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Ingenious Storytelling Gets Great Response From Science Nerds


In an age of such tremendous transparency with Glassdoor, Facebook, and other networks, you’ve come to a point where you are telling your story 24 hours a day. There’s a big dialogue going on. So you can let it happen to you or you can participate in it.

  • Kathy Button Bell, chief marketing officer, Emerson

The arrival of the 125th anniversary of Emerson gave CMO Kathy Button Bell cause for celebration. The occasion provided the opportunity for a one-year storytelling arc that would help to share with the world the fabulous story of what makes up the company’s DNA – and to illustrate its commitment to attracting more people to the engineering profession with an initiative called #ILoveSTEM.

Kathy told me that marketing at Emerson has always been about its core brand philosophy – Engineering Full-On. The concept reflects how the company goes full strength on all things engineering. Stark, strong, smart activity is at the core of Emerson, as is the uncompromising zealous energy behind it. Additionally, Kathy says, “The anniversary was an opportunity to accelerate change for Emerson during a transformational time.”

For Kathy, expediting change is made possible by telling the story of the culture of the company across the channels available today that remove a lot of past limitations. “We went from a trade media universe where we talked about product to a bigger universe of print, cable TV, a bigger digital footprint, and a bigger media footprint to where we talked about solutions. Then we graduated to an omnichannel experience where we now talk about our world, people, and enterprise. This changes the conversation – looking at what we care about as a company – there’s so much humanity that you can’t help but tell it as a story,” she explains.

The exceptional industry storytelling catalyzed by Emerson’s 125th anniversary is one of the reasons Kathy is a finalist for Content Marketer of the Year. The award will be announced at Content Marketing World this September. Kathy shares more about how Emerson approached the anniversary celebration internally and externally to reinvigorate a brand that’s never strayed from its DNA.

Orchestrating a long-term celebration

Planning content for a year-long celebration required quite a bit of orchestration, Kathy says. It started with a storytelling arc – a celebration arc as Kathy says – that broke the story into three scenes, each with a different purpose.

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  • Celebrate is about right now. It gives permission to take a deep breath and enjoy the fun of success – if only for a brief moment.
  • Challenge is about the difficult opportunities that are always ahead and the edgy excitement that goes with attempting something that’s never been done before.
  • Consider It Solved is about Emerson’s fabulous long legacy and the warmth of those who come before us. Those of us who are connected to Emerson need to live up to that legacy and take on the responsibility to leave Emerson and the world a better place than we found them.

Getting underway

The first order of business was to get all Emerson employees excited about the anniversary celebration. Kathy was surprised at just how much involvement they were able to cultivate. From flash-mob videos in the Philippines to 1,000 petits fours iced in the anniversary logo, the celebrations around the formal launch of the celebration were inspiring. Emerson launched the celebration on February 19 with the ringing of the bell at the New York Stock Exchange – a start to fulfilling the objective of having Emerson appear in new, unexpected places. The employees around the world watched the event on closed-circuit TV.

To fulfill the objective of having Emerson appear in new, unexpected places as an ongoing initiative, Kathy knew she needed a story bigger than an anniversary celebration. Emerson’s CEO has been frustrated with the lack of college students choosing careers in STEM. This prompted Kathy to go back to the humanity of Emerson’s roots – people and education. Giving back to the industry has long been an Emerson tradition, so she began looking for a way to promote the engineering lifestyle to attract more people to the industry as part of the anniversary story arc.

#ILoveSTEM fit the bill as an initiative to connect to the parts – getting people excited about the innovations made possible through science and giving back to the industry. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.) While Emerson’s #ILoveSTEM initiative wasn’t designed to drive recruiting, attracting more people to choose STEM-related careers has an indirect impact on Emerson’s recruiting efforts as well as customer acquisition over the longer term. (Emerson sells to engineers.)

The initiative began when an agency brought Kathy the idea of using the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. The psychographic of the show’s characters fit very well – four young people coming out of school and working in engineering – but she questioned the authenticity of using an actor on the show as a spokesperson for Emerson. While that celebrity support might work for an ad, it wouldn’t make the lifestyle statement that Kathy thought was needed.

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The agency found Internet star vlogger and self-proclaimed science nerd Hank Green. When Kathy asked her son if he had ever heard of Hank, he explained that Hank was the reason he got such a high grade in science class. After investigating further, Kathy was sold. Hank had the message, reach, and ability to talk to the market authentically. His objective – to broaden the reach of science to kids – matched Emerson’s.

Hank brings a sense of humor to the topic and that makes a big difference. Hank is a lifestyle,” says Kathy. And #ILoveSTEM became the story that served as the backbone for the anniversary year and kicked off with an Emerson ad featuring Hank Green airing during The Big Bang Theory in 13 key markets with universities where Emerson recruits new talent.

The #ILoveSTEM initiative included both online and offline components including a web presence, social media, TV network commercials, YouTube videos, and print ads in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Fortune magazine cover wraps. By showing how science is cool, the company also demonstrates how Emerson is progressive and authentic. The initiative also connects to the work of the Emerson Charitable Trust, which has made a multimillion-dollar commitment through 2020 to support youth-focused STEM and robotics programs at select educational institutions and nonprofits.

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One of The Wall Street Journal ads shows how Emerson tied #ILoveSTEM to the anniversary celebration.

Revealing the results

Emerson’s anniversary celebration and #ILoveSTEM as an integrated initiative have achieved some stellar results in both traditional and digital earned media:

Anniversary celebration results:

  • Nearly one billion impressions brought by more than 20 media interviews for Emerson executives
  • 130 stories published in print media
  • Top-tier broadcast media placements
  • 270 satellite media tour airings (A satellite media tour is when subject-matter experts are available to speak with the media in diverse markets for a specific time period, perhaps one to four hours. Emerson targeted Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.)
  • 20,708 views of Emerson’s “Brief Moment of Joy” video made for the anniversary celebration

#ILoveSTEM initial results (February-August 2015):

  • 3 million impressions and 5,400 new followers across Emerson’s main Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn channels for the highest monthly engagement for the company to date
  • 2 million page views of #ILoveSTEM website 1.3 million unique external visits
  • 439,000+ views of videos from #ILoveSTEM partnership with Hank Green (The Emerson YouTube channel went from 25,000 views in 2014 to more than 479,000 views in the same period in 2015.)
  • 16,600 views of STEM-related videos produced by Emerson

Kathy shares that she wasn’t worried about promoting initiatives that weren’t designed to bring in new customers. “It absolutely makes sense when you consider that tomorrow’s customers are today’s students,” she says. “Follow the target.”

What’s next

Kathy explains that #ILoveSTEM is an initiative, not a single campaign, which is what attracted Hank to sign on. Both Emerson and Hank want to help create change by attracting more people to science. (Learn more about the partnership in this video interview on Forbes with Kathy and Hank.)

Future #ILoveSTEM plans include continuing to help Hank spin his story with more videos and outreach, advertising during reruns of The Big Bang Theory in markets where Emerson recruits, and capitalizing on new opportunities as they arise. For example, Emerson is capitalizing on the emerging trend, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, by including the hashtag in its social media posts and creating content that speaks to current trends in engineering and science. Emerson also sponsored the #STEMSolve conference held in San Diego in July where Hank’s “I Love Science” video was played at the conference kick-off.

Emerson’s #ILoveSTEM web page, which was built around Hank and the idea of making science sexy and cool, runs on Rebel Mouse and perpetually populates itself with science content. The #ILoveSTEM page will continue to spread Hank and Emerson’s message aimed at attracting more talent to embrace science and engineering.

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Emerson’s Kathy Button Bell is a finalist for Content Marketer of the Year – and she is also presenting a session on engaging and inspiring the media and millennials with authentic storytelling.

To learn more about our Content Marketer of the Year finalists, we’ve put together a new SlideShare, Get Creative: Profile Of Six Content Marketers Of The Year Finalists. In it, you’ll find evidence of what made these marketers stand out. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute