How the No. 1 Social Brand Found Success: A Millennial’s Perspective
Thousands and thousands of articles have been written, dissecting the millennial. The millennial at work wants praise. The millennial shopping wants an orchestrated experience. The millennial sitting on the toilet wants entertainment.
I’m a millennial. I don’t stand for every millennial, but I can give you my perspective on what brand marketing works and what doesn’t. After all, a few other millennials just might think the same way.
The best way to show you what I’m talking about is to use one of my favorite brands as an example. National Geographic, which has been named the no. 1 brand on social media for the past two years, knows how to adapt to the digital world. In this article, I’ll take you through the principles that National Geographic has used to catapult to the top.
National Geographic did what no other company would do. When they started their Instagram account, they gave their 110 photographers free rein to post whatever and whenever they wanted — to give background info., to talk about their experience and to be human. By giving up corporate control over their accounts and letting the employees speak freely, the NatGeo brand feels real. It feels authentic. It’s engaging. And I feel like I can trust them, because it’s not some corporate mask but is real, breathing people with opinions and passions for exploring the world. I, and many other millennials, crave transparency in brands.
A PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAINS
By giving their photographers free rein to post and discuss their photos, National Geographic also opened the door to giving their followers the chance to get an insider’s peek into the brand’s inner workings. The photographers talk about the four-hour hike to get to the perfect location, or the lens used, or the experience watching a bear fish. Sometimes they educate. It feels like you’re out on safari with them, a wide-eyed intern on their first adventure.
In fact, I love hearing the photographers talk — more than I love the photos. When the photographers talk about waiting in the tree for hours to catch a glimpse of a rare species or explain the science behind the phenomenon caught on camera, I feel like I’m more a part of the team than I am an outsider. I’m part of the experience. And, like many millennials, I’m all about the experience.
For many millennials, experience trumps all. When I buy products, I’m not just buying a car or a soup ladle. I’m buying an experience. Some might measure their wealth in products — I measure mine in experiences. National Geographic gets this, and tells their stories in a visual, experiential way.
“One moment you’ll be underwater, face to face with a whitetip shark, and the next moment you’ll be atop a volcano in Rwanda with a family of mountain gorillas,” says Patrick Witty, deputy director of digital photography, who manages the account. “Through @NatGeo we help people experience the planet and cultures as seen by our photographers — a special, unfiltered view.”
LEVERAGES PLATFORM’S STRENGTHS
Instagram is a visual platform, where brands with breathtaking photography, like National Geographic, shine. Before digital, National Geographic was known for their visual storytelling. Now, instead of trying to force conversions and sales on social, National Geographic is simply marrying their brilliant visual storytelling with the visual-heavy medium and allowing viewers to connect with the brand on a personal level. The community National Geographic has connected with doesn’t want to be sold to. They just want to enjoy great photography and learn a little more about the world around them. And National Geographic has hit it right on the button.
Your brand is probably not renowned for its fantastic photos, and you probably don’t have 110 photographers to manage your social account. But, the principles still apply. I, as a millennial consumer, am attracted to brands that treat me honestly and are transparent, give me a peek behind the curtains and make me feel like a VIP, provide me with a well-choreographed experience, and work with — not against — the platforms they’re on. Happy branding!