This summer, General Electric (GE) announced the future brand identities for the planned separation of its portfolio of healthcare, energy, and aviation businesses into three independent public companies.
The decision to separate the businesses, announced last November marked a defining moment in the history of the iconic GE brand It also raised a pivotal question around what role the GE brand should play in setting each future company apart.
To help answer this question, GE partnered with Interbrand on a six-month collaborative research and design process, with the goal of determining the optimal brand identity and positioning for each future company.
Through a customer-led, data-driven research plan that engaged over 2,200 industry practitioners and nearly 3000 GE employees, Interbrand set out to understand the intrinsic value of the GE brand and its alignment to the future vision for each company.
To learn more we spoke to Interbrand New York CEO Daniel Binns, to learn about everything “atmosphere blue,” “compassion purple” and “evergreen.”
What was the brief for the rebrand?
Immediately following last November’s announcement of the planned separation of their healthcare, energy, and aviation businesses, General Electric (GE) knew they would need a partner to deliver empirical, objective evidence to help guide their decision as to if, how and where to use the GE brand post-spin, in order to maximise value for each new company and minimise risk to the brand overall.
The selected partner would also need to design the new visual identities for each brand and refocus the positioning in their respective markets to ensure long-term growth and relevance. Every brand agency in the country wanted this assignment, given the high-profile nature of the split and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define the future of one of the most storied conglomerates in American history and one of the most iconic brands in the world.
How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?
Interbrand’s outbound pursuit of GE spanned over a year prior to the separation announcement. Our New York team engaged GE CMO Linda Boff in September 2020 with a detailed readout of their most recent ranking in our Best Global Brands report.
In mid-2021, we invited Larry Culp to speak at our annual Best Global Brands launch event – his first time speaking publicly about the GE brand. These early relationship touchpoints sparked an ongoing conversation at the senior executive level that saw multiple points of view being developed and exchanged informally.
Thus, when the separation plan was ultimately announced in November 2021, we had already established strong, trusting relationships with the key stakeholders and gained a unique insight into the GE business and its needs.
Because of this, we were able to ask numerous detailed questions about what exactly it would take to win the work. We learned that the fidelity and nuance of our analysis in forming an objective, data-driven recommendation on how best to brand the companies would be crucial.
And ultimately our team of researchers, strategists, and designers from both the New York office and the Interbrand global network were able to demonstrate the high degree of rigor, collaboration, and craft that enabled us to win the pitch.
Describe the purpose of the brand and its target audience
GE rises to the challenge of building a world that works. For more than 130 years, GE has invented the future of industry, and today the company’s dedicated teams, leading technology, and global reach and capabilities help the world work more efficiently, reliably, and safely. GE’s people are diverse and dedicated, operating with the highest level of integrity and focus to fulfill GE’s mission and deliver for its customers.
Upon the planned separation and launch of the new brands, the new GE HealthCare will become an independent healthcare technology and diagnostics company, empowering providers and patients with the data, platforms, and partnerships to enable care that is simpler, connected, and more precise.
GE’s aviation business will become the new GE Aerospace, building upon its established expertise, extensive partnerships, and commitment to customers in the aviation sector to propel a new era of growth in aerospace and defense—guided by the brand’s abiding purpose to invent the future of flight, lift people up, and bring them home safely.
GE’s combined portfolio of energy businesses will become the new GE Vernova – aimed at confronting the climate crisis with the energy to change the world, as a united, focused, one-of-a-kind force that will lead and accelerate the way to a new era of reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy.
What was your thinking behind the rebranding solution?
We entered this assignment with no pre-determined solutions in mind. All possibilities for how best to brand each company were carefully considered—from retaining the GE brand as-is, to combining GE with a new name, to creating a wholly independent brand.
Our thinking on the rebranding decision came down to striking a careful balance—namely, how best to build upon the strong equity already established in the GE brand over the past 130 years, while also signaling a fresh, focused start for each new company that would clearly communicate their separation from one another and from the heritage GE corporation.
Determining this answer necessitated an approach that was equal parts creative and analytical, and which required in-depth exploration across several key brand and business issues, including the current equity of the GE brand; the future visions for each company; the hopes, needs, and expectations of customers, employees, and investors; and the long-and short-term financial implications of any potential rebranding.
We engaged in an extensive primary research and immersion process to understand these issues from multiple internal and external stakeholder perspectives, including over 2,200 customers and industry experts, key investors and nearly 3,000 GE employees from across all business units and global regions.
The result was a comprehensive picture that blended qualitative insight with quantitative analysis to balance the many emotional factors at play in any rebranding against a clear financial bottom-line. This approach enabled us to align the entire organisation on a clear winning pathway for the future branding of each company.
Did you learn anything new during the project?
The one thing we heard clearly across all stakeholder audiences was that the GE name and monogram represent iconic brand assets for each business – representing an unparalleled legacy of innovation, an esteemed badge of trust for customers globally, and an invaluable source of pride internally.
The determination to retain the GE name and monogram as part of the new brand identities is designed to build upon this powerful shared equity, enabling each company to leverage its GE heritage in distinct ways as a springboard to future success.
What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
A unique challenge of this project stemmed from the simple fact that we were tasked with standing up three future brands in parallel, within a heritage client organisation that was moving closer toward business separation with each passing day.
This required a novel way of working, as we knew we would need to engage at both the corporate leadership level to ensure a coordinated decision-making and approval process, as well as at the individual business unit level to secure the necessary input and buy-in from the teams who would become the ultimate owners of these brands post-spin. In our proposal, we outlined a structure for our working teams that mirrored the organisational changes that GE itself was undergoing.
For the research and analysis into the brand architecture decision, we formed an overarching GE team to look comprehensively across all three businesses equally, and make recommendations directly to the GE corporate leadership teams.
For the individual brand positioning and identity workstreams, we formed dedicated portfolio teams from across our entire New York office to engage directly at the business level in order to craft their individual brand strategies and visual expressions.
While this multi-tiered, parallel-pathed way of working made for an unconventional alignment and approval process, it enabled us to bring all stakeholders along equally as part of the journey. And it has now set up each new business brand team with their own dedicated Interbrand working team to support the more tailored brand development and activation work in the run-up to launch.
What kit/tools/software were used to create it?
Our overall approach to the branding decision was shaped by our proprietary Interbrand Thinking methodology, combining the three lenses of economics, brand experiences, and human truths to chart a trajectory for business growth.
Specifically, we conducted a series of business case modeling simulations to calculate the net-present value (NPV) of future EBIT flows generated by each possible branding solution, in isolation for each company and in combination with the others (including the “base case” scenario of keeping the current GE-led industry-descriptive names for each company).
Our model started with baseline revenue inputs based on historical financials and future forecasts, and applied variable assumptions for brand-related factors with the potential to affect revenues and expenses going forward.
Monte Carlo simulations were then run to model a range of high-end and low-end assumptions for each variable factor, yielding a most probable financial outcome for the individual solutions and scenario combinations. This allowed us to compare the relative EBIT potential of each scenario, both in perpetuity and in the first five years post-separation.
What details are you most proud of and why?
Once the decision to retain the GE brand across all three companies had been made, our focus shifted to the design challenge of how the new brand identities could help create distinction between the companies and convey the separate pathways that each will follow in their spin-off from the GE we know today.
This distinction is best conveyed by the new signature colors selected for each brand: “Atmosphere blue” for GE Aerospace, inspired by the upper limits of the horizon; “Evergreen” for GE Vernova, blending the blues and greens of the Earth; and “Compassion purple” for GE HealthCare, reflecting the humanity and warmth of connected patient care, and creating instant distinction in the category.
While the full visual identities for these brands are still under development, we believe the new logomarks succeed in representing each company as a logical and worthy successor to the heritage GE, while still feeling like three new, distinct, and exciting brands for employees and customers to rally around.
What do you hope it achieves for the brand?
To echo the words of CMO Linda Boff, “We firmly believe that this outcome will enable the best of the GE brand to live on, signaling a new beginning for each company that will more fully reflect their unique visions for the future, while building on the strong brand equity already in place today.”
Credit list for the work?
Plus numerous other devoted team members in the Interbrand New York office