Deon Newman, Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Cloud, talks to The Ortus Club’s Lorna Davidson about his leadership roles and how he manages to integrate different strategies to make a cohesive and effective system to achieve breathtaking results.
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I’m Deon Newman, Global Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President responsible for IBM Cloud Acceleration worldwide.
So, first of all, tell us about IBM Cloud?
If you look at our world today, the pandemic has turned everything on its ear. Throughout the pandemic, 15% of companies have moved their workload to the cloud. It didn’t just start with retail and eCommerce companies. Now, everyone is going digital in critical industries such as banks, insurance companies, governments of service, utility companies, and healthcare. So, there’s been an acceleration in getting information accessed remotely. The ability to safely store data in the cloud and know that it will be private and secure. We’ve started to deal with data and information in innovative ways. Thus, artificial intelligence has become even more critical. And, analytics has become more urgent. So, IBM Cloud is about enabling and delivering mission-critical cloud to companies and doing it securely and privately.
What is your role there, and what are you focusing on right now?
I’m responsible for everything from the brand to how we digitally market our services and capabilities. Furthermore, I organise and monitor our sales force and assist our business partners. From sales talks to getting value-driven content and gaining practical tools, they help advertise our business in the marketplace.
Do you think there are enough opportunities or as many as there used to be?
Marketing starts with the question, ‘Who are you trying to talk to?’ You must understand with empathy where they are coming from, what industry they’re in, and what challenges they’re facing. The consumer’s world has been upended as well. We must find a new way to deliver value to them, facing new challenges. Secondly, our creativity is limited by our understanding of how our customers want to consume our products. We have tried many innovative ways like wine tastings, sending them a bottle of wine delivered to their doorstep, and having a cooking class with a world-class chef. There are different ways of doing fun things virtually.
However, it’s not the same as sitting in the same room. In that room, we can bring new ideas to the table. We can engage and keep it compelling, exciting, and dynamic. It’s a different experience to deliver our message with a solution in mind or a partnership to pursue. I long for the day when we can finally put down the mask, and we are all safe and healthy to converse as we did in the past. I know we won’t be going back to that anytime soon. Hybrid events will take advantage of the enormous steps we’ll have to take in the digital world.
How have marketing roles changed or adapted over the past year?
We’ve moved to a world where the competition is about providing similar yet unique services. We are competing on the expectation that B2B companies don’t just behave like traditional B2B companies. Instead, they should bring some of the values B2C provides, such as ease of use, speed, and agility. Our digital engagement goal is to offer the same great experience as ordering online goods when searching for an enterprise-level product. Because of this change, we have thought of creative ways to change how our visitors engage with our portfolio, how we present our offerings, and how to make them consumable. Essentially, that’s what changed from our digital standpoint.
Many physical events drove our relationships with businesses. Today, we have to think of innovative ways to present content on a digital scale. In the past, an event could potentially get two people interested in our value proposition. Now, we must think of making that proposition more concise. On the other hand, it has its perks because we don’t have to travel in the same timezone to discuss business partnerships. Traveling has its perks for leisure, but sometimes it can also drain you of your productivity. So, it’s exciting to think how marketing has changed and how it’s opened up more ways to engage with people. We can think and present many things in a compelling visual way.
“It’s exciting to think how marketing has changed and how it’s opened up more ways to engage with people. We can think and present many things in a compelling visual way.”
Some say it’s become more important than ever for marketing and sales teams to work closely to meet company goals. Would you agree?
I don’t know if they need to work more closely together than ever, but I’ve always thought that they needed to be bound together. Marketing is the glue that holds the relationship together, from product offering or creation to client presentation and execution. Moreover, it takes the original concept of solving a problem and shaping it into a story that fits the client’s needs, helping the client understand the achievable outcomes and how to advertise it.
One of the good things that the pandemic has brought us is innovative ways to demonstrate our service and products digitally. Many can buy a product, upgrade it, try new parts of that product, and how we can try to use different tools for marketing.
What’s an event you hosted last year that you were most proud of? Why was it so good?
We’re proud of our annual 40,000-person event in San Francisco and Las Vegas. Initially, we scheduled to run that event in early May of 2021, but the US decided to shut down businesses at the end of March. So, we were left with a big decision to make. Do we cancel the event? How do we deal with the premier event? Every year people tell their biggest stories, product launches, and the client stars who talk about their achievements and how they leverage technology. How do we redesign that? We had to redesign a five-day event period with thousands of sessions into a 100% digital event.
We had to reimagine things. You can’t do 30-minute keynote presentations. We have to think about how to bring that into a compelling set of montages and narratives that can be told in an entertaining way. But, we made it work. Through incredible planning, we turned a physical event into a 100,000-person digital event over multiple days, leveraging musicians for entertainment and engaging clients to tell their stories from their own homes. Some of our pre-recorded sessions include keynote senior executives that delivered a totally new experience for our guests. One of the beautiful things about committing to digital is you can keep reimagining it. With digitalisation, it lives for a long time beyond the event.
What’s one piece of career advice you have received that’s been particularly valuable to you as a marketing leader?
Think about your personal brand — who you are and what you stand for. In this digital world, everything truly lives forever. So, think about developing who you are and what you want to achieve. Always think about the role that you’d like to be doing next, and then perform the current role in that way. Make it a no-brainer that someone would want to hire you.