Last Friday's GE quarterly earnings inspired stock market collapse caught "everyone" off guard. While it drove most to hair pulling, it steered this observer to brainstorming on the issues of brand relevance and respect, and the lack thereof. Particularly so for two very well known, yet very different entities, General Electric and the NAACP.
The author also has a few separate thoughts on the new personal brand image of GE CEO Jeff Immelt, the individual at the center of the GE earnings firestorm.
When looking a GE and the NAACP, a question or two comes to mind. Might companies and organizations that have been around for decades or in each of their respective cases, a century or more, be better served by periodically taking a step back to do what they apparently have not. That is, responsibly ask themselves "while our business/organization has evolved, has our brand too? Should it?".
The 250 point Dow Industrials collapse was triggered by a pre-opening Friday morning earnings bombshell dropped on Wall Street. The unexpected culprit, General Electric, better referred to as GE, did what it had not done for 20 years – it (grossly) "surprised and disappointed" analysts and investors.
As a penalty, the stock was severely punished, in fact pummeled. It lost almost 5 points to close at $32, made even worse by being removed from a Goldman Sachs elite stock pick list. More on that and the CEO's CNBC interview before the opening bell in Part 2 of the article. In a nutshell, though, from one who watched it, it was embarrassingly bad.
Interestingly, in the course of GE CEO Jeff Immelt's pre-market opening CNBC interview, some non-stock market related thoughts came to mind, particularly as respects brand and brand messaging.
He described each of the major GE business segments and their respective contributions to the earnings debacle, or not. Some results were actually good. In fact had the earnings problem been diligently outlined these last couple of weeks, the stock might actually have risen.
It became abundantly clear however to this observer that General Electric is no longer about "general electric stuff" nor is its image still legacied to those startup days 130 years ago as a lighting, then appliance manufacturer. Admittedly, Mr. Immelt noted 40-50% of the company now is in financial services. Thomas Edison would certainly have never predicted such an evolution of his baby. The remainder in infrastructure and manufacturing. As for appliances, Mr. Immelt specifically noted it being but a very small piece of the company, seemingly dismissing it as nothing but an orphan child.
With the company's focus then on everything but lighting and appliances, that is targeting the real revenue guts of the company - financial services, jet engines, power generation equipment, medical imaging equipment, media/entertainment, etc, it begged the thoughtful question "Why still call yourselves General "Electric", when it really is no longer relevant.
Then thinking further on the thought of brand relevancy, the Author coincidentally recalled a recent report heard on the "NAACP", which struck a curious chord then and an even more pronounced one now. The organization, now 99 years in existence, is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. The brand however, still questionably stands for and specifically states its meaning as what it was founded upon - the "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People".
Like GE, this brand/image certainly isn't relevant today either, and quite frankly never was appropriate. In fact, downright offensive and derogatory. So in the case of the NAACP, its brand name is not only irrelevant but too, entirely dis-respectful.
For whatever reason, it labors intuitive thought then as to why the NAACP has yet to change the specific "C" word in its brand. Be that as it may and maybe it has a reason, it too is interesting that this is an organization seemingly in transition, apparently struggling to find its 21st century identity; that assessment based solely upon its apparent "ALL", not targeted (African American) Mission Statement.
If randomly surveyed, most if not all people of any ethnicity would quickly identify the NAACP with African Americans only. Interestingly however, the website Mission Statement suggests the charter is now broader; to help ALL peoples.
Evidence the following Mission Statement, Vision Statement and Objectives taken directly from the NAACP website which make no specific mention of the organizations's historic legacy support constituency, African Americans. Instead, it specifically mentions its goal to ensure the rights of ALL peoples (persons). There is curiously no expected ethnic distinction in these key underpinning themes/statements of the organization.
From the NAACP Website: