Multinational conglomerate General Electric, or GE, makes for an interesting case study in digital marketing. On the one hand, it is an instantly recognizable brand that touches consumers’ lives virtually every day, but, at the same time, GE often acts behind the scenes with complicated technology that doesn’t always lend itself to stories that are easy to tell consumers. GE is also a 100+-year-old brand. That means GE has a long history to tap into, but must find new ways to tell those stories to new audiences on new platforms.
At the “Storytelling: The Digital Experience” panel at New York’s Advertising Week, Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing at GE, talked about how GE in particular reaches consumers, connects with new audiences and incorporates new platforms.
“A compelling story is time honored,” Boff said. “It was true 5, 10, 50 years ago. It’s how we share what is interesting and what moves us. It may be in vogue, but I’m not sure it was ever out of vogue.”
This is how GE continues to tell its story.
Tip 1: Be Willing To Experiment
According to Boff, GE did a Vine the day the platform launched and it “blew up online.”
“We said, ‘Here’s a new platform and let’s try it out…let’s do a simple experiment,’ and the response was such that we decided, ‘Let’s keep going – there’s something here,’” Boff said of the videos that turned into the brands’s #SixSecondScience Fair.
Tip 2: Make Connections, Don’t Just Sell Stuff
When GE creates a Vine, it is creating content that falls under the science, technology and innovation umbrellas.
“Our evaluation is brand perception, not selling a jet engine,” Boff said.
And as platforms like Vine and Hyperlapse emerge, Boff said the initial goal is simply finding ways to use the tools rather than connecting with an audience per se.
“We were on Instagram three and a half years ago,” Boff said. “It was a platform to show off the majesty and nobility of big machines and some bad ass technology.”
Vine, on the other hand, “couldn’t be more different,” she said. “We really do believe in serendipity. People bump into it contextually.”
In other words, great content that resonates with a specific audience will find its way to that audience and be shared because it is great content.
Tip 3: Be Willing To Make Mistakes
GE tries to actively use each platform and has made it part of its strategy to be an early adopter, which Boff said aligns with the brand’s raison d’etre as a company founded by Thomas Edison.
“That’s our business strategy. We don’t wake up and say, ‘Should we be doing this?’ We’ve given ourselves permission to skin our knees from time to time,” Boff said.
Tip 4: Get A Supportive Team
Boff also said that willingness to experiment arises thanks in part to “tremendous backing from our CMO,” which comes along with a certain amount of autonomy. In other words, these projects don’t get tied up waiting for permission from GE’s legal department.
Tip 5: Find News Hooks And Have Fun With It
Boff said she was wearing sneakers that were reproductions of the boots Neil Armstrong wore on the moon.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do is mash up context and then timely, real-time grounded hooks,” she said. “This past spring, we said the [45th anniversary of the] moon landing is coming up and, for us, GE played a part – the original boots had GE material – so we said, ‘How can we have some fun with this?’”
The answer? GE partnered with shopping community JackThreads to recreate the moon boots and put them on sale on the day and moment of the original moon landing for $196.90. They sold out in seven minutes and then reappeared on eBay a few days later for thousands of dollars, Boff said.
Tip 6: Leverage Nostalgia And Scarcity
According to Boff, the point was not to make money – although, in hindsight, they probably could have.
“We have to pull back and remind ourselves we’ve had pivotal roles in history…and that’s part of our future,” Boff said. “We’re investing a lot of time in new materials and this is a way for us to make it interesting.”
In a related effort, GE got Buzz Aldrin to launch the brand on Snapchat with some drawings.
“It opened our eyes to other kinds of commerce plays…that are back to accessible and touchable for brand focused on essential technology,” Boff said.
Not only did GE tell a story with the moon boots, but it also played on nostalgia and consumers love that kind of content, said another panelist, David Beebe, global VP of creative and content marketing for Marriott International.
And as there were only a limited number of boots for sale, scarcity also helped, Boff said.
Tip 7: Think Outside The Proverbial Box
Part of the reason the brand worked with JackThreads was because it appeals to men who are in their 20s and early 30s.
“We did a content series on JackThreads…and got a ton of PR,” Boff said. “We got more press for this than anything I can remember on the marketing side. The reaction was amazing…it wasn’t just a science and technology crowd. We were in Vanity Fair and Women’s Wear Daily.”
That meant GE was able to reach a new audience, she said.
“When you’re a brand that is 122 years old, you are constantly bumping up against brands that are newer and more fresh and have new ways to talk simply by being new,” she added.
In order to get consumers to spend time with a brand when time is a scarcity, Boff said brands must find likeminded partners on big topics. That includes a deal with comedian and author Baratunde Thurston on GE’s Masterclass video series, “knowing he would approach with a tonality that would appeal to others,” Boff said. “It’s a different way in and a different audience.”
Tip 8: Make It Authentic
When it comes to real-time marketing, as tempting as it is to follow Oreo’s lead at the Super Bowl, there’s also the risk of jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, which isn’t effective, Boff said.
Instead, content has to be authentic and it “has to be grounded in something that’s interesting and real.”
Tip 9: Look to Netflix
When asked about the future of storytelling and technology, Boff said, “Netflix is writing the book on this one,” and calls the brand “the perfect example of the two” and “quite inspired.”
What’s your take on GE’s efforts to tell its story on digital platforms? Which tips resonate the most with you?