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Jon Iwata, SVP of Marketing & Communications, IBM

From rapid technological advancement to demographic shifts and changing customer expectations, there's no denying we've entered a period of accelerating change-a new age. What are some of the core challenges your brand is facing during this pivotal time?

To me, the challenge is basic: To be a great brand, you must first be authentic. Your brand must be grounded in your culture, in the behavior of the company and its people.

 This is now more important than ever, as social media and mobile technologies allow anyone with first-hand knowledge of your company to share their experience with everyone. For IBM, the only way we can be comfortable in this world of transparency, and turn it to our advantage, is for every IBMer to be grounded in what we stand for.

 Our most important investment in the brand is building internal clarity. For example, I now spend more time collaborating with my peer who leads HR to ensure that everything, from recruiting criteria and management selection to workforce development, reflects and reinforces what makes IBM IBM.

While many brands still base their strategies on where they've been, the world we see emerging is unlike anything we've known before: hyperefficient, hyperconnected, on 24/7, highly integrated, and increasingly user defined. How is your brand adapting to changing needs, pressures, and preferences in your area of business? What "big bets" is your brand making in light of the future?

IBM is an innovation company. We know technology, and we know how it can reimagine business. The only way for our brand to remain strong and relevant is to stay at the forefront of the fastest-changing industry in the world. The biggest bet we are making on our brand now is transforming our company to embrace the new realities of big data, cloud computing, and mobile and social technology.

This transforms the IBM brand experience in profound ways. For example, big data makes innovations like Watson possible. Watson is the world's first cognitive computing system. It ingests massive amounts of data in all forms. It is not programmed-you train it, and it learns. Watson generates hypotheses and makes considered recommendations. It is already at work in healthcare, financial services, and retail. Watson is as close to a personification of the IBM brand as anything we've ever created-Watson is an IBMer.  

Characteristic of our age, digital has opened up a world of two-way transparency. How is your brand benefitting from big data insights-and how do you strike a balance between gathering information and protecting privacy?

Data allows us to shift from segments to individuals. Rather than impose a segmentation model on a population, people are implicitly and explicitly declaring their segmentation to us. They expect us to engage with them with knowledge that is personalized, relevant, and increasingly anticipatory. Data is the most effective way to understand and engage customers. To state the obvious, this cannot be done manually. To engage individuals at scale, we must build systems enriched with data and informed by behavioral science.

We recognize that this new, intimate relationship depends entirely on trust. Security and privacy are gating factors. We are deeply protective of our clients' and employees' data-including our pioneering privacy policy of protecting IBMers' genetics. We've found that data security and privacy regulation varies across the 170 countries in which IBM operates, but we've also found that core principles serve us well everywhere: be transparent with what data you have and how you use it-and let the customer be in control. People are smart and savvy. They will only share information with people and institutions they trust.

How is your company making the brand experience as well as services and product offers more personal and customizable for consumers? Can you name a few key examples you're particularly excited about?

The shift to cloud is converting IT and business into digital services that allows both business professionals and practitioners to use them directly. This is challenging conventional notions of what it means to be a B2B or a consumer company. Cloud is transforming IBM into a business-to-person brand. Increasingly, we will deliver IBM's innovations and expertise as digital services. 

Understanding in real time how clients are engaging us, and how they are using our products and services-not their stated preferences alone, but their actual behavior-is changing IBM marketing, product development, pricing, terms, and more. We are now building out a series of IBM Marketing Design Studios in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and training our professionals and agencies on agile development methods from the world of software.

In the past year, some brands have demonstrated that they are truly delivering what consumers want-Netflix, for example, changed content delivery in order to provide instant gratification to the bingers among us. Which brands are on your radar these days-who's getting it right?

The brands I most admire are not just giving customers what they want, but re-imagining what they will need-and transforming themselves to deliver that. For example, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is embracing a radically different approach to cancer treatment and re-thinking its profession's core assumptions. This is unusual for an institution at the top of its field. 


About Jon Iwata

Jon Iwata leads IBM's marketing, communications and citizenship organization.  This global team is responsible for the marketing of IBM's product and services portfolio, digital commerce, market intelligence, communications, and stewardship of the IBM brand, recognized as one of the most valuable in the world. 

Jon and his team led the development of IBM's "Smarter Planet" strategy and the marketing and communication of Watson, the cognitive computing system that defeated the two best human contestants in the game of Jeopardy! 

Jon reports to Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty.  He is chairman of the IBM Strategy Team, which focuses on the company's long-term strategic issues and opportunities, and is a member of the IBM Operating Team, responsible for day-to-day marketplace execution.  Jon is vice chairman of the IBM International Foundation. 

Jon joined IBM in 1984 at the company's Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley.  He was appointed vice president of Corporate Communications in 1995 and senior vice president, Communications, in 2002.  He assumed his current role on July 1, 2008. 

Jon is a trustee of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and is a director of the Japan Society.  He is a past chairman of the Arthur W. Page Society, a professional association dedicated to strengthening the management policy role of chief communications officers.  From 2006-2007, he served as chairman of The Seminar, a professional group consisting of chief communications officers. 

He holds a B.A. from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University.  

Jon is co-inventor of a U.S. patent for advanced semiconductor lithography technology.