GE’s Burke Focuses On Marketing Innovation

On Wednesday, the Boston College marketing department held the first event of its spring semester series-a succession of featured speakers within the marketing industry intended to encourage students to study the role of marketing, consider career progression, and analyze the overall theme of innovation within both large and small companies.

The event, which featured Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric (GE) Health Care Sean Burke, BC ’94, focused on evolving marketing innovation and GE’s approach to leveraging young talent in order to solve some of today’s most crucial global health care needs.

Burke, who began his career with GE immediately following his undergraduate studies at BC, opened the discussion on “innovation” by first giving two dictionary-based definitions of the word, but followed with a quote from Thomas Edison, the company’s founder, that he said accurately encompasses the role marketing in business:

“I find out what the world needs and then proceed to invent it.”

Burke said it was the process of creating solutions to problems, and not the reverse, that perpetuates global marketing creativity and ultimately leads to innovative growth in both business and health care. After asking students in the audience for their interpretations of the quote and its applicability to marketing, Burke noted how Edison’s method of problem solving shapes progress.

“I love the order of [the quote],” he said. “What I like here is we say, ‘What does the world need and how do we proceed to invent it.'”

Invention, he said, should be predicated on the basis of need and promoted for the good of others-a theme he internalized during his time at BC and in line with the University’s motto of being men and women for others.

Breaking down his lecture into two main concepts, Burke discussed how, in marketing, “one size does not fit all” and noted the importance of observation-two branches of research Burke said GE focuses on when trying to improve both the science and art of understanding customer values.
“Why do [customers] buy or why don’t they buy?” he asked. “What are the values and what are the reasons that help drive a person to buy things?”
When citing the example of having to pitch an MRI machine to hospital administrators, or a refrigerator to families-both GE products-Burke emphasized the company’s commitment to not marketing technology solely on it technical attributes, but also the future benefits it will provide consumers.

“User perspective is critical,” he said.

By analyzing market needs, Burke said, GE can provide airlines with ways of monitoring fuel levels; install state-of-the-art hospital equipment in developing countries; and bring maternal neonatal health care resources to parts of rural Africa-all initiatives the company has employed through market research, and often the result of a field within marketing called reverse innovation.

“When we save 1 percent of the fuel burned in aircraft engines, we save our customers a ton of money-the analytics are huge, whether we’re making MRI machines or locomotives,” Burke said. “Innovation is increasingly about data and analytics.”

Reverse innovation, also know as trickle-up innovation, entails inventive global solutions originating in third-world and developing countries before being introduced to the industrialized world-an aspect of the health care industry GE has expanded into by having a wide-reaching international presence.

Burke closed his talk by citing several ways undergraduates can become involved with GE, specifically students interested in marketing and economics, and also mentioned that more than 180 BC graduates currently work for GE.

The BC marketing department’s next event will take place next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Fulton 511 and will feature Jason Sinnarajah, strategist and business analyst for the Cleveland Indians.


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Connor Farley was a copy editor and news editor for The Heights. You can probably find him at a Phish show.