National Geographic: From Reverence To Relevance

Emmanuel ProbstFebruary 20, 20203 min

National Geographic: From Reverence To Relevance

Recently I spoke with Tammy Abraham, Vice President, Corporate Partnerships for National Geographic, who provided extensive insight into the National Geographic Brand. Tammy reveals NatGeo took an enormous leap from reverence to relevance over the last ten years, evolving from a magazine to a multi-channel publisher.

Historically, readers cherished National Geographic, saving and protecting their magazine collection as a prized possession. While our parents and grandparents had this extreme reverence for the brand, it was not necessarily relevant in their daily lives. NatGeo was already meaningful to people, as many grew up with the magazines. Now, NatGeo wanted them to engage with the brand, making it part of their daily life. In the early days, NatGeo would send reporters to create stories which subscribers would read in the magazine days or weeks later.

Today, NatGeo enables its followers to immerse in the work of the photographer as he creates the story. In a way, photographers are social influencers. Their posts depict “a day in the life of” with pictures and captions that give a rich texture to what people are looking at. “The picture pulls you in emotionally and then the caption makes you care about it,” says Tammy. How advertisers want to relate to consumers is changing: transparency and authenticity. But brands have a hard time telling this story. They are not used to doing this. National Geographic is aimed at modern day thought leaders. These are people who care about the world and want to make a difference. Millennials and c-suite executives are the two segments that show the most growth. Interestingly, millennials are coming back to the magazine, a success that NatGeo credits to its reach on social media and the “coolness” of its content.

Leading With Meaning And Purpose

If the magazine and social media are channels to reach people, the backbone of NatGeo’s success is meaning and purpose. As readers search for meaning in their lives, they identify with NatGeo and its underlying purpose: it funds projects to explore the world, champion change, and make it a better place. A demonstration of NatGeo’s purpose was through its Chasing Genius social media platform, where NatGeo gave a big voice to small ideas from its community members. The action generated more than 1,000 ideas, empowering people to create and share ideas such as improving our fresh water lakes, helping kids with autism, or revolutionizing medical care. The Chasing Genius’s community rallies behind the idea of unlimited possibilities.

And counter to conventional wisdom that suggests our attention span is getting shorter and shorter, National Geographic analytics show that people are more engaged with long-form content. “Really good content entices people to watch through the end,” says Tammy, quoting the example of a 90-second video that performed better than a 30-second one. NatGeo’s advertisers are therefore increasingly interested in long-form storytelling. And to make its advertisers’ content more compelling, National Geographic leverages its photographers and writers to create stories. It then amplifies these stories on behalf of its advertisers through its online and offline media.

When Nike wanted to elevate its brand, it came to NatGeo to create a story on breaking the record of a two-hour marathon. Nike wanted to set the perfect place, altitude and training. It then invited a NatGeo storyteller to join them on location and create long-form content. NatGeo’s photographers created unique videos and pictures that they broadcasted live on YouTube and other social media channels. The story generated 230 million impressions across all platforms.

“What’s next for National Geographic?” I asked Tammy. “The brand will bring the experience to people in more immersive ways.” NatGeo organizes live events on college campuses, along with school workshops. It also offers purpose-driven vacations, guided by NatGeo experts. One of NatGeo’s taglines, “don’t follow, explore” exemplifies this next step of getting people to immerse themselves in the experience.

You will find many more case studies on brands like NatGeo in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

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