GE continues to develop 'imagination'

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General Electric
Headquarters: Fairfield, Conn.
Brand established: 1892
2003 advertising: $787.8 million
Brand equity: $60.3 billion
CoreBrand ranking: No. 1
Ries: “A powerful global brand with a great reputation for quality but only for traditional products: lightbulbs,
refrigerators, aircraft engines, medical equipment, diesel-electric locomotives, etc.”
Gregory: “GE is one of my favorite corporate brands. They are always reinventing themselves and extremely
entrepreneurial for such a large company.”
Roth: “To deliver on the innovation promised in ‘Imagination at work.’ If they don’t deliver on that, the whole innovation thing, at some point they’ll lose credibility.”
Ries: “If General Electric wants to get into tomorrow-type products like computers, cellphones, software, etc., it needs to launch additional brands.”

For almost two decades, the General Electric Co. brand was embodied by company chairman-CEO Jack Welch, who delivered quarterly results that sated Wall Street. The GE that Jack built was cobbled together through acquisitions and included a number of different divisions-such as appliances and aircraft engines-that had little in common besides category leadership.

After Welch's retirement, which came ironically after GE's failure to acquire Honeywell, new CEO Jeffrey Immelt quickly re-emphasized marketing at the company. And its new marketing effort, led by CMO Beth Comstock and Judy Hu, executive director-advertising and branding, has built on the brand attribute of quality by emphasizing "innovation."

The company launched a massive rebranding campaign in 2003 built around the tagline "Imagination at work." Gone was "We bring good things to life," which had been around since 1979, although it had the feeling of having originated with company founder Thomas Edison.

With ads focusing on medical records, jet engines and wind turbines, GE showed that it was much more than a lightbulb and appliance company. The thrust was that GE was not an old-fashioned smokestack industrial company but an innovative enterprise and, by implication, a growth stock.

The ads targeted customers and prospects, employees and investors. GE's research has shown that the perceptions of the company as being innovative (35%), dynamic (50%) and offering high-tech solutions (40%) all increased.

Among customers and prospects, business executives were a key target, Hu said. The campaign runs intermittently on NBC, where it reaches consumers, but much more consistently on MSNBC and CNBC, where it reaches the management target, she explained. "Among business executives we've seen the most movement [in metrics tracking brand attributes]," she said.

GE is trying to do more than simply talk a good innovation game. It is attempting to institutionalize the value of developing new, imaginative products and services. Internally, the company has encouraged what it calls "imagination breakthroughs." Hu said scores of ideas generated through this effort are currently in the pipeline.

Externally, the campaign seems to have generated results on Wall Street. In the second quarter, GE's brand equity reached $56.78 billion, which pushed it past Microsoft Corp.'s brand equity of $55.04 billion into the top spot, according to CoreBrand's brand power rankings.

Next, GE is taking the "Imagination at Work" campaign overseas, where it is less of a force than in North America. It is advertising in Europe and Japan. The company plans to do more advertising in China using the Olympic rings as it is a sponsor of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

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