Alison Weissbrot
Jul 7, 2021

IBM CMO is taking ‘a completely new approach’ to B2B marketing

Carla Piñyero Sublett talks about her vision for IBM as it spins off its infrastructure services business.

Carla Piñeyro Sublett
Carla Piñeyro Sublett

Carla Piñyero Sublett feels as though she has been preparing for her new job for 20 years.

The IBM SVP, chief marketing officer, who joined in February, has led marketing at some of the world’s largest B2B tech organizations, including 15 years at Dell, three years at cloud provider Rackspace and two years at National Instruments.

As IBM gets ready to spin off its IT services business, Kyndryl, Piñeyro Sublett sees a massive opportunity for the technology giant to be “super clear” about its new singular focus on multi-cloud services and AI.

She also plans to tell that story differently than B2B tech marketers have in the past.

“B2B tech marketing is due a disruption,” she said. “Everybody is running the same plays. Everyone is flooding the same channels, which is not really adding value to customers or decision makers.”

Piñeyro Sublett wants IBM to break the cycle of targeted, account-based marketing B2B companies have over relied on to uncover rich stories that already exist within the organization. IBM has won multiple Nobel prizes, for example, and invented technologies including the first PC, Lasik, the barcode and the ATM machine.

She also wants to get the word out about the important role IBM played during the pandemic, including partnering with CVS to answer millions of calls about COVID-19 vaccinations, and creating the Excelsior digital health pass that allows people to conveniently access their vaccination status, and helped New York City reopen.

IBM plans to go to market with a fully integrated campaign showcasing some of these stories immediately after the Kyndryl spin-off.

“Since the advent of ad tech, B2B marketers have lost their way,” Piñyero Sublett said. “We forgot that our No. 1 responsibility is to create relationships and add value. That's not going to happen by peppering LinkedIn inboxes, chasing with banner ads or flooding emails. I want to create more of a pull than a push by educating and inspiring customers through rich storytelling.”

The need for storytelling in B2B marketing is even more crucial after COVID, which has impacted how people like to consume information, she added. “The days of white papers and longform emails might be over. Folks are looking for rich videos with more substance, where they can actually learn something.”

In addition to more branding and storytelling campaigns (IBM has longstanding relationships with Ogilvy and its holding company WPP, which it plans to continue), Piñeyro Sublett also wants to make IBM’s owned channels more engaging. She envisions IBM’s website, for example, looking more like Netflix, with the ability to scroll through libraries of content, than a typical B2B website.

E-commerce will also play a big role in IBM’s future, as businesses shift to buying both hardware and software online. “I envision us becoming much easier to purchase from digitally,” Piñeyro Sublett said.

To pull off these bold ideas, Piñeyro Sublett has begun to reorganize IBM’s marketing department, which was “functioning like 40 separate marketing organizations” when she first started.

“We were aligned to our own org structures vs. what we are trying to do in the marketplace,” she said. “I am moving towards a model where we organize as one organization and align on what we want to achieve as a business first before creating campaigns. That's a big shift for IBM.”

As a diverse leader at IBM and in marketing, building and investing in diverse teams is important to Piñyero Sublett personally, not just in the work IBM creates, but also in the vendors and suppliers the organization chooses to work with. IBM holds its agencies to its own diversity standards.

At IBM, which will reopen its U.S. offices on Sept. 7, people in the marketing organization “really want to get back together,” Piñyero Sublett said. “That being said, we are able to work virtually,” she added. “So we are enabling people with quite a bit of choice and flexibility in how they want to work.”

Doing so tactically, however, will require “intention” about when people need to come together and which employees need an office environment.

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