It’s no secret that storytelling is big for businesses, so we wanted to showcase, and celebrate the brands that do it best.
Up first is General Electric.
General Electric has a great narrative at the heart of their brand as the company’s founder Thomas Edison, made history when he developed the light bulb. He also established a mindset that the brand stands for making the world we live in work better. They have continued with this “figure it out” mindset from their inception right up to modern day, they refer to themselves as a 125 year old start-up and although this may be a contradiction, it’s how they view themselves as a brand.
Lesson #1 – mindset matters. How you view your brand is important, it will dictate everything going forward. It doesn’t matter if you are a billion dollar company that views itself as a start-up or a start-up that views itself as a fortune 500. Your mindset will drive your stories forward.
They have always been innovative with their products, and their communications. In the 1950s General Electric Theatre brought a mixture of drama, comedy and fantasy into American homes every Sunday night. This top-rated TV series was sponsored by GE’s Department of Public Relations and its commercials featured Chicago’s friendly hands-on neighbourhood scientist, Don Herbert (TV’s Mr. Wizard). As the show’s “General Electric Progress Reporter,” Herbert showed the audience how GE was helping people to “Live Better Electrically.” Even then, GE was clearly establishing a connection with science, technology and purpose by helping to nurture a generation of budding scientists through the art of storytelling.
Fast forward 60 years and GE is once again using drama to stimulate a passion for science and technology with its science fiction series The Message presented by GE Podcast Theater. The Message was an instant hit and quickly became the No. 1 podcast on iTunes, eventually garnering over 300 million impressions and organically creating an active subreddit thread run by fans of the podcast.
Lesson #2 – know your audience. GE in the 50s knew that TV was the medium that mattered to their audience. In present day they know that their target audience is busy and competition for attention is high. A fast-paced world means that podcasts work better as the medium for multi-tasking.
Although GE co-produced the show, their intention was not to advertise directly to the show’s more than a million listeners. As Andy Goldberg, chief creative officer at GE explained, “I don’t consider it advertising. It’s a podcast show that just happens to be produced by a brand instead of a network. It’s a science fiction story to connect listeners with what the GE brand is all about without selling the GE brand.”
If the standard is high-enough people will engage with it, it doesn’t matter if it is being created by a brand or a media outlet.
The same can be said for General Electric’s brand newsroom – GE Reports. They share content on everything from the future of VR to the coolest things on earth this week. They also showcase debates on more controversial matters like natural gas or robotics. There articles get more traffic their news sites like Wired or the Huffington Post, this article on LED lighting in farming got over one million views and was the top piece of content on reddit for a week.
Lesson #3 – branded content shouldn’t be about your brand. GE’s podcast succeeded because it wasn’t about GE. If they had created a podcast about electricity you can be sure it wouldn’t be lighting up the lives of over a million people.
GE aren’t just creating content because they want to sell X amount of products. Of course it helps and the sales will come in time, but it goes deeper than that. They are crafting stories to make long-term connections with their customers.
“Audiences are looking well beyond what you sell. They want to know who you are and what you stand for,” said Linda Boff, CMO at General Electric. “Sometimes that means being the main character in your own play and sometimes it means showing up subtly as to not distract the audience from the enjoyment of the narrative. That is the art of storytelling with branded content, and for GE, navigating that is where the real magic happens.”
Audiences and customers want to know what you stand for, your values, your past, your future. It’s how they can form an emotional connection to your brand.
Lesson #4 – emotion means engagement. There’s a reason why you cross the road to get a coffee in your favourite independently owned cafe turned yoga studio – because you love their story. It’s why people swoon when they see a gift wrapped up in an iconic blue Tiffany box, it’s why on a hot day you crave an ice cold coca cola. It’s the emotional connection to these products and services.
Crafting stories in a B2B environment can be more challenging, and GE is no exception their products and services are complicated, complex, high-tech and industrial. However they create a human connection to these technical, and somewhat intimidating offerings. They are creating a human connection through looking at their products and services through the eyes of others be it a potential buyer, an employee or even a child.
Lesson #5 – find the human connection in B2B. In the some-what more challenging world of B2B marketing and communications, try to personify what you do. Where is the human connection? Do your insulation products keep families warm? Does your technology help scientists save lives? Think about how can you make a human connection that will resonate with people.
Some key takeaways from the master brand storytellers at General Electric:
- Embrace your identity as a company and find internal storytellers.
- Look at what’s going on within your organisation and translate these stories to create personal and human connections.
- Learn imagination, as GE does, to take potential buyers to another place and help them see a different vision.
- Learn to tell the story of products and services in complicated environments in terms of what they can change/help/transform instead of what they actually do.