by Marc Schmitt
Yet GE has shown that umbrella brands work differently. Innovation, diversification and leadership are the important things here. Not for nothing is GE estimated to be the sixth most valuable brand in the world. It is a brand which serves as an important seal of quality and the sensitive way it is managed reflects this. Even on the internet. Let’s take a look at the development history of the GE websites:
At first GE felt its way around the new medium. The homepage www.ge.com eagerly divided the numerous business areas in the header and the left-hand column. The logo and claim were positioned in the top left to make the source clear. Topics and content were listed in the main column in order of importance. The right-hand column was used for related topics.
In short, GE stuck to the standard layout which emerged in the first years of the web. The website looked text-heavy. Underlined hyperlinks didn’t improve things. Moreover, it was clear to what extent the individual GE departments fought for their place on the homepage and how the central marketing department was trying to please everyone. This was also a well-known phenomenon from the early years of the internet.
Five years later, GE had "cleaned up " the homepage. Two considerably shorter columns for content, one for three traditional pieces of information, the other for interesting events and co-operations shown by teasers. Otherwise, there was quick access to all business and corporate areas (HR, IR, PR), organized horizontally and vertically.
The corporate design modified in 2004 also stood out. The logo was carefully modernized by Wolff Olins; the claim "we bring good things to life" was replaced by "imagination at work".
The GE homepage underwent the next evolution stage. The first impression: even more space, even clearer, even relevant. The main topics were presented in a visually dominant layout for the user. Among these were – still clearly displayed – four other topics (priority 2).
The main navigation was totally appropriate for an umbrella brand: in the foreground were the brand motto (innovation), brand promises (products & services), the markets (country chooser) and the stakeholders (investors, employees, press). The search function, perhaps the most important feature on company websites, was once again highlighted separately.
Another 5 years later and the GE homepage was clearly showing the influence of social media, rich media and mobile trends. Responsive design has been used so that it works on different devices. Along with the logo/claim, main navigation – now divided by target group into B2C and B2B, search, country chooser and share price, there are also seven quick access links to popular social networks on which GE can now be found.
The content section now takes up the whole width of the screen for opulent multimedia modules. If necessary, a column for special announcements can be added. Below the multimedia section, there are six other topics with headlines and pictures. The footer lists the common standards.
Conclusion: The GE homepage is not only the perfect example of the development of an umbrella brand in almost 20 years online. It also shows how a brand can use prioritization, reduction and good design to make a company appealing.