Dear Tech, Let's Talk
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It was great having the opportunity to hear Michelle Peluso's, SVP, Digital Sales and Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, conversation with Ryan Carlson, CMO, Okta, during Oktane 19. Michelle was previously the CEO of Travelocity and Gilt, and the CMO at Citi.
The discussion started with IBM's “Dear Tech, Let’s Talk” commercial.
Carlson: How did the campaign come together?
Peluso: IBM has 108 years as a high tech company. While the products have changed many times over the past century, IBM's core values have not changed. Trust and responsibility, what we should expect from technology are critical to the IBM brand. When you launch a brand campaign, you think about the conversation happening in society. When you’re lucky, you’re able to intersect that conversation in a positive way. Is technology working for all of us or just a few of us? Is it my data or your data? Is AI a force for good or creating job dislocation and all sorts of other challenges? How do we prepare the next generation of workers for a world that will be massively transformed? It felt like the right time to discuss what we should expect from technology.
Carlson: How does IBM think about the brand?
Peluso: There are three constants for IBM: 1) Be at the forefront of the most progressive technology. We invest more in research, have more patents than almost anyone. The ability to differentiate between what is hype and what is going to make a difference. 2) Industry expertise – we have hundreds of thousands of consultants with industry experience. Think about how to apply new technology in a particular industry context. 3) The idea of trust and responsibility – How do you usher in new technology? How do you prepare society and the next generation of workers? What are inclusion and diversity and what do they mean? And, of course, security.
The IBM brand is always an inclusion of those three ideas.
Carlson: How are brand and culture linked at IBM?
Peluso: There is something fundamental about an IBMer. We are incessantly curious about what’s coming next. The company values have been around far longer than any employee: 1) Issue of inclusion and diversity – it was a hot topic today and in the 1930s. IBM has been involved in promoting dreamers, transgender rights, and bathroom rights for a long time. IBMers are stewards of what those before them promoted.
We've had to change practices and policies because inclusion is more important now.
Carlson: What's your view of digital transformation?
Peluso: When I started at Travelocity it was early in the development of the company. It was a fascinating time with the beginning of the Internet, search engines, and social media sites. Early on, digital transformation was about changing customer experience (CX) with new digital tools, innovating from the outside in, changing the periphery of the company. Over the past two decades, companies have been catching up with that idea – making banking easier, making fashion easier, making travel easier.
Now some of the most interesting companies are thinking about it from the inside out infusing AI into new, intelligent ways of working. Asking questions like:
How can we leverage the data we have to find new insights and ways of working?
How do we digitize workflows?
How do we change how we work together?
How do we change HR?
How do we change the call center?
How do we infuse AI into intelligent new ways of working?
When you look across dozens of industries, companies have worked on the external facing issues and are now doing the hard work of remaking themselves from the inside. They are harnessing data and insights to find new ways of working to improve how teams are built, how they collaborate, and how they create things.
We see HR being completely overhauled. Marketing is on a massive transformation agenda enabled by data, AI, and new technology.
If the first generation of digital transformation was about how to change CX, the next generation is about how do we change ourselves.
Carlson: What are your thoughts on the responsible use of AI?
Peluso: Data is the fundamental difference today — more than software. The amount of biometric data that’s available is allowing people to be diagnosed with illnesses earlier to improve treatment and quality of life. A key question is who has access to the data.
Principles of AI at IBM are: 1) AI augments human intelligence, it doesn't replace it. 2) AI models need to be transparent and traceable. 3) Use AI in ways that empower society. 4) Your data is your data.
Carlson: How does the business model impact that?
Peluso: Our business model is to make clients successful. It’s not our data, it’s our client’s data. We strive to create an environment for clients to do their best work.
Marketing at its best has the intuition of humanity but more and more it’s science. To be successful, you need a graceful understanding of what people need and want. The key is bringing data, analytics, and insights together to anticipate needs, reinforce intuition, to create a compelling strategic positioning.
Carlson: How does that occur at IBM?
Peluso: When I joined Travelocity around 2001-2002, we attended the first Agile conference in the Wasatch mountains. We moved to Agile as a software methodology at scale. I was interested in bringing an Agile methodology to other disciplines like marketing. We have 6,000 marketers at IBM. To implement an Agile methodology, we had to clarify where people sat, what squads were, change office space, eliminate the layer of middle management (which required a huge amount of structural change). Employees went through six months of training during the move from Waterfall to Agile. We worked with all agency partners to determine if they could work with the new methodology. What we learned is that when you move to self-empowered teams, you need fewer people. Individuals become more valuable on teams.
We're now managing groups of different sizes. If you can find diverse groups of people and have them be on a mission together and look out for them, you can accomplish incredible things
Be clear about the mission, define what success looks like, and get blockers out of the way.
Carlson: Tell me about inclusion and diversity at IBM.
Peluso: To make further progress it will take everyone not just women. In recent research we conducted, 79% said gender inclusion is not a business priority in their company. It’s nice to have but it’s not a priority, there are no definitive goals. 11% of companies are first movers outperforming competitors. They have published goals for inclusion – if you want to win, include everybody. It’s an easy business priority. More inclusive teams produce better results. We know what needs to happen, we just need to make it a business priority.
Carlson: How does trust factor in with the customer relationship?
Peluso: Trust is an integral part of CX. Be aggressively thoughtful about CX. Think about how to leverage data and technology to improve CX. When you use customer data wisely, to make their lives simpler and easier, you gain their trust.
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