Incite Group: For 2018 Incite Group has made a bold statement ‘Marketing is Dead: Engagement is Alive’ what are your thoughts on marketing’s role to drive engagement?
Jill: I’m not sure it’s that black and white, but I do understand what they’re getting at. Whereas gimmick-y campaigns or catchy jingles might’ve done the trick just a decade ago, consumers today are increasingly wary of advertisers trying to eat up the few moments of silence they have left. We now get bombarded with so much content that anything not immediately relevant, authentic or interesting gets quickly ignored or pushed aside.
But I think this new “era of distraction” has created an exciting challenge for today’s marketers – and it’s one that’s forcing us to really understand our audiences, their motivations and their preferences at a core level. In order to reach today’s skeptical consumers, targeted and nearly undetectable engagement is key. You have to find ways to seamlessly connect with them where they are, and with content they actually want to engage with – in other words, marketing to them in ways that doesn’t seem like “marketing.”
To help promote National Geographic’s series “Genius,” for example, we created Genius Bot, a Facebook Messenger app that connected audiences directly with the show’s main character – Albert Einstein. Through Genius Bot, audiences were able to chat directly with Einstein within a venue designed to educate people on the show – adding a witty human touch to the campaign that engaged with fans on a uniquely personal level. Or, to promote our series "One Strange Rock," we created the first-ever Astronaut Reality Helmet for a truly ‘out of this world’ experience. The helmets were built with internal projection technology, free range-of-head movement and a visor with full field of view – providing a screening that gave viewers a brand new perspective of earth, without ever having to leave New York.
Incite Group: What is your main goal for 2018? And how are you going to get there?
Jill: In the past couple of years, we’ve embarked on a massive overhaul of brand strategy to harness the power of National Geographic’s iconic yellow border and bring the world to our consumers. And this year has been about doubling-down on that revamped marketing approach by developing new strategies that help us engage with and provide audiences the content experiences they want, on the platforms they want to experience it on.
We’re distributing programming on new platforms. We’re creating conversations with our unparalleled global audience. And we’re sharing stories that matter and resonate across ALL media assets. But our main goal is for these revamped strategies and tech-enabled storytelling abilities is that in sharing them with our audiences, we help ignite positive global change. And with an audience numbering in the hundreds of millions, we’re uniquely positioned to create serious impact.
In our most recent initiative, Planet or Plastic?, we successfully rallied our global community of 760M people into action around a single cause. Our multi-year brand initiative is geared at reducing the amount of single-use plastics polluting our oceans and environment in a way only National Geographic can – through storytelling and science. It’s these kind of marketing strategies we want to focus on as they have the potential for limitless positive impact – for our brand, for our consumers and for the world as a whole.
Incite Group: How do you see marketing’s role changing in the foreseeable future?
Jill: As consumers’ preferences change, so does our role in marketing to them. Our challenge is to meet their demands while maintaining profitability, and the first step in doing this successfully is to listen.
A prime example of this is the shift in consumers’ expectations of brand involvement in conversations on critical and often-controversial issues. From a media and content consumption standpoint, fluffy no longer cuts it – people are demanding harder-hitting news. And with this change, consumers also look to align themselves with brands that confidently take stands on societal issues. Brand marketers must do more than sell products, experiences and lifestyles; they must insert themselves into conversations on larger topical issues to remain relevant and respectable to today’s consumer.
Since its inception 130 years ago, National Geographic’s goal has been to dominate global conversations on topics that matter, and we’ve done so by infusing every piece of content with our mission and brand purpose. But now, more than ever, in our quest to facilitate connection and impact through storytelling, we have can’t-miss opportunities to explore many of today’s prominent societal issues right alongside our curious and engaged audiences – be it through the content we create, the dialogues we facilitate or the broader initiatives we enact as a company.
National Geographic has long taken on societal issues in a fact-based way. It’s core to who we are as a company and allows us to educate audiences in an accessible, engaging format. We’ve recently dedicated full issues of the National Geographic Magazine to critical – and to some, controversial – topics, such as gender and race, in an effort to begin conversations and foster positive change. And that drive to use storytelling as a path to understanding doesn’t stop with our print publications – much of our channel programming has been geared to do the same. In premiering Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary, our aim was to ensure as many people as possible saw the documentary ahead of the U.S. Presidential elections to encourage understanding and social action.
With global media assets as a microphone, brands (and the marketers behind them) must increasingly step outside their comfort zones to take a stand on the issues no one likes to talk about.
Incite Group: Customer Journey Mapping is being spoken about more and more, what changes are you making to understand your customer more deeply?
Jill: With a wealth of IP data to pull from and an innate desire to understand and cater to our global audience, the “desire line” concept is our strategy – we design by observing and listening to our fans. We utilize foot traffic data to answer questions like: How do people want to engage with us? What problems can we solve for them? How can we provide meaning and value to their everyday lives?
Everything we do is created for our audiences, so how better to understand their wants and needs? The simple act of listening to and observing our global audiences (which now number in the hundreds of millions) has led to seismic innovations at National Geographic. These innovations have enhanced the quality of content audiences expect of the brand, while providing exponential results for brand partners at the very same time.
Using the urban planning concept of desire lines as our 2018 roadmap has proven quite successful, we tracked the pathways of our audiences around the globe and, from this intel, devised new strategies – across social, digital, print and linear platforms – that meet readers where they are.
We’ve found they expect visually engaging content and they expect it to be easily accessible. We’ve made changes accordingly to our programming schedule and have embraced new technologies to get content into the hands of our audiences quicker. We’ve leaned into new platforms, like IGTV and Facebook Watch, and continue to study their feedback.
Additionally, our observations have shown us that our audiences are looking for connection. To meet this desire, we have doubled down on our effort to offer interactive, engaging community platforms and have seen great results in our expansion of Safari Live and in our creation of our first Facebook community, Women of Impact.
By expanding Safari Live to Facebook Watch, we removed barriers for entry in accesses the once live-only show, which has opened doors to interactivity, audience communication and even led to an actual marriage between super fans.
Additionally, this April, we launched the Women of Impact community on Facebook to elevate the profile, expertise and conversations of inspirational women committed to changing the world for the better -- and the group now has over 39K active members. This sense of community is not just resonant with the #metoo movement, but serves as a force for good in the world and a space where members can share their personal stories, provide support and feedback, and ultimately, enact real change together.
Guided by our audience, we’ve been able to improve and develop products like Safari Live and Women of Impact, respectively, and ultimately help our audiences find their tribes and build communities, while offering up engaging, educational content as a common ground.
Incite Group: Engagement and Story Inspiring will be a key focus at the Brand Marketing Summit, how are you changing/redefining your content strategy?
Jill: In the television business, specifically, a long-standing marketing formula has been relied upon to drive ratings and ultimately sales – until now. Even with the strategy adapting over time, entertainment companies can attest that it’s not nearly as effective as it once was.
To not only flow with these changes in consumer behavior, but to really lean into the principles that this organization was founded on, our marketing priority now lies in true audience engagement – and when I started at National Geographic, this was my first challenge.
Leading a a massive overhaul of brand strategy, my goal was to harness the power of National Geographic’s iconic yellow border to bring the world to our consumers, across all platforms and channels in a way that felt tangible and authentic. To do this, our team broke from traditional programming promotion tactics, developed digital strategies that now allow our brand to engage with and provide audiences the content experiences they want on the platforms they want it on, dove head-first into immersive, tech-enabled experiences and used our global platform as a medium to open dialogues with audiences around the world.
Engagement is a great metric, but it’s more important to us that we engage with our audiences in meaningful, purpose-driven way. My favorite example of this – and one very close to my heart – is our Bravo Tango Brain Training app which was inspired by our scripted series, “The Long Road Home.” In producing the series, I gained new insight into the challenges soldiers face when returning home and with this came a realization that we had an opportunity to extend the impact of the show by addressing the lack of wellness options available to veterans. To do this, we teamed up with 360i and Google to release the Bravo Tango Brain Training app, the first-ever voice activated meditation app designed specifically for veterans suffering from PTSD. I love that by thinking purposefully, we were able to enhance mental health support for America’s veteran community and connect with our audiences on a much deeper level.
Incite Group: What advice would you give to brands trying to accelerate their marketing initiatives?
Jill: Embrace change.
Yes, today’s consumers want something different. They want advertising that isn’t your average ad in a magazine. They want their content in 6 second bursts. They want brands to meet them on platforms that were non-existent a decade ago. But it’s important for brands to recognize that these shifts in preference are not necessarily negative, nor do they mean that we must distance ourselves from the ideals our brands were founded on.
In fact, in my experience at National Geographic, embracing change and new storytelling technologies has allowed us to lean further into our core pillars and explore them in newfangled ways – right alongside our audiences. In respecting the wants and needs of our own consumers, we’ve been able to not only amplify the brand, but further our mission of helping countless consumers understand the world around them and their role within in it.
Incite Group: Can you share in one sentence why you are looking forward to uniting with innovative marketers at the Brand Marketing Summit to share your vision?
Jill: Our role as brand marketers is to inspire audiences, and our ability to do so begins by inspiring one another.