5 Lessons on High-impact Storytelling from General Electric

A lot has been written over the last couple of years about the preponderance of storytelling and its place in content creation.  A couple of weeks ago, Adweek ran an interview with Linda Boff, CMO of General Electric about this topic and how this 125-year old company was approaching storytelling in this digital era.

The idea of GE being an adopter of digital media may seem a bit out of sync for those who may not realize how pervasive innovation is at this legacy brand. As Boff says in the article, “staying modern, contemporary and relevant is something we think about every single day.”

She goes on to point out that innovation and being first has led them to be an early adopter with both existing and emerging social and digital platforms like Snapchat, Vine and Instagram.

They’re also beginning to look at how to use virtual reality as a storytelling tool. The result is that this multinational conglomerate has become a leading voice in branded content.
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Image from General Electric’s Vine page.

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Image from General Electric’s Instagram page.

Smaller companies with less resources and far fewer years of legacy brand building under their belts may be tempted to conclude that GE can afford such experimentation because they have the resources to do so. They can afford to try and fail, and try again.

While that may be true, no one forced GE to be an early adopter of anything, but a legacy of innovation left them open to doing so. Consequently, there are some inherent learnings companies of all sizes can glean from GE’s approach to both storytelling and digital media.

  1. Consistently challenge yourself to stay modern and contemporary but without losing sight of who you are.  In other words, don’t change the core elements of your brand story, but bring it up-to-date to appeal to a current audience.
  2. Know who you are and what audiences share your passion, rather than try to appeal to all people. This means that you tell your story consistently over time rather than look for ways to change it to fit the broadest audience possible. It’s about being authentic.
  3. Be willing to embrace the new as soon as it is new. This isn’t about checking off a box, you’ve tried SnapChat now that’s done. It’s about not being afraid to try a new outlet and fully embracing it when it makes sense to do so. There’s a level of immediate commitment necessary because of how quickly adoption can become saturated and how easy it is for users to sniff out companies who are just experimenting.
  4. Be as creative as possible in how you tell your story. Do it in unexpected ways.  If you’re company’s become used to using video, rather than post more videos to YouTube, try doing more life videos with Periscope or Meerkat.
  5. Look at how to take the old and make it new.  What GE is doing with their classic Adventures in Electricity comic books from the ‘40s and ‘50s is a good example. They’ve created a social network for stories called Wattpad and invited the Wattpad community of writers to create science-fiction stories relative to GE’s history. That’s both unexpected but firmly in keeping with GE’s legacy.

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Image from General Electric’s Wattpad.

While not all companies may have the available content that a company like GE has, every company has the permission to take their storytelling to a new level in this digital era. It requires both commitment and creativity, but the end result can only be of benefit to the company of any size who chooses to do so.

Images: All images from General Electric

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About Author

Aaron Heinrich
Industry Editor, Creating the Future of PR

An award-winning, marketing communication executive with a track record of leading highly motivated global teams to think creatively, act collaboratively and exceed expectations.