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Q&A with Leaders Forum keynote speaker, Joe Ippolito, IBM

With the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum fast approaching, David Rowlands caught up with keynote speaker Joe Ippolito to discuss his presentation, Covid-19 and his tips for marketing leaders over the coming months.

Joe is head of transformation analytics, data & performance marketing at IBM, and will be delivering his presentation ‘You are not a marketer’ at 3:20-4:00 p.m. BST on 10 September. For the full Leaders Forum agenda,

click here


With the Leaders Forum right around the corner, what are you most looking forward to?

Genuine human interaction. With the current state of travel, I find myself craving any opportunity to be in a room full of brilliant professionals – even if that room is virtual. Meeting people, learning from others, just forging some kind of connection. At a time where our ability to socialise and explore is hindered, these opportunities are not only of immense value, but immense comfort.

What can our attendees expect to learn from your keynote presentation?

Well, given that I’ll be joining you from New York, the merits of a stiff drink at 10 a.m.? I know this is the part of the interview where I’m supposed to sell the session but, in truth, I’d probably be giving myself too much credit were I to presume that attendees would learn anything in particular. This is a tremendously talented group, each of whom is dealing with wildly complex challenges. I’ve got just as much to learn from them.

I’ll say this, though: I’ll be talking about what’s worked for me, and what’s working for us at IBM. I’ll talk about how we frame our challenges, and the sorts of questions that have guided us toward success. I’ll also give you a peek behind the curtain and discuss some things that I think need work. Then we’ll have some time to chat. I know I’ll find it valuable; I’m hoping others do as well.

Oh, and there’s at least a decent chance I’ll accidentally swear. I suppose that’s worth tuning in for.

In your keynote synopsis, it says: “At our best, marketers can be officers of growth, with a meaningful seat at the table, helping to power our businesses forward.” Do you think this holds truer than ever in the midst of a global pandemic?

Yes and no.

I should probably stipulate that in the midst of a global pandemic, talking about marketing seems profoundly unimportant.

With that said, though – in speaking with peers, the current climate may be an opportunity to do some of the things we should have being doing anyway. Let’s say, for instance, you’re under a budget crunch in response to the economy. What better chance to prioritise and focus your spend on those things which are truly moving the needle? Perhaps your office is still wrestling with the challenges of working remotely. Sounds like a great chance to take steps to ensure your team is feeling properly engaged and supported.

Of course, focusing on things like building healthy teams, effective measurement systems, and driving toward efficiencies are always important. But if we can use this moment of flux as the impetus to inject more healthy practices into our day-to-day, perhaps something good can come out of it.

As a marketing leader yourself, what do you think will set leaders apart from the rest in the coming 12 months?

Compassion, decisiveness and flexibility.

If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that none of us knows what the next year might hold. And while resilience will surely be needed, intransigence may have never been a bigger barrier to success. Clinging to the way it’s always been done has always been poor strategy, but in a shifting environment, it has the potential to actively harm your business more than ever before.

I think the leaders who will stand apart are those who embrace the uncertainty; those who will adapt to what the data are telling them, isolate areas of true value, and experiment constantly to adjust on the fly – and those who will execute while creating a collaborative, agile, nurturing environment for their teams.

What’s the number one thing you’ve learned this year? (in terms of marketing!)

The importance of not squandering a perfectly good opportunity to shut up. In response to Covid-19, I was surprised by how many companies came out with truly terrible, disingenuous, clumsy messaging in an effort to capitalise.

Don’t get me wrong: there was plenty of great work, as well. Many organisations actually have quite a lot of value to offer their customers – and the world – during troubling times (I’m fortunate enough to work for one of them). Some of those companies did a brilliant job of showcasing that value when it was needed most.

But there was also a spate of opportunism dressed up as concern. To me at least, it came off – at best – as tone-deaf and – at worst – as predatory. Personally, I think customers are smart enough to see through those sorts of exploitive attempts. I expect that consumer savvy will be reflected in the balance sheets of a number of organisations for which the responsible choice during a global crisis would have been to hold their collective tongue so we didn’t have to hold our collective nose.

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