals and procure goods and services faster. So FastWorks is not just about the technology we develop, but the whole customer experience.


Storytelling matters.

If you reach audiences in unexpected ways, you can really break through. I credit the GE advertising team here. We’ve sponsored podcasts that have reached the top ten in iTunes. Recently we partnered with National Geographic on the “Breakthrough Series.”

Typically GE is the first brand on new social platforms—not the first B2B brand, the first brand. We were the first brand on Vine, for example.

We think there’s a real opportunity to reach the psychographic of people who are interested in science and technology. Related to that, we try to shout louder than we spend. Great storytelling doesn’t always have to be big budget.


Your internal context means a lot.

The perception of marketing among your colleagues is the context in which you will have the freedom to operate. Marketers can help create that internal context—it might mean education, rotating some of your best people to other functions, and some of theirs into yours. But you can’t think that every executive is going to appreciate what you know marketing can bring to the organization.

If you don’t bring marketing into your colleagues’ world, you’re going to find yourself left in the world of brochures and marketing communications. You have to speak their language, which is typically financial. We as marketers can get caught up in our own lingo. Importantly, we can never take our eyes off the scoreboard of business results.

Leadership development is critical here. We need to develop that next generation of marketers who are proficient in what happening in the fast-changing, global marketing world as well as current on what’s happening in their customers’ business.

Five Things I Know About Marketing Series


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