It’s not just sexy brands like Red Bull with content on their minds. General Electric, a sprawling conglomerate that makes everything from locomotives to household appliances, is using content as a way to help people better understand what the brand is all about. And people are paying attention. One video offering a bird’s eye view of a GE locomotive factory was viewed more than 101,000 times in less than a week.
Linda Boff, executive director of global digital marketing at the company, believes carefully told stories can help people relate to the complicated and myriad products the company produces.
Has GE figured out social media yet?
We have figured out what works for us. That means we have used social to connect with people in an accessible and human way. We have been successful in embracing what is interesting about GE and do it in a way where we link our passion points with audiences that love science, technology and innovation. We feel good about where we are.
Why is content so important?
This is probably true for all brands, but I am speaking for GE, content is important because it helps people relate to what it is we do. What we do, not what we sell. We are involved in renewable energy in transportation, healthcare and natural gases. These are inherently interesting. We use storytelling, which is critical, to make sure we bring to life what we do in ways that are inherently interesting. Most consumers don’t want to read product specs. Understanding that the transportation is more efficient than before or that there are new ways to care for newborns: these are interesting stories. We obsess about content. We think of it as a way to tell the great stories of GE. The GE approach to content is: We completely lean into who we are. We are GE, a large primarily industrial company. We manufacture things in both traditional and advanced ways. We are fascinated by technology, innovation, discovery and invention. We have a clear compass as to what it is we find interesting and what our voice is in our space. We have a curious, passionate and optimistic voice. Using this compass, we make sure we have consistency on our content channels. Having said that, our content is geared toward the platform. What works on one does not work on another, but the voice permeates through them all. Being innovative is part of our DNA, so if we were not on all the social platforms, then shame on us.
Brands have always created content. How is it different nowadays?
Good stories, well told, have always been at the heart of the greatest brand activations. The difference nowadays is the tremendous proliferation of channels and platforms. There is an ability to be micro-targeted and relevant and find or create contexts where people will be particularly receptive. For example, there are communities online of train enthusiasts called “foamers.” So being able to target so narrowly, but in a rich way, has been a boon for brands in the content game.
What’s the mobile opportunity with content?
With regards to content on mobile, the opportunity is something like the BuzzFeed model of sponsored content right in the feed. The only time I want to be disrupted by advertising is if I am walking into Bed Bath and Beyond and they serve me a coupon as I walk through the door. This goes to what is potentially a bigger topic: How do you move beyond interruption? The banner, as we know it on mobile or display, and the approach of hitting people on the head with ads are dead. We need to be moving into content and context on mobile where we are serving and connecting with people in relevant and natural ways. GE has used the mobile device for storytelling. One of the first things we did in mobile was create a game around a topic: hospital efficiency. Believe it or not, hospital efficiency is not an easy story to tell. We created a game called “Patient Shuffle.” The point was to move people from the waiting room through the hospital to discharge without killing them. They’d have four or five patients they had to move, and this was a great way to tell the story of how challenging it is to be efficient in hospitals.
What’s your advice to brands trying to figure out their approach to branded content?
First and very important is be a platform user. You can’t farm this out; you need to be on them and experience them. Second is about authenticity. Be who you are, which does not mean being overly commercial and salesy. What’s the truth about your brand? Is it happiness like Coca-Cola, connecting people like Starbucks? My last piece of advice is content marketing/social it is not an event. You don’t do it and walk away. If you are entering this, be prepared to be persistent. You can’t just start and stop.