GE Digital Marketing Will Not Disquise Firm's Deep Flaws


General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) recently discussed its ambitious digital media plans. Left out of the discussion was the deep dissatisfaction about the firm's management and performance born of years of earnings that have been modest at best and extremely disappointing at worst. Digital media, particularly when its content is aimed back at GE, can be a terrible enemy to GE's perfect messages.

GE employs, of all things, an executive director of global digital marketing -- Linda Boff. At a recent conference held by Digiday, Boff tried to explain GE's relationship with social media, digital content, the movement to mobile platforms and the importance of these things to GE's brand. In an interview Boff said, speaking of brands:

This is probably true for all brands, but I am speaking for GE, content is important because it helps people relate to what it is we do. What we do, not what we sell. We are involved in renewable energy in transportation, healthcare and natural gases. These are inherently interesting

Inherently interesting to who?

In GE's most recent quarter, revenue rose only 3% to $39.3 billion. Net earnings attributable to the company rose 8% to $3.5 billion. Revenue from GE's huge Energy Infrastructure division rose 12% to $12.2 billion. Its next two largest units did poorly. Both Aviation and Healthcare revenue dropped 1%.

Over the past five years, GE's share price is down by 45% while the S&P 500 is off 4%. The stock is down by a slightly larger percentage since CEO Jeff Immelt took his job in September 2001. In the decade before that, GE's shares more than doubled

Linda Boff trumpeted GE's expertise in digital content. But digital content cannot fix the broken relationship between GE and its shareholders, nor explain away the company's deep flaws.

Douglas A. McIntyre