GE’s BBQ Research Center Simplifies Brand Initiatives
Industrial Internet. Neuroscience. Super Materials. They’re among initiatives GE is undertaking at its Global Research Facilities to improve machinery, health care and products. How do you explain such important but complex topics in a more “digestible” manner to tech influencers and media at SXSW? With Texas BBQ, baby. GE’s BBQ Research Center mixed good eats, music and beer with culinary legends, scientists and experiments. It was indoors and outdoors, cozy and clinical. And as one reporter put it: “The BBQ Research Center delivers more than a freebie snack en route to the next noisy stage or panel jabber session.”
Located in an East Austin venue slated for demolition, the BBQ Research Center’s outdoor space was an eclectic social scene with picnic tables and a dj spinning deep cuts from alternative country, bluegrass and blues. Daily panels took place under festoon lighting that connected food experts, like multi-instrumentalist Questlove, BBQ celebrity Aaron Franklin and “Modernist Cuisine” author Scott Heimendinger, with GE research scientists. A 1960s Airstream served up Show, Tell and Eat segments with legendary Central Texas BBQ eateries including Black’s, Louie Mueller and Stiles Switch.
Inside the building was a clinical laboratory environment with stainless steel tables lined with beakers, scales and metal mixing bowls. A classroom housed a series of hands-on workshops led by the faculty of Texas A&M’s BBQ studies course, the only program of its kind in the world, who taught participants how to select, trim and season meat to get ideal results. An oversized chalkboard displayed hand-drawn illustrations of the Super Smoker (more on that in a minute) and how our brains process flavors. Other experiences in the lab included a “Brain on BBQ” experiment, where attendees monitored their own EEG brain waves while eating BBQ. Custom graphics created using GE data visualization guidelines displayed information processed by the EEG headsets. At a self-guided education gallery, created in conjunction with experts on BBQ science, attendees learned about the science of smoking meat.
But the pièce de résistance of the BBQ Research Center was the 12-foot-tall GE Brilliant Super Smoker, which operated 24 hours a day and was viewable from several blocks away from the venue. In addition to producing mouth-watering meats, it enabled the resident pit master (and GE pit scientist) to perform daily experiments and collect research. Data captured from sensors displayed in real-time on monitors, including smoke velocity, relative humidity, meat temperature and cooking time.
GE branding was kept to a minimum at the event, but its messaging was a plenty thanks to the satisfying BBQ metaphor. The share-worthy experience no doubt served as a topic of conversation around dinner tables (or picnic tables) to come. A strategy slow-cooked to perfection.