Can a 61-Episode Documentary Series Save Ericsson?
In the remote villages of Bhutan, students have access to high-quality education through video conferencing. In Sweden, a DJ collaborates with fans from all over the globe to produce a platinum single. In Rio de Janeiro, mobile phones connected to police uniforms inspire trust and confidence between citizens and law enforcement.
What’s the common link in these three stories? Ericsson. Yes, that Ericsson, the faded consumer electronic company. But with a newfound commitment to content marketing, the company is starting to make a consumer-facing comeback.
Those three stories make up a very small slice of Ericsson’s new 61-episode documentary web series, Capturing the Networked Society. The series focuses on narratives from 25 different countries, covering a range of topics including healthcare, agriculture, and transportation. While some episodes profile familiar brands such as Wikipedia, Maersk, Adidas, and Airbnb, there are also more personal videos with subjects like the daily routine of a rescued dog.
What’s compelling about Capturing the Networked Society is not just the variety of stories—it’s also Ericsson’s attempt to elevate its brand back to mainstream relevance.
Telling a bigger story
There are a few typical scenarios that lead to a rebrand: when brands need to repair a broken reputation, such as Fannie Mae’s blogging efforts last year; when brands want to to incorporate new technologies and approaches to their products or marketing, as Nike tried a few years ago with Fuelband; or, as with Ericsson’s case, when brands attempt to breathe new life into a corporate reputation that has gotten stale.
The Ericsson brand name has been off the consumer radar since 2011, when it got out of the consumer mobile phone market. But before that, the brand was already showing signs of decline. According to Interbrand’s Best Global Brands report, which ranks the world’s most valuable brands, Ericsson was number 36 on the list in 2002. Then it declined to number 71 a year later. By 2004, Ericsson fell off the list completely.
Despite its decline in the consumer market, the company has been far from idle in the less glamorous B2B space. Ericsson currently provides enterprise-level networking, hardware, and software solutions to a dominating degree; 40 percent of the world’s mobile traffic currently runs through networks managed or built by Ericsson. The challenge is to turn all that enterprise tech into a compelling story.
“We have a couple of challenges as a company,” said Fredrik Magnusson, Ericsson director of brand design and experience, in an interview with Marketing magazine. “Most people know Ericsson from the fact that we used to do cellphones, but we don’t anymore, so people don’t really know what we do. In order to explain what we do, we need to exemplify.”
To exemplify, Magnusson and the rest of the company had a difficult choice: They could either describe their technology and infrastructure or showcase how that technology could lead to creative possibilities. With Capturing the Networked Society, Ericsson chose the latter.
One episode, which you can watch below, follows Topher White, founder and CEO of Rainforest Connection, a non-profit that upcycles used mobile phones and solar panels into real-time monitors that protect rainforests.
In the clip, White assembles and install a rainforest monitor as he explains how these devices work. After just one day of installing the monitors in a gibbon reserve in Sumatra, Rainforest Connection received a signal that chainsaw noises were coming from the area. Alongside local conservationists, the group was able to use the information to halt the illegal logging before the trees were cut down.
Every episode also features a section labeled “The Bigger Picture,” underneath the video browser, which explains the big ideas behind that particular story. This section really brings home the point that these innovations aren’t just tools; they make a real impact in the lives of communities and the world at large.
As a result of this story-driven approach, Ericsson has been able to reach a wider audience.
“We’re seeing that we have reached out very well to the audiences that we have missed before, so we are getting traction much more in the entrepreneur and tech innovator scene than we had before,” Magnusson added in the Marketing interview.
Building a sense of urgency
Even though Capturing the Networked Society only launched last year, Ericsson has been spending the past few years exploring the idea of a “Networked Society” where web connectivity plays a major role in innovation, collaboration, and socialization. Ericsson’s interest in this idea is reflected in different types of content such as explainer videos, expert interviews, man-on-the-street documentaries, and theNetworked Society City Index, which ranks different cities based on their technological maturity.
With Capturing the Networked Society, however, the stories aren’t coming from Ericsson; instead, they’re coming from the individuals who are using technology to improve their industries and communities. The documentary series also makes it easy for viewers to see the subjects in action as they build their products and work with mobile technology.
“Instead of inventing it ourselves, let’s see what people do already when they add mobility to any industry. That’s what we did,” Magnusson said. “Instead, we gave ourselves a set of rules. Let’s use 100 percent pure documentary. Let’s not guide anyone; let’s just see what are the best cases we can find today of someone that has taken an industry or an idea or something, added mobility, and transformed their industry.”
These concrete case studies leave the viewer with a sense of urgency: If you get on board with mobile technology now, you, too, can make a huge difference.
For example, the Rainbow Connection episode embedded above ends with a pressing message from founder Topher White. “I think this is a global problem. Deforestation is the second largest contributor to climate change,” he says. “This is one of our generation’s most important challenges.”
With compelling calls-to-action like that, it’s hard to miss the transformative power of simple innovations that come from mobile technology.
So far, the trailer for the series has racked up almost 600,000 views—an impressive number given that the top brands on YouTube average about 98,000 views per video, according to a report by OpenSlate. The individual case study episodes, however, only average about 1,600 views each, suggesting the campaign could use a bolder distribution strategy. Despite the significant drop-off, Magnusson told Marketingmagazine that the project accomplished all the target KPIs in just two months.
An ongoing journey
Getting back on the radar of consumers after a long hiatus is hard enough on its own, but when the company in question has a highly-technical business that doesn’t appeal to most people, getting a rebrand right is twice as difficult.
By focusing on a diverse set of narratives, Ericsson has begun to overcome those initial challenges. The brand might not be where it was more than a decade ago, but it’s working its way back, one story at a time.Image by Ericsson