I’ve always been partial to a bit of heavy infrastructure and logistics; machinery, planes, ports, ships, railway networks. Who isn’t? Well, the truth is, not so many people actually. Yet these unsung heroes are the arteries of world trade that we rely on to deliver to our doorsteps all the stuff we buy. Without this system in place and the energy that fuels it, the foods that make our mouths water, the clothes we covet, and the iPhones we line up for don’t make it to us. Period.

This is a typical example of the B2B brand dilemma; these often behemoth, behind the scenes companies are frequently the enablers of our consumption and progress, yet remain far from our consciousness because let’s face it, we humans just love to focus on the things right in front of us.

One recent example of getting around this brand conundrum is GE and their new partnership with Yo, introducing the Yo loco app YOLOCO. Simply put, this gives a live GE locomotive a voice (and a millennial one at that) which sends a daily Yo from a recent trip along the nationwide CSX rail network. No sooner had I signed up than I received a Yo from a locomotive (in my mind her name is Beatrice) telling me that she had just travelled 737 miles and saved 362 gallons of fuel. Today she shared that her trip optimizer system enables her to save 32,000 gallons of fuel per year.

Why is this clever and why do I care? Firstly, it’s using social media to bring what usually stays behind-the-scenes (unless there is an accident or something goes wrong) to front-of-stage in a quasi-real time manner. This is the kind of data that usually remains buried in the pages of a sustainability report, yet segmenting it into small chunks and popping it onto my phone every 24 hours brings me as a consumer closer to the way the world works, and how stuff gets to me so that I am able to enjoy it. Suddenly there is an appreciation of what companies like GE and CSX do that makes a difference to little old me, the consumer at the end of the supply chain.

Secondly, from a brand perspective it’s telling me that GE is a company making cutting edge products that are intelligent, efficient and working to reduce emissions. I care about all three things as a potential investor or business partner, and as a world citizen. And as a consumer, the next time I see a light bulb in the hardware store with a GE logo alongside countless other brands, it might just tip the balance of my buying decision, achieving the halo effect of B2B activity supporting a B2C product. Now that’s golden.

Beatrice is giving a face and a personality to the strategy of “combining big data and big iron” and connecting it to people in a meaningful way. But GE are not stopping at the app. The social media campaign continues at #GEInstaWalk which uses the photo and video sharing social media platform Instagram to showcase real-time tours and images from inside GE’s facilities through the eyes of Instagram’s best photographers. It’s opening up their operations and showing where the magic happens. Here you’ll find visual odes to the locomotive or a time-lapse shot of fan blades being installed on a GE engine. As one observer commented “turbines are pretty awesome” yes indeed they are and it’s these turbines that fly millions of us around the world every day. Another example of how what B2B GE produces affect our daily lives.

In the words of Beth Comstock, GE CMO “People don’t want to be sold – they want to be inspired” and data from a 2012 McKinsey survey supports this, finding that in the U.S., brands have an 18 percent share in the B2B purchasing decision, particularly in tangible goods sectors such as machines and components. So I predict there’ll be more machines with personalities coming to our screens in the near future. In the meantime, I’m off to see what Beatrice is up to next.

– Tina Orlando
tina@indelable.com

Tina Orlando is co-founder and partner at Indelable, a strategic communications firm that helps companies with change management, employee engagement, competitive positioning, corporate citizenship and brand activation through stakeholder involvement.