If GE’s Video Strategy Doesn’t Inspire You as a Marketer, You’re Probably Dead

General Electric has changed the world with its inventions like the x-ray machine, the electric fan, and the electric toaster. So how can the brand’s marketing be creative enough to reflect the innovative spirit of its researchers and scientists?

Over the years, the company has done some pretty out-there stuff, like the time it made a song out of noises found in its research labs. It’s also been an early adopter of experimental video platforms like Instagram and Vine.

Recently, GE has been bringing its scientific and creative approach to YouTube viewers with a series of videos created by the company’s new “Creator-in-Residence,” Oxford biology PhD candidate Sally Le Page. The series has explored the science behind popular films like Chappie all the way to the molecular gastronomy of Texas barbecue. It represents just one of several recent efforts by GE to bring high-quality science and technology video to its audience—regardless of where they happen to be watching.

“Video is consumed by such an increasingly large number of people, and it’s such a good vehicle for storytelling that we’re certainly doing a great deal there,” said Linda Boff, GE’s executive director of global brand marketing. “We want to make the video content that we do accessible wherever people might run into it or have the opportunity to see it.”

To be fair, GE has been invested in video content for some time now, having been on YouTube since September of 2005. In that time, the company has worked with various influencers to craft content that merges its expertise in science and technology with the sense of whimsical fun endemic to the YouTube creator community. One video, featuring an experiment with popular creators The Slow Mo Guys, netted more than 8 million views.

For its three-month Creator-in-Residence program—the brainchild of director of global content and programming Katrina Craigwell—GE wanted to find someone from outside the company to provide a fresh perspective on the work its scientists are doing. So far, Le Page has interviewed Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson about the probability that we will experience a post-apocalyptic future similar to the one portrayed in the latest Mad Max movie, and took a deep dive into the science of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator.

The company worked with the muti-channel network Fullscreen to find Le Page, whom they liked for her Oxford bonafides, her enthusiastic curiosity, and her ability to serve as an example to young people as a successful woman in the traditionally male-dominated science field.

“I think unfortunately it’s still unexpected to see women featured in some of the [marketing] communications, and as a result, I think if we have the opportunity to do it, and it’s real, and we can help sort of show a little girl—or a little boy—what that looks like, then that’s the kind of thing we should do,” Boff said.

The brand is also pumping up its video efforts on television, announcing last month that it was partnering with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment as well as “30 For 30” production company Asylum Entertainment to create a six-episode documentary series on National Geographic Channel, starting this November.

The series, entitled “Breakthrough,” will feature stories about innovation, science, and technology that will each be directed by a different Hollywood luminary (so far, Ron Howard, Paul Giamatti, and Angela Bassett are all signed on for the project). GE is responsible for helping determine which stories will be included in the series and developing the themes that run throughout the different episodes.

Boff said that the GE brand’s integration into the series will be “very organic” and will occur only when there is a logical connection like when an episodes discusses a discovery made by the company’s scientists.

The series has taken nearly three years to come together, a time period GE has spent developing the concept and lining up the right partners. Though the company is not expecting “Breakthrough” to drive product sales, it hopes to provide people with compelling, uplifting stories that will inspire them to solve big problems.

“Our brand has been about science, invention, engineering and discovery since day one. It’s important for us to make that clear in our marketing and communications,” Boff said. “It’s important to make sure people understand who GE is, and that’s a big part of why we want to do something like this.”

As for the rest of the company’s video efforts, it tries to make sure that it has something for every channel on which a person might consume content, regardless of whether that’s a social media network like Tumblr or one of its own platforms like the tech publication “GE Reports.”

While GE sometimes will run the same video on different channels, each piece of content is created with a specific platform in mind. For instance, a recent video celebrating mothers in science and engineering was designed for the Facebook audience, but it was also posted on YouTube. Depending on whether its videos go viral organically, GE will sometimes pay for distribution beyond its owned channels.

Once the videos have been published, GE measures their success based on shares, engagement time, and completion rate, metrics it will often compare against benchmark data covering the rest of the marketing industry.

“There are times when we’ve put something up, and it’s taken off organically and we’ve held back on paid. And then there are times when we’ve sprinkled a little bit of paid and that’s sort of the jet fuel that something needs,” Boff said. “It is so dependent upon the timing of when something goes out, the topicality, and whether it catches fire organically. Even if it does catch fire organically, there are times when we’ll want to pump a little more paid into it just to give it a second wave.”

And, just like the rest of GE’s marketing strategy, these decisions around which channels to use are all about keeping up with how society—and the technology it runs on—is evolving. With a fragmented media environment, the firm sees it as extremely important to go to consumers wherever they’re spending time.

In this sense, content marketing is just one more way that GE is working to stay ahead of the curve.

“Today, it’s all about being in the places with the right content, at the right time, in the right context,” Boff said. “For us, leaning into content is really leaning into today’s behavior.”

Image by Feng Yu

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