If ever there were an example of a far-flung enterprise, General Electric would be it. Still best known for their consumer appliances, they are a diversified company that is a leader in locomotives, medical devices, aerospace and finance, among many other endeavors. GE uses a fabulous tagline, “Imagination at work,” which has managed to bridge both their consumer and business-to-business audiences quite well.
But, if you look closely, you’ll see that GE wants to change our perceptions of their brand. Their logo is the same. So is the tagline. Call it rebranding in plain sight, but GE is shifting its brand messages in the marketplace and looking to grab some strategic high ground in the process.
For about a year, GE has been running a series of TV spots that depict a number of young GE employees attempting to explain what they are doing for GE and how it matters to the world. The friends, parents and family members of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed workers struggle to get the message. They see GE as a “manufacturer,” and think their son or daughter will be working an assembly line. Not a bad job in their minds, but in one spot the son corrects them, “Yes, GE makes powerful machines, but I’ll be writing the code that allows those machines to communicate.”
In a video for GE Aviation, GE uses the terminology that they want us to think of when we see their brand. “We’re building a digital company inside an industrial company,” the video states. “Bringing together brilliant machines and best-in-class analytics to help our customers solve their toughest challenges.” OK, so the language is a bit corporate-speak, but the core idea is a real gem of brand strategy for two reasons.
First, GE is tackling an issue that a broad range of companies face, but especially “manufacturers,” which is that hardware is a commodity and the digital world is what’s new and exciting. GE is saying, no, the two together are what matter. We still need “brilliant machines” to work in tandem with digital engineering, and GE is leading this revolution. Give them credit for claiming “digital/industrial” as their term and the centerpiece of their branding language.
GE is also doing something else more subtle, but equally important, from a branding perspective. They are moving away from the consumer brand of their business, which they officially sold to Haier in June after the Department of Justice killed the sale of their appliance division to Electrolux. All of GE’s communications are now focused on their business divisions. GE is done selling high-efficiency washing machines and is now focused on 46,000-horsepower jet engines and much more.
GE’s tagline hasn’t changed, but the brand message heard in every TV spot, video and on their website is clear. The home page reads: “The world’s premier digital industrial company.” Rather than being a B2C and B2B company combined, they are now a digital and industrial company combined. It gives their audiences a new way of thinking about the brand, somewhat as 7-Up did when they declared themselves the “Uncola.” It’s likely that, in addition to being a slick branding move, their new positioning is also helping them recruit some of the best young minds that might otherwise find themselves working at Google, Apple or another digital giant. I’m counting GE’s “digital/industrial” brand concept as one of their best pieces of engineering to date.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal.