How National Geographic is creating a modern marketing machine

National Geographic has transformed from a 19th century scholarly journal to a 21st century media hub spanning TV, magazines, travel expeditions, books, maps, consumer products, location-based entertainment and a digital and social media platform. In this blog, we hear from Marcus East, CTO and Marcelo Galdieri, SVP brand and franchise management National Geographic about the challenges they face and the capabilities they’re developing.

What is your advice for an established bricks and mortar company looking to reinvent?

ME: Traditional companies need to embrace the reality that for most consumers, the journey to interacting with a brand starts online, whether that be researching a hotel before making a reservation or checking out product reviews before going to a shop to buy something. There is no getting away from the reality that digital is a critical component of the relationship with a brand for the average consumer, and so it must be for successful brands. Embracing performance marketing to maximize the effectiveness of spend, using the power of analytics to help inform strategy and looking to digital channels as a new way of engaging with consumers should be key objectives for any organization looking to reinvent its marketing operation — the old rules don't fully apply.

MG: To Marcus' point, marketers needs to understand that "Digital Marketing" is an anachronism. All marketing today has an element of digital. Even if your product is an iconic 130-year-old magazine, you still need to consider how consumers are interacting digitally. Being able to collect information and understand your consumer is even more critical than in the past. Consumers expect that the company they are interacting with understands them and will tailor the experience to their needs. Brick and Mortar companies can't change their physical store front for every customer that walks in their store, but now the journey begins in digital, where you can do that.

ME: Balancing daily operations with strategic development requires great focus. And you need to have a strong digital and technology platform to underpin the vision. We’re creating new content management solutions. We’re launching a new website to provide a unified brand and content experience for consumers around the world, aligned to a new native mobile app. We’re building new digital communities to super-serve the needs of specific audiences, including photographers (Your Shot, with over 900,000 members) and aspiring explorers (Open Explorer, launched in April). We’re implementing a new customer data strategy to support personalization and deeper consumer insight.

How do you organize your marketing operation?

ME: I'll let Marcelo answer this one!

MG: We are, first and foremost, a content company and we strive to ensure our content is entertaining for our consumers. So, we organize our Marketing team to connect with consumers, make them love and engage with our brand. That requires investing in consumer insights and having the right tools to drive meaningful engagement that feels personal. To do that we are organized around who is the target consumer, what do we serve them and how do we reach them. And of course, we are passionate about nurturing and always pushing boundaries with our powerful yellow portal.

One implication for leaders is to understand that hierarchical control of your brand and marketing is not efficient anymore. They must embrace a more decentralized, community-driven approach to make any brand relevant to consumers.

What are the skills you most emphasize for your team?

ME: Caring about consumers, being data-informed, understanding end-to-end customer journeys and having a passion for creating excellent customer experiences are key for me.

It can be difficult to find people in the market with relevant skills and experience. It's easy to find an SEO-expert or someone with 10-years’ experience in a particular field of marketing, but hard to find someone with 10-years’ experience who is also an SEO-expert. This requires teams to mix and match levels of experience and to consider 'T-shaped' people where some will have deep technical expertise, and others will have deep sector and functional expertise.

MG: It is also about being a multi-disciplinary leader. To succeed, leaders must be able to understand the interdependencies of product, marketing, technology, etc., not only from a theoretical perspective, but also from experience in each area.

What are your capability priorities for the future?

ME: To continue to invest in the company's transformation into a consumer-first organization that has deep technical and functional expertise.

MG: To ensure that the National Geographic brand continues to be relevant to consumers, as they inevitably shift how they consume media. We went from a black-and-white printed journal, to adding color, photos, videos, to a social media powerhouse. The future will include mix reality and other medium formats we don't know of yet. Building the capabilities to understand these mediums while focusing on the power of storytelling is how we will likely stay relevant to consumers.

ME: In a way, it's all about leaders' ability to handle change; change is the only constant and whilst digital changes are having a big impact now, I believe that being ready for change is the key ingredient for success

BRAND LEARNING: Creating Growth Capabilities

To find out how we can help you accelerate towards the new and develop the capabilities required to support this and drive customer-centred growth, please get in touch.