11: Linda Lee, Global Advertising and Brand Director at GE Capital

Linda Lee, GE Capital’s Global Advertising and Brand Director, sits down with Alan Hart. Linda and the rest of her team recently took home an Effie at this year’s Effie Awards Gala in New York, for their work which centered around the financial giant’s differential value proposition – the fact that GE does more than simply lend its customers money.

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Interviewer: Well, hi, Linda. Why don't we start with your name, your title, and responsibilities?

Linda: Sure. My name is Linda Lee. I work for GE Capital, and I'm the Global Advertising and Brand Director. I basically manage all of the advertising, as well as the brand initiatives for the company.

Interviewer: Okay. Well, congrats on the FE, for "What We Know Can Help You Grow."

Linda: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: So tell me a little bit about what drove that campaign. What was the inspiration behind it?

Linda: Sure. I guess in the early 2014, we were thinking about the TV concepts. We came across this video campaign from eBay, and it was called "Thanks You," right? And one of the videos featured this guy named Ed Church, and it was about this man who found his very first motorcycle back on eBay. It's a great story. And the story unfolds with him seeking out his motorcycle on eBay. He lost it on a bid, and then many years later, he found it back on eBay. And then he bought back his original motorcycle. And the story unfolds in this documentary-style format. So the story, for me, felt really real and authentic. So we wanted to do something quite similar. We wanted to tell that compelling story just the way they did it, but about us, about what we do to help our customers grow.

Interviewer: The ad focuses on the value they provide outside of financing. I'm curious, how did you get there?

Linda: Sure. I think what we needed to do to tell our stories, we had to do it in a unique way. And we had to differentiate ourselves from every other bank. So we started looking at "What is our value proposition?" And it's really what we call "more than money." We lend money, but we do so much more. We have experts from across GE. See, we're part of a much larger organization. And we have experts, literally, across the world, with very deep domain expertise and knowledge. And our customers can tap into that. So the public, I think, does not understand that GE Capital, yeah, we lend money but we have so much wealth of resources and knowledge. That's really sort of the seed of what our campaign was about.

Interviewer: And how did you select the companies that you profile?

Linda: That is an interesting question. It's not easy. I basically, in a sense, start trolling for great stories. And typically, it's from- I mean, GE Capital is made up of hundreds of divisions within a company. So I would go to the marketing and communications leaders for any really great, compelling stories that they have. But over time, I realized the best stories were coming from our employees, the sales force, the people who actually interact with the customers. And then after four years of doing this, I realized I'd go straight to the source, and then they'll give me these awesome stories. And this year, I decided to crowd source it. And I ran a contest, where every sales rep or account leader can actually submit a story from all over the world. And that's how they were selected.

Interviewer: So one of the aspects you talked about was storytelling. I'm curious if you can tell me, not having much experience with that prior to GE Capital, how did you approach that?

Linda: Actually, for the campaign, we probably reviewed over 50 customer stories. They're various profiles, again, from multiple different levels of businesses and industries. So I wanted to find unique stories, because we were a unique lender, right? The value proposition was that we differentiate ourselves. So in the storytelling sense, I wanted to find really interesting stories that I don't think any other bank could tell. So in the "What We Know Can Help You Grow," we found three amazing customers. One happened to be a wood manufacturer. The other happened to be in aerospace components, right? And the third happened to make bread.

So I mean, you think about the varied storytelling. What differentiates each one of them is that they had such a unique story, and how we went about helping them. For Kings Hawaiian, we actually logistically helped them expand their operations, not only from Hilo [SP] to California, all the way to Atlanta. And actually helped them build a whole new plant, so they can expand the distribution to the East Coast. With the Aerospace Components, we actually went in and did a lean workout. We looked at every single minutia step of their manufacturing process, and we found holes, we found gaps, we found ways to speed their production, and reduce waste; that's very unique. So I think all three stories had a very unique angle, and that's how we chose them.

Interviewer: Telling stories in a B2B context must have been not an easy sell, necessarily. I'm just curious, how did you convince the leadership that that was the right thing to do?

Linda: I think the most effective way to convince them was actually show what the competition was doing. So we did sort of a competitive review of all the other banks, right? I mean, they're the ones that everyone knows of. And then each bank had the same similar format, where they would feature a customer. This customer always loves their bank, and because they're great, right? But why? So when we started showing our executives, "Hey, this is what is out there. We always say our value proposition, that we differentiate ourselves, because we're more than money, right? But we have to do that in our advertising and in our marketing. And the only way to do that, is actually take a different POV." So we featured our employees. And our employees are narrating the stories about how they helped their customers overcome their challenges. That is unique. And I think that's why our executive, they rallied behind it, because they knew being unique is what would actually get us to win.

Interviewer: So you've created a lot of content, a lot of stories. How do you manage that and distribute it? And to who?

Linda: That is a very good question. That was a challenge that we faced just recently. We had to take a step back, and we had to take an inventory of the content that we had out there. And we had proprietary content, we had third-party content, we had branding content. There was so much out there, that we really couldn't make sense of it. So we flipped it and said, "Hey, if I was a customer, if I was an audience, why would I read this? What is content for me?" So instead of viewing content from an advertising perspective, you've got to view it from a customer's perspective. What's interesting to them, what provides utility for them? So I think it's just a different mindset, in terms of how and why you use content.

Interviewer: Is there any tips or advice you'd give for marketers in that regard, or potentially even selecting the right partner to help you with that?

Linda: I think, again, it goes back to the customer and the user experience. Let's say, for example, the website experience. We had our original website built on how we structured as an organization, as financial services; so we have product-level, industry-level. But if I'm a customer or a prospect, I don't go into a website thinking in those terms. I think, "Okay, commercial lending, leasing, the products that I want in the industry." So I think, again, you have to see it from a user's experience versus, again, an advertiser or a company's experience.

Interviewer: Do you ever feel more like an editor than a marketer in that regard?

Linda: All the time. Sometimes I have to stop myself, and to say, "Hey, if I was to see this or I was to view this, or if I was to hear this, how does it impact me? How do I feel about it? Was it good for me?" Again, a lot of times, as advertisers, we think something's very good, but it may not actually be if you see it, if you view it from a different hat.

Interviewer: So there's a lot of decisions that end up taking place to get a campaign launched. Were there any crucial ones or pivotal ones for this campaign?

Linda: I think, for us, we did have to pick the right story, and the story has to be relevant or relatable to the audience. When you think about GE Capital, we finance across many industries, all types of businesses, mostly mid-market. I mean, they're obscure as making nuts and bolts and automotive part, to, like, huge aerospace parts, or composite ceramics. So we had to find stories that I think the audience could really relate to, but it's not gonna be obscure enough but it's gonna be relatable enough that they understand what we can bring to the customer.

Interviewer: What kind of team did you have behind this effort?

Linda: The team is pretty lean. GE Capital, we are a financial services company, so the resources that goes into marketing, particularly in advertising, is, I would say, minimal. So for me, I wear a hat that probably is about five different roles. Not only do I produce a content, but I also manage the media strategy. I oversee advertising. I'm even part of the production. So I have to rely heavily on our agencies, particularly our creative agencies. And they are basically my team, and the team that we worked with at BBDO. I've been working with for almost five years. So in a sense, they're kind of my employees, or we all work together on this.

Interviewer: Were there any leaps of faith that you had to take to get this off the ground?

Linda: Oh, sure. I mean, this was a huge gamble. Our company has never done or told stories in this way, in sort of a documentary-style format, or even do TV in a big way. So it was a big gamble but we had to convince our executives that in order to tell the story, we really had to put enough resources into it. And that the stories don't come to life unless we really put the support from the company. And for us, I think it was actually a gamble that was well received. It did really well, not only with our audience but also internally, where our employee base really rallied behind the messaging, because it was them. We were featuring them. So I think, for the most part, the success for me was seeing our employees really being proud of the work that was out there.

Interviewer: So not to mention you're at GE, but also in a financial industry, measurement's a big deal.

Linda: Sure.

Interviewer: So how did you measure this campaign?

Linda: I think for TV, as everyone knows, it's quite hard, right? You could measure it in the classic sense of your KPIs, right? In terms of your impressions and your reach. But I think, for us, our goals were to, again, change the perception that GE was more than just a bank. And then as we started doing surveys of our brand awareness, top of mind, as well as considerations, our numbers kept going up as this campaign rolled out. And really, it's the equity. Do you view GE Capital different from your other banks? That's when we knew that we were succeeding, when those numbers were getting ahead of our competition.

Interviewer: But winning an FE is really about marketing effectiveness. I'm curious, how do you define or tackle marketing effectiveness?

Linda: I think for us at GE Captial, marketing effectiveness is closely tied with our goals. So in this campaign, we really set out to change the perception that GE Capital is like every other lender. But in reality, we are more than just a lender. I mean, again, we provide expertise from across GE. And as I've mentioned before, we have a wealth of experts across the world that we can tap into, our customers could tap into. We could help them overcome any of the challenges or resolve any issues. And really, the purpose is to help them grow.

Interviewer: I want to switch gears for a second and talk a little bit more about you. You've ascended to a good level of success. And I'm just curious, what fuels that for you?

Linda: I think I still have a lot more to do and accomplish. I think it's just the tip of the iceberg of what we've been doing. But I think what fuels me the most, is I would say the learning process. Because when I think about the advertising and the media industry, it's evolving so rapidly that what I've done, what we do today can become quickly irrelevant or obsolete. So for me, I have to continually innovate, as well as evolve my marketing strategies to stay on top of trends, and to not be a follower but to actually be a leader in this industry.

Interviewer: And being a marketer, I'm sure you watch other companies that are marketing themselves, or brands. Are there any that stand out to you, or that you look to to inspire you, or that you just like?

Linda: For me, personally, the brands that I like to follow are the ones that are innovative, like the Amazons, as well as the Samsungs. They're typically the first adapters of new technology, and those are the companies that are really exciting and very interesting to follow. And then I also follow maybe our competition or other financial services companies like Prudential. Prudential, I think they won the FEs last year. They had this great series of campaigns about people's dreams of when they retire, and that's great storytelling.

Interviewer: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for marketing today?

Linda: Hmm, that's a good question. I think what we've seen is this huge shift in our audience engagement on their mobile devices, right? So what we felt was that in order for us to really have a great presence in mobile, our customers have to have a good experience of our brand on their smartphones. So what does that mean? That means that you have to have branding content that's contextually relevant. So if I produce or if you produce content for display, that doesn't necessarily translate or adaptable to mobile. It's probably better to really tailor content for the mobile experience. I think that's a huge opportunity, not only for GE Capital but for most brands out there.

Interviewer: Are there any big challenges or watchouts that you would tell marketers?

Linda: Sure. I mean, I think for us, the big challenge recently is really scaling content. What I mean is to have content scaled enough for digital channels, of course, but that reaches your audience. This past year, we took a look out of our content. We were producing so much, but it wasn't necessarily reaching a broad audience. So we really had to rethink about how and where we use content in order to reach our audience.

Interviewer: What would you predict for the future of marketing?

Linda: I can't predict the future, but I think what is for certain, that it's always changing, and that you have to be open to change. I think in order to be relevant in this industry, you really have to keep your eyes open and be fluid in terms of what you wanna do with your marketing effectiveness or your campaigns. But be open to change.

Interviewer: Now, you're a B2B company. And many times in that chair, I am talking to consumer companies. So what advice would you give to B2B marketers, in terms of helping them be more effective or stand out, maybe, from the pack?

Linda: I think what I see from B2B, just the similarities to B2C to B2B, right? I've worked in both worlds. And our audience, even though they're CEOs or CFOs of large companies, they're still people, right? So no matter how you market, whether it's a consumer or it's an executive, you still have to be relevant. You have to provide some utility, in terms of your brand. It has to resonate. They have to be loyal to your brand. So instead of differences, I say focus on the similarities in B2B.

Interviewer: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

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