Thomas Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878. The company, which soon changed its name to General Electric (GE), became an early pioneer in lightbulbs and electrical appliances and served the electrical needs of various industries, such as transportation, utilities, manufacturing, and broadcasting. GE became the acknowledged pioneer in business-to-business marketing in the 1950s and 1960s under the tagline “Progress Is Our Most Important Product.”
As the company diversified its business-to-business product lines in the 1970s and 1980s, it created new corporate campaigns, including “Progress for People” and “We Bring Good Things to Life.” In 1981, Jack Welch succeeded Reginald Jones as GE’s eighth CEO. During Welch’s two decades of leadership, he helped grow GE from an “American manufacturer into a global services giant” and increased the company’s market value from $12 billion in 1981 to $280 billion in 2001, making it the world’s most valuable corporation at the time.
Over the years, GE has exhibited a keen understanding of the business market and the business buying process by putting itself in the shoes of its business customers. For example, the company understands that buying an aircraft engine is a multimillion-dollar expenditure that doesn’t end with the purchase. Customers (the airlines) face substantial maintenance costs to meet FAA guidelines and ensure reliability of the engines. In 1999, GE pioneered a new pricing option called “Power by the Hour,” giving customers an opportunity to pay a fixed fee each time they run the engine. In return, GE performs all the maintenance and guarantees the engine’s reliability. When demand for air travel is uncertain, “Power by the Hour” provides GE’s customers with a lower cost of ownership.
In 2003, GE and its new CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, faced a fresh challenge: how to promote its diversified brand with a unified global message. A source at GE explained, “(Immelt) wants advertising that’s more high- tech, more innovative and contemporary. Something that will make GE look more advanced, out in front.” So, after 24 years and $1 billion in financial support, GE dropped its signature slogan “We Bring Good Things to Life” for the new tagline “Imagination at Work,” highlighting its renewed focus on innovation and new technology.
The award-winning new campaign promoted units such as GE Aircraft Engines, Medical Systems, and Plastics, focusing on the breadth of the company’s product offerings, and it got results. “Research indicates GE is now being associated with attributes such as being high tech, leading edge, innovative, contemporary, and creative,” stated Judy Hu, GE’s general manager for global advertising and branding. In addition, survey respondents continued to associate GE with some of its traditional attributes, including trust and reliability.
In 2005, GE evolved the campaign into a companywide initiative that continues today, “Ecomagination.” Ecomagination highlighted the company’s efforts to develop environmentally friendly “green” technologies such as solar energy, lower-emission engines, and water purification technologies. GE initially set several aggressive goals for the new initiative, including doubling the revenue from “Ecomagination” products to $20 billion in five years and promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent within seven years. The company believed then and still believes that embracing innovation around Ecomagination is critical to its growth.
Immelt made some strategic restructuring decisions that helped the company survive the worldwide recession of 2008 and 2009 and also helped shift it even more in the B-to-B direction. GE moved from 11 divisions to five and sold off some of its consumer-focused businesses, including 51 percent of NBC Universal (sold to Comcast). This shift allowed the company to spend more resources on innovation, green initiatives, and its growing businesses such as power generation, aviation, medical imaging, and fuel cell technologies.
GE understood that it needed another huge initiative to help pull the conglomerate out of its current poor financial situation. Management believed there was huge growth potential in affordable health care around the world. As a result, the company embraced a $6 billion company-wide initiative called Healthymagination. The business strategy aimed at growing GE’s health care business by providing innovative solutions to more people around the world, and the company launched an integrated marketing plan for it.
GE’s B-to-B marketing savvy has helped it lock in the top position in the Financial Times’s “World’s Most Respected Companies” ranking for years. The company’s in-depth understanding of each of its business markets has kept its B-to-B marketing strategies progressive, relevant, and effective. In addition, its global marketing campaign helps keep brand equity strong. GE was ranked sixth in Interbrand/BusinessWeek’s “Top 100 Global Brands” report, with a brand value of $45 billion. “The GE brand is what connects us all and makes us so much better than the parts,” Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock said.
Today, General Electric operates in a wide range of industries, including power and water, oil and gas, energy management, aviation, health care, transportation, home and business solutions, and capital. As a result, the firm sells a diverse array of products and services from home appliances to jet engines, security systems, wind turbines, and financial services. Its revenues topped $146 billion in 2013, making it so large that its largest business units could rank separately in the Fortune 200. If GE were a country, it would be the 50th largest in the world, ahead of Kuwait, New Zealand, and Iraq.
Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.
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