How to Transform Your Corporate Image: Lessons from GE

March 11, 2016

November 18, 2015 | By Julie Ogilvie

There are many reasons that companies decide they need to transform their corporate image. Sometimes there’s a new CEO with a new vision. Sometimes the company has made a series of acquisitions that have expanded the portfolio. Often it’s just because executives feel the current image is not edgy enough. (We need more innovation! Our data is so big! We live in a cloud!)


Whatever the reason, the desire for image transformation often leads to a big investment in brand awareness – but not always a wise one. There is usually a television ad that looks something like this:

A time-lapse view of a gleaming cityscape with clouds rushing over it. People walking across the street really fast. A tall woman in a pencil skirt delivering a presentation in a modern conference room. Snow-capped mountains and fields of flowers. Wind turbines and/or solar panels. A bullet train. A huge room full of servers. Electronic zig-zags of color. A shot from outer space looking back at the Earth. Cue the logo.

After all this dazzling imagery, the viewer is left wondering “What was that? Who was that? Why? When will my program start again?” Many of these ads are heavy on brilliant imagery and light on the actual message. If you were blindfolded, you couldn’t tell one from another.

Enter GE with its smart new ad campaign: “What’s The Matter With Owen?” I encourage you to take a few minutes to check out these three spots. Thank you, GE, for resisting the planes/skyscrapers/daisies motif and reminding us of the power of storytelling on a human scale. Some reasons I love these ads:

  • The everyman as hero. GE has a big, transformational message about moving beyond pure manufacturing and into the industrial internet – and I’m sure they were tempted to make the company or the software the hero. Instead they’ve chosen a humble vehicle to deliver the message: Owen, a recent college graduate, who’s been hired by GE as a software developer. Owen delivers his news with earnestness and enthusiasm – and nobody gets it. His friends are puzzled and slightly embarrassed. His father shames him. For anyone in who’s ever struggled to explain their job to their mom, this spot will hit very close to home. Interestingly, Owen is able to deliver a lot of message points about the company in a short period of time, in a way that comes off as entertaining and endearing.
  • Brand awareness serving two masters. Many companies think of their corporate brand and their employment brand as two separate entities, each requiring separate campaigns and investment. In this campaign, GE is enhancing both brands very effectively. Lots of traditional companies are struggling to recruit young people, especially in competitive areas like software engineering. This campaign is a great example of how corporate branding and employment branding can be mutually reinforcing.
  • Poking fun at themselves. Deciding to do a series of commercials that use humor to convey a serious and important message may not have been an easy sell internally. Lots of people think that humor diminishes the message and the company. Inside GE, there were probably some people arguing for the shiny-buildings-people-walking-fast approach. It took guts for the agency (BBDO of New York) to present the idea and even more guts for the client to champion and approve the idea.

Is your company undergoing a brand transformation? Are you having difficulty measuring the value of reputation programs? Looking to connect corporate brand and employment brand? We’d love to share the best practices we’ve learned through conversations with hundreds of b-to-b clients. Check out our Strategic Communications Management page, or contact our friendly sales professionals.

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