Shifting the focus of a manufacturing titan
With 300,000 people in 174 countries and 3,500 businesses, GE epitomised the 20th century global corporation. Co-founded by tireless inventor Thomas Edison, they were the famous maker of everything from jet engines and lightbulbs, to healthcare tools and appliances.
They also made the infrastructure for the transportation and energy sectors and provided capital for businesses and individuals eager to grow. GE were an icon for change, progress and invention; an icon that had yielded 65,000 patents in 120 years.
But it was now the 21st century and with the transfer of leadership from Jack Welch to Jeff Immelt, GE were poised for transformation. Their focus had shifted: from US-centric to an emphasis on Asia and Europe. And from a business constrained by organisational silos, to one with greater focus on customer needs.
And they wanted us to help bring about another shift: from under-leveraged, atomised and old-world manufacturer, to 21st century technology and service partner.
Our first brief focused on GE's brand architecture. With 3,500 business units, the company appeared incomprehensible from the outside; the finance world didn't understand them and customers weren’t clear on what they could buy.
Now Jeff Immelt wanted to bring the organisation closer together. And he understood that marketing could provide a route to do this without taking away the individual P&Ls that gave the business units their responsibility.
We proposed that GE adopt an architecture that used their market-facing capability as the entry point for customers. They had the capability to build and equip a whole hospital, yet were selling it piece by piece. What their customers needed was a joined-up relationship, rather than a series of transactions for individual products.
“If I'm a government, I want to buy a hospital. I don't want someone to make the windows...someone to make the X-ray machine...I want a hospital.” Brian Boylan, Wolff Olins
Where a business unit was previously defined by what it did, it was now defined by what it was for. Where there stood GE Aircraft Engines, GE Plastics, GE Specialty Materials and GE Equipment Management, there would now be GE Industrial. Where there was GE Power Systems, GE Transportation Systems and GE Industrial Systems, there would now be GE Infrastructure.
In all, 3,500 names would be reorganised under just 11 market-orientated headings. This new architecture, based on market-facing capability, was a profound move for a company the size of GE; suddenly they had more opportunity for interaction with their customers.
What they needed next was a core idea to inspire and drive the businesses forward; a set of common values that would guide decisions, allowing them to face any situation with confidence. GE's advertising agency had given them 'Imagination at Work', which we worked to define with a simple story that could excite and unite people. This story built on the ethos of Edison himself, who was an inventor for good; driven by improving the lives of ordinary folk, rather than inventing for invention's sake.
“Imagination at work is not a tagline, it’s a reason for being.” Jeff Immelt, GE CEO
Having adopted a customer-centric architecture and a core idea to drive the business, GE needed a new presence in the world. We gave them a modern identity to liberate and celebrate the GE monogram, which had stood since the late 19th century.
The identity used a system based around 14 colours that allowed GE to adapt their mood, or tone, based on the context. Corporate GE, for example, was a mirror to reflect all of the company's activities. In all cases they would appear friendly and approachable.
We then set off around the world with a roadshow, getting GE leaders excited about 'Imagination at Work'. We also worked on the packaging for consumer products and – in the case of GE Money – branch design.
GE could now pitch to nation states, using their new ability to bring unified solutions to customers. Its 85 'Imagination Breakthroughs', inspired by the brand idea, added $25 billion dollars in additional revenues across 100 countries.
They were named 'most admired company' for two consecutive years by Fortune and continue to top brand performance lists. In 2012 BrandFinance Global 500 rated GE the 7th most valuable brand, seeing total value increase by 14% to $4.3 billion.
And their customers continue to grow, with the support of a 21st century technology and service partner.