Transforming Marketing at Scale with IBM

IBM Marketing is undergoing the biggest digital transformation the company has ever seen as it migrates its MarTech stack to the Adobe suite. With a team of over 200+ people, they are seeking to transform the way customers and prospects experience IBM and the way thousands of IBM Marketers work.

Taylor Shawver, Strategy Manager at Integral, sat down with Jason Andrews, VP of Digital Marketing at IBM, who oversees this colossal transformation. In their 45 minute conversation with rapid-fire Q&A from our wonderful attendees, Jason shared how he structured the transformation team, lessons and challenges he’s learned along the way, and his advice to other leaders embarking on a transformation. 

While we can guarantee this discussion is worth your time, we’ve also summarized the key takeaways below for you to read. However, in order to learn Jason’s answers to the speed round (the same questions they answer in all of their internal podcast episodes), you’ll have to skip to the end of the recording.

Key takeaways from the session

Why the Adobe transformation, coined “Project Afterburner,” represents a personal connection to Jason’s background:
  • Jason’s career began as an officer in the Airforce. The bureaucracy and scale of the military, plus then working for multiple different startups, consulting, and for United Airlines (although his current favorite airline is Delta), all uniquely prepared him for later leading 500+ Digital Marketers at IBM (4:00).
  • “Afterburner” itself comes from the name of a turbo engine he learned about in the military. It represents adding an extra boost to a vehicle, in the same way that migrating to the Adobe suite is adding fuel to IBM’s Marketing machine (6:00).
The importance of keeping employees at the heart of decision-making:
  • Transformations are a value exchange. It’s necessary to lead with what employees will get out of the migration. Jason brought in leaders at other companies who had experience with the Adobe migration to show Marketers what was possible and in turn get their buy-in (10:00).
Transformation mistakes to avoid (and how a structured comms plan mitigates them):
  • One of the most common mistakes he saw in prior transformations was leadership taking a “black box” approach. Years of behind-the-scenes work would go by before employees knew about the tools or how it would impact their roles.
  • Jason’s team mitigated this by bringing in transparency from the start. Project plans are live, interactive and transparent. Not to mention, half of the team is stacked with Marketers so the communications have formed an intentional feedback loop of what’s sticking and what isn’t. As a result, Jason said, “When we turn this [Adobe suite] over to Marketers, they will know how to use it,” (13:00).
Deliver value early and often:
  • Jason learned doing as much as you can, as fast as you can, keeps employees engaged and excited even when a transformation seems like it can drag on forever. 
  • By delivering chunks of value from an agile Minimum Viable Experience (MVE) approach, such as releasing just one page at a time or launching email tools in a month (a huge deal), his team could test and get feedback in real world conditions much sooner than traditional migrations would have (15:00).
Dealing with negative feedback (from employees or customers):
  • Let’s face it: Automation is a negative word. Jason says the best way to deal with negative feedback, internal or external, is ask yourself if the feedback would benefit the client experience. Oftentimes, decisions are made because of traditional organizational structure, or it’s “easier” for the team in charge.
  • Automation unlocks the opportunity for employees to do more with their roles. Leaders need to communicate that new tools will unlock more productivity for the people in those roles, as long as they are willing to accept the new help. If the customer desires a faster, personalized experience and makes a fuss until they get it, then that is more than likely the problem you should look to solve, and make sure your employees understand it’s their mission to help you solve that problem with the right tools (30:00).
Communicating what you know (and don’t know) without losing credibility:
  • As a leader navigating uncharted territory, Jason says it’s difficult to admit you’ve hit a roadblock in a transformation. However, showing that the team has a lot to learn or hasn’t solved a certain leg of a sprint (yet) gives the opportunity to pull in employees who may be able to provide a solution. Plus, this transparent approach gives more credibility to the times when you were confident giving updates on progress (35:45).
Being aware of transformation fatigue and knowing these projects do have an expiration date is critical:
  • Right now, Jason is thinking through how to return this large dedicated project team to their “business as usual” roles. He says consultancies will be gradually transferred to work alongside project leaders as they return to their prior roles and bring a wealth of knowledge with them, in a sense serving as change agents or “boots on the ground.” That being said, some of the teams created for this project will find a permanent home, such as a team dedicated to the customer experience. His main takeaway? Prepare an “exit strategy” before the plane reaches the end of the runway (40:15).

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Mary Grace Scully
Associate Client Manager
Mary Grace is a communications and content enthusiast who thrives off of developing authentic relationships with teammates and clients.
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