This Content Campaign Increased Applications to Work at GE by 800 Percent

Think content is just for marketing? Let me introduce you to Owen.

You might remember Owen, the fictional engineer and star of GE’s cleverly self-deprecating commercials that launched last fall. The spots follow Owen as he tries to explain his new cool new job developing breakthrough code as a GE engineer to his befuddled friends and family, who think that he’s going to go work on a train or live a life of manual labor.

Owen has sparked one of the most successful recruiting campaigns in GE’s history—yet it wasn’t supposed to be a recruiting campaign at all, according to CMO Linda Boff. “We did not start off by saying, ‘How do we create a recruiting campaign?'” Boff told me. “We said, ‘How do we find an interesting way to talk about being a digital industrial company?'”

“Like everybody, we’re in a hunt for great talent.”

But the campaign turned out to be a boon for recruiting. “[It’s] increased applications to work at GE eightfold,” Boff said. “That’s a metric we’re really proud of.”

Indeed, an 8x increase in job applications is an incredible stat, especially at a time when large corporations like GE struggle to recruit against the allure of sexy startups.

“Like everybody, we’re in a hunt for great talent,” Boff said.

The Owen spots tackle that challenge head-on, parodying the startup world with a similar touch as Silicon Valley.

The campaign has also had a positive impact on internal employee communications and morale.

“People inside the company are just in love with the campaign,” Boff explained. “We have brought the actor who plays Owen to some of our internal events, and really you’d think we were bringing the Beatles back together. People are so excited that here’s a story about the company, but it’s really a story about them. They’re our Owens.”

The campaign reflects the fact that there’s no real boundaries between internal and external marketing and communications anymore. “My friends in communications have this great phrase, which is, ‘There’s less and less separation between internal and external when it comes to communications and storytelling,'” she said. “I think what we’re talking about now is a case in point for that.”

“How do we make sure that at a hundred and twenty-four years young we stay relevant, and we stay contemporary, and we’re meaningful to new audiences?”

It’s not surprising that GE, arguably the world’s most skilled brand when it comes to content marketing, found a way to promote working there in hilariously self-aware fashion. The company—which was one of the first brands on Instagram, Medium, Vine, Periscope, Twitter, and a slew of other social platforms—is obsessed with staying relevant to young, tech-forward audiences.

“It’s in the culture of the company,” Boff explained. “How do we keep the company fresh? How do we make sure that at a hundred and twenty-four years young we stay relevant, we stay contemporary, and we’re meaningful to new audiences?”

Ultimately, the answer to that question boils down to a relatively simple equation.

“There’s a freedom to experiment,” she said. “And a tolerance to fail.”

Check out my extended interview with GE CMO Linda Boff here.

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