Nationwide Geographic: From Reverence To Relevance
I recently spoke with Tammy Abraham, vice president of corporate partnerships at National Geographic, who gave a deep look at the National Geographic brand. Tammy reveals that NatGeo has made a huge leap from awe to relevance in the past decade, and has grown from a magazine to a multi-channel publisher.
Historically, readers valued National Geographic and saved and protected their magazine collection as a valuable asset. While our parents and grandparents had this extreme awe of the brand, it wasn't necessarily relevant in their daily lives. NatGeo was already important to people because many grew up with the magazines. Now NatGeo wanted them to deal with the brand and make it part of their daily lives. In the early days, NatGeo sent reporters to create stories that subscribers would read in the magazine days or weeks later.
Today NatGeo enables its followers to immerse themselves in the work of the photographer while creating the story. In a way, photographers are social influencers. Her contributions show "a day in the life of" with pictures and captions that give a rich texture to what people look at. "The picture attracts you emotionally and then the caption worries you," says Tammy. The way advertisers want to connect with consumers is changing: transparency and authenticity. But brands have a hard time telling this story. You are not used to this. National Geographic is aimed at modern thought leaders. These are people who are interested in the world and want to make a difference. Millennials and C-Suite executives are the two fastest growing segments. Interestingly, millennials are returning to the magazine, a success NatGeo attributes to its reach in social media and the "coolness" of its content.
Lead with purpose
When the magazine and social media are channels to reach people, meaning and purpose is the backbone of NatGeo's success. When readers seek meaning in their lives, they identify with NatGeo and its underlying purpose: it funds projects to explore the world, promote change, and make it a better place. A demonstration of NatGeo's purpose was the Chasing Genius social media platform, on which NatGeo gave a small voice to small ideas from its community members. The campaign generated more than 1,000 ideas and enabled people to develop and exchange ideas, such as improving our freshwater lakes, supporting children with autism or revolutionizing medical care. The Chasing Genius community gathers behind the idea of unlimited possibilities.
And contrary to the traditional wisdom that our attention span is getting shorter, National Geographic's analyzes show that people are more concerned with long-form content. "Really good content lures people to watch the end," Tammy quotes the example of a 90-second video that does better than a 30-second video. NatGeo advertisers are therefore becoming increasingly interested in long-story telling. To make advertiser content more attractive, National Geographic uses its photographers and authors to create stories. These stories are then expanded on behalf of their advertisers through their online and offline media.
When Nike wanted to strengthen its brand, NatGeo came to write a story about the record of a two-hour marathon. Nike wanted to set the perfect location, height and training. A NatGeo storyteller was then invited to join them on site and create content in long form. NatGeo's photographers have created unique videos and images that they broadcast live on YouTube and other social media channels. The story generated 230 million impressions on all platforms.
"What's next for National Geographic?" I asked Tammy. "The brand will convey the experience to people in a more vivid way." NatGeo organizes live events on the college campus as well as school workshops. It also offers dedicated vacations led by NatGeo experts. One of NatGeo's buzzwords, "Don't Follow, Explore," illustrates this next step to get people to immerse themselves in the experience.
You can find more case studies on brands like NatGeo in my new book Brand Hacks: How to build your brand by fulfilling the human search for meaning.
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