GE Shares 9 Tips On Compelling Storytelling

GE is find­ing new ways to reach con­sumers, con­nect with new audi­ences, and incor­po­rate new plat­forms.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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