GE’s slogan, “Imagination at Work,” may not be a direct reference to the company’s content strategy, but Katrina Craigwell, Head of Global Digital Programming, certainly takes those words to heart. We sat down with Katrina to take about the storytelling initiatives behind this household name that’s doing far more than creating products for your home.
GE is a company that’s well known for its branded content. Can you talk about GE’s overall content strategy?
Most people know GE for the things they have in their homes, our consumer products, but we are an industrial manufacturing company—an advanced technology company that makes jet engines, locomotives, power gen technologies and healthcare technology. We realized we had an opportunity to experiment with new content types and new programming through digital channels. We started to see a lot of success in visual storytelling. Putting up an article about a jet engine might be kind of interesting, but when you see it on the wing of a Dreamliner, it is stunning. Those pieces of content helped us to start the conversations that we wanted to have with people - people who love science and technology, who are interested in 3D printing, who are engineers - about all the work that we do. For us, content is currency and that is how we start the conversation. It is so valuable, and at this point, whether your background is advertising or social or you are doing media partnerships, content is present throughout all of it.
How has that evolved in your time working on this for GE?
The first thing we did when I got here was launch our Instagram feed, as an experiment. We thought that it might be a beautiful way to show our technology. The response from the community was very positive. A lot of what we continued to post on Instagram and Tumblr really built on that first experiment around these machines. What’s happening on our factory floor is fascinating, when you go inside of our labs, it’s mind-blowing and that permeates throughout our brand. A lot of the work is being weaved into our overall brand imagery, and we are thinking about using it for advertising. We have a super-talented head of media innovation, Alexa Christon. When you look at the partnerships that she works on, the work that we have done with Jimmy Fallon, it’s all about how you create a content experience that is unique to the brand, where we are adding some kind of true value for the audience and not putting banners in places and driving people to click or never click.
What was it like for you to introduce new media like Instagram or Vine given that GE is such a historic brand?
There is a huge appetite for new platforms here, and part of our M.O. is to be as innovative in our marketing as we are with our technology. We had a lot of support from the top to experiment and to move quickly so that’s what we do. Throughout the company, it is an interesting cultural evolution. From that perspective, it takes a lot of relationship building so we are always very grateful to get access to the places that we do. That is where we have to work to make sure that we are showing what this means to the brand. We are making content available to the business and to the customers and helping them as their need for content develops over time.
Other than the awards that you have won in recognition for your work, how do you measure success? How do you know if someone like me has watched your content, and then used it in an airport to tell my five year old about the engine on the wing of our plane?
Well, if he was 12 or 13, he might be the one telling you about the engine on the wing because he’s seen some of the work that we’ve done on YouTube for example. We do get those anecdotes. We’ll be in a meeting and someone will say, “I told my son or daughter I was meeting with GE today, and they said ‘dad, that company has the most awesome Instagram feed”. It’s kind of cool when you think about who’s influencing the decision-makers. I think we try to be a little bit more open with how we think of spheres of influence. It’s people that they work with on a daily basis. It is also the people that they talk to, including their children, their families.
For metrics we look at engagement and efficiency. Creating a piece of original content and putting it on YouTube, it can be very tough to get the visibility that you want off of that. When you start to model all of that out, when you work with a creator who has an amazing audience and knows the platform, the cost per everything gets way more efficient. The context gets better, and quite frankly, you are probably getting a new angle on your story that is really valuable. We are also looking at brand lift, so “what did you get out of this very beautiful and complex intellectual piece that we did”?
We like to remind ourselves that the attention we get is in very short spurts. There is so much noise that we have to be very thoughtful about “what is the one thing that we want people to take away from this?” “What do they think about GE having watched it?” We want somebody to watch this content and either think it is showing them something they haven’t seen, or it is getting them a piece of information that makes them smarter so they can share. We want GE to be more approachable.
Is there a specific audience you’re trying to reach? Or do you have a primary and secondary audience?
For a lot of this work, especially when we are developing it and experimenting, we start by thinking about science and tech enthusiasts. What we find is that the content probably moves more broadly than that, but by anchoring it in that community, it also helps anchor our voice. When we started with a lot of the experiments, that is where we started, and from there we developed a voice that we feel good about and use when we share content with our business, when we talk to our investor relations team about content they can leverage. We would like to be reaching people who are college students, people who are studying engineering and material science, and make sure GE is in their consideration set when they think about their career.
Is there a formula for balancing the emotional connection that you are trying to get with the content and the brand voice? How do you achieve that balance?
I don’t think it is a formula. You have to think about messaging priorities that are important to the business and are important for people to know if they are curious about GE. But you also have to listen to the community and understand what they think about and start from there and be really honest about that. I think we try to keep track, we try to look out for the things that the community might just get a kick out of. We did a set of videos with The Slow Mo Guys on YouTube at the beginning of the year. They came up to our research labs and shot three of our technologies. When they shot that in slow motion and you saw it through their eyes, that was the perfect way to start talking about this. They talked to our scientists as well. When you walk through our labs, the amount of knowledge across our research organization is insane. They are the best scientists in the world. And we are inviting other people in to help us tell their story. It’s not just about us—we do much better when we can invite others in to help us.
What is the process behind sharing and distributing this content?
We always look at paid, earned, social and owned across every program. The more of a priority it is at the time, the more we might turn up something like paid. The more we know that we have some great hooks, the more we lean on earned because that is going to get us that extra visibility. We look at all four and within paid, we definitely look closely at what is more efficient. With a lot of social paid, we look at things that are trending and when something starts to spike a bit, we pull a little more juice behind that because people are responding to it well. We definitely use all of those and we dial them up depending on what the program is.
Looks like GE is a big fan of Tumblr. For content marketers that are looking for some of the nuts and bolts of how they get started or expand what they are doing, what is it that you like about Tumblr for promoting content and creating content?
We launched our first Tumblr when we launched Instagram because at the time, Instagram didn’t have a desktop experience. At the time, we were running a blog called Txchnologist about the future of science and technology and the industries that we operate in. At some point, it occurred to us there is this rich community on Tumblr and it had evolved to a point where it wasn’t just images and short bits. When you actually dove into it, there were people who love science and tech, journalists, long and medium-form content. There is a lot of diversity on the platform. So we moved Txchnologist to Tumblr and built up a great following there. We have since moved other blogs to Tumblr. We were excited to keep going with the homepage and article page traffic drivers that we had been using, but also be reaching this community of people who were sharing and passing content along, and driving new virality for the content. The introduction of ad products made this a viable strategy. We’ve leveraged the ad products while working to be very careful with the content that we put in there. Content is meant to be spread and to be shared and to get passed along, and the quality of the experience is critical.
Where do you see content marketing going in the next year?