By Ann Gynn published September 26, 2014

Ideas to Spark Your B2B Content Marketing Imagination

crushing rubber band ballGeneral Electric uses the tagline “Imagination at Work” to capture the essence of its $16 billion-plus company, which is staffed by more than 305,000 workers in more than 170 countries. A richly connotative description like that requires no small amount of imagination from GE’s marketing team, which is charged with the task of translating this three-word concept into relevant stories that will engage its target audiences.

At this year’s Content Marketing World conference, GE’s Global Manager of Digital Marketing Katrina Craigwell offered a glimpse into some of the ways GE develops and tells its B2B content marketing stories — and, perhaps even more importantly, how its target audiences are helping to share them.

Open the backstage door

How do you wrap your arms around something like the world’s largest jet engine? Obviously, this would be an impossible task. So how do you get people to embrace similarly less-than-huggable products like the ones that GE provides? You might try inviting social media fans and key Instagram influencers for a private, behind-the-scenes tour and let them share their excitement with others in their own words — and images.

That’s what GE had in mind when it launched #GEInstaWalk a year ago. Craigwell says the initiative was designed to provide exclusive access to GE’s inner workings by inviting a small group of individuals on a real-time tour of a GE research-and-development center and encouraging them to share their experience visually with thousands of their followers.

On that first GEInstaWalk, GE invited six Instagram influencers and six company “superfans” to tour the GE Aviation Test Operations Center in Peebles, Ohio. The dozen members had a combined 3.5-million Instagram followers, and within the first 48 hours, they had created more than 200 social engagements.

guy with jet engine

For example, @moneal shared a professional-quality image that gave his insider perspective, put a GE product into a relevant context, and just plain looked cool:

My good friend @thenosyt, in front @GeneralElectric’s GE 90 engine, the power behind the Boeing 777 #GEInstawalk.

guy with helmet climbing on something

That single image alone generated almost 7,000 “likes.”

The first tour went so well that GE hosted another one earlier this year for its wind turbine work at the Civil Engineering Center at Cape Cod Air Force Facility in Massachusetts. And on October 8, you can follow the next #GEInstaWalk and watch high-power locomotives being developed at its Manufacturing Solutions Facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

What makes #GEInstaWalk successful as a B2B content marketing effort?: For starters, GE handpicks a manageable number of participants — the brand isn’t interested in merely flooding Instagram with thousands of images that use the same hashtag. GE selects participants who already promote GE’s initiatives and/or have established a following that’s interested in the types of things GE Aviation does. These independent storytellers have a vested interest in sharing quality content with their followers.

Furthermore, the events themselves provide exclusive access to locations that most people would never get to see. GE doesn’t host a new group at a site every week or even every year. Invitees get to tell a visual story that few others could. Because of this, the brand has found that the fans’ engagement grows as they bring along their existing followers, add new followers, and strengthen their long-term commitment to talking about GE.

Of course, GE plays its own part in sharing the stories that result from #GEInstaWalk, too. While the dozen or so invitees have significant audiences, GE has a much bigger network of its own to tap into. For example, GE created its own website about the #GEInstaWalk, where it shares all the images that have resulted from the B2B content marketing effort, and promotes upcoming events so viewers can follow coverage from the exclusive invitees in real time.

Play a new tune

While granting invitations to an exclusive research facility was surprising enough, GE took unexpected to a new level when it reached out to Matthew Dear. The music producer, DJ, and electronic pop artist worked with GE Acoustics Engineer Andrew Gorton at GE’s Global Research Center. He secured 1,000 sound samples from GE’s machines, then used them to compose “Drop Science,” which was released on BitTorrent in August.

As the site describes:

Drop Science [is] a gleefully busy romp through the world’s top research labs — a skittering ode to the industry… fiber optic vibrations are stretched into melodic curlicues, underwater frequencies squelch and bend around a 4/4 pulse, and a jet engine appears just in time to build up to a particularly well-earned drop.”

GE’s musical innovation, though, isn’t just a wondrous creation to which you can listen and marvel. It’s a melodic way to tell the story of acoustics and how acoustics can tell engineers when equipment, especially in hard-to-reach places like a deep-sea oil well, is working properly, according to GE Reports. The music tells a technical story in a way that both techies and non-techies will enjoy and share with others.

In her presentation, Craigwell mentioned that the “Drop Science” bundle has been downloaded from BitTorrent more than 1.5 million times. It’s more than just a song, too: The content package includes the full 3-minute track, a video, and 12 re-mixable audio loops, along with photos and GIFs. The video also can be found on GE’s YouTube channel, and GE shared the music on SoundCloud.

Don’t forget the tried-and-true

Who doesn’t like to see an object smashed, crushed, or blasted? With this in mind, GE opted to create the SpringBreakIt campaign to program moments that bring people together around a common element, according to Craigwell.

For this series of simple videos, GE put a camera on an everyday object — like a rubber duck or a teacup — and a GE machine or tool, enabling viewers to see how long it takes that object to be smashed, crushed, or blasted. As each less-than-a-minute video comes to a conclusion, GE connects the images to what makes them relevant to its brand story.

For example, in addition to being able to crush tin cans, GE shows how its metal forging test helps them see how the properties of materials change when placed under 100,000 pounds of pressure, which helps them make machines stronger and more efficient in the field.

The campaign places the work of GE’s Advanced Materials Division (which hasn’t always had the most easily told or engaging stories at its disposal) at the forefront of its conversations with consumers. Craigwell also mentioned that it wasn’t just individuals who watched and shared the videos: Colleges, engineering firms, and industry-relevant audiences did, as well. Thus, the effort was successful at fostering brand-level social conversations as well as talent-level social conversations — all because GE found a way to tell an engineering story through B2B content that clicked with engineers and non-engineers alike.

The campaign created 78 content assets over two days, resulting in more than 2,200 hashtag mentions, 1.4 million video views and 120 million earned media impressions. Its #SpringBreakIt Tumbler site and each YouTube video continue to live on across the GE social mediasphere.

It’s all up to your imagination

GE’s example illustrates the great thing about B2B content marketing for companies with complex or less-obvious stories to share — those that require you to step outside the box and think creatively. And when you do find that unexpected way to tell the story, you will be amazed at how your imagination really can work.

Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World this year? You can still catch up on the biggest issues, ideas, and innovations in Content Marketing. Check out our Video on Demand portal for more info.  

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • http://robertgibb.me Robert Gibb

    I really like GE’s approach here.

    Instead of just inviting any fan, the company invited fans with established followers and authority. While it’s romantic to think that GE could have invited even it’s less popular fans, this is marketing after all … very creative marketing.

    Also, notice how this creative approach came from “Global Manager of Digital Marketing” and not the “Global Manager of Marketing.”

    Go us.