General Electric, a builder of powerful things for powerful customers, is in the process of reinventing itself-and the economics of heavy industry-by pushing its machines into the era of big data. As articulated by Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, GE's focus on building mighty machines like jet engines and gas turbine power plants-or "big iron" as the company refers to it-needs to evolve. By putting industrial engineering at the very heart of the business-and infusing its machines with intelligence-Immelt envisions a world enhanced by smarter, ultra-high-performing technology: big iron meets big data.
In its 2013 annual report, GE outlined its goal of streamlining and revitalizing its portfolio to become 70 percent "premier infrastructure company" and 30 percent "valuable specialty finance business." To demonstrate its commitment, GE spun off its retail finance business in early 2014. The divestiture of Synchrony was the first indicator of GE taking steps to secure focus for the business. Further reinforcing its industrials play, GE announced the acquisition of French company Alstom's gas and steam turbine businesses for USD $16.9 billion.
In early September 2014, it was announced that Electrolux would buy GE's appliance business for USD $3.3 billion-another indication that GE is transitioning away from consumer businesses and focusing more intently on industrials. Despite this significant shift, GE's customer relationships remain close and personal. And it's using big data to get even closer, which implies huge opportunities for the brand during the Age of You. Its brand-readily recognized by consumers and a signifier of world-class innovation in industry and tech circles-is something GE continues to leverage to its advantage.
Perhaps Beth Comstock, GE's SVP and CMO, summed up its approach to marketing best in a May 2014 Ad Age article: "It's the same if you are targeting consumers directly or businesses. We are all people . . . Business marketing does not have to be boring marketing. You can't sell anything if you can't tell anything." By producing advertising spots such as "What Would Happen" and "Childlike Imagination," GE has succeeded in bringing its brand strategy-and its vision for the future-to life in creative and thought-provoking ways.
GE now has an opportunity to harness its brand to deliver incremental value to its ecosystem of stakeholders. Already seizing that opportunity, GE is successfully generating global brand awareness and strengthening its relevance in different product markets through its Garages initiative. The Garages global road show, created in collaboration with experiential design studio Sub Rosa and tech partners like Quirky, showcases innovations in manufacturing and offers classes, events, and workshops. Garages is a clear indication to the market and investors that GE is not just imagining what's next, but is actually doing it.