GE is a marketer well-known for its marketing moves that look more like cultural movements than ads. Branding is rooted in a show-don’t-tell philosophy. Its marketing “content” is events and activities and learning contexts that focus more on what GE “brings to life.”
“There are some critical initiatives at GE—globalization, innovation and technology are a few,” said Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing at GE. “What our [marketing] team does is [determine], how do we bring a theme like that, which is important but can be heady in some ways, and ground it so that people can understand it and our different constituencies—investors, employees, technologists—can relate to it?”
Its Garages program neatly fits that marketing goal. Created with experience design shop Sub Rosa—which Boff said is adept at “listening to a market and finding ways to be organic”—and launched in March 2012 at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, it’s been a road show of the latest in invention and manufacturing. Think 3D printers and welding and laser cutters. It’s also a hands-on educational opportunity for participants.
It’s a savvy brand-building move, said Kevin Lane Keller, E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Tuck School of Business, of GE. “A key part of a big corporate brand like GE is credibility. [To build] expertise and trustworthiness and likability, doing road shows like this–the idea of entrepreneurship and getting people interested in areas that GE has some interest in—all that plays to those three key areas.
“In general, when it comes to companies that have a cause side, you want to make sure you have a strong ‘show’ component, and the ‘tell’ component must be presented more organically,” he said.
After Austin, GE brought its Garages program to universities and sites in U.S. cities like Chicago and Houston working with tech partners like Quirky and Autodesk. This year it has taken the concept abroad. First stop? Lagos, Nigeria. It coincides with the company’s reported goal to invest $2 billion in Africa by 2018.
“We opened up a Garage in Lagos to bring to life this idea of advanced manufacturing in a critical market for GE—sub-Saharan Africa—to open up opportunities to work with entrepreneurs and to work with groups to spur entrepreneurship,” Boff said. “There will be an ongoing skills development.”
It could also be a way to cultivate talent. “That’s one of the goals, but they don’t have to work just for GE. For us, it’s more about driving entrepreneurship and new types of skill development in a market that’s quite important to GE. This is a new type of CSR. For us it is about entrepreneurship and new skills. If that increases in Nigeria, all boats rise. Nigeria for GE is a market of great growth and opportunity. We have been there, but from a business point of view it’s an emerging market,” Boff said. “A lot of our relationships on the customer side are local, are government, and from a brand point of view, our brand is fairly well known. What they’re not always well versed in is exactly what it is that we do. So being able to talk about the specific areas that GE is involved in, for example, manufacturing—that is breaking new ground for us. You may know GE in Africa, but you may not know why you know GE there.”
The Lagos installation, launched June 24, was open for three weeks. It offered 42 classes, events and workshops and had more than 1,000 people visit in the first 10 days—which is a high turnout relative to the hour and a half it takes to get to the space amid Lagos traffic. Visitors stayed an average of two hours, compared with an average engagement time at other Garages of 45 minutes. GE even got one job application from a local systems engineer interested in an open position as well as inclusion in GE development programs.
“Taking it to Nigeria certainly reinforced global [focus], allows them to exercise their brand in another market and creates a certain amount of goodwill in a market that probably doesn’t receive this kind of attention,” Keller said.
Next up on the world tour? The Middle East, slated for fall. “We will do it a little differently, but nonetheless [it will be] the same broad concept,” Boff said. They’ll continue from there based on how well it continues to play out. “It’s early days. We’ve been in the U.S. for several years. It would not surprise me given what we’re seeing, which is high impact.”
For corporate brands in particular, Keller said, “this sort of thing is especially appropriate when you have a corporate brand that spans geographies and different product markets.” It works because it “draws some attention to [their] activities and helps people out in the process,” he said. “I think it’s a clever win-win, and that’s the goal for a lot of these types of marketing programs.”
By Jennifer Rooney for Forbes. This article was republished through NewsCred’s Licensed Content Network.
Originally published on Aug 13, 2014 3:46 PM, updated Feb 10, 2016