How do global B2B leaders like General Electric (GE) manage their content marketing efforts? What steps do they take to ensure success?
Thanks to ACMA (The Asia Content Marketing Association), I learned a thing or two about how a global company like GE successfully managed its content marketing efforts in different markets around the world.
In a wide ranging discussion conducted by ACMA Chairperson Andrea Edwards (you read the full transcript here), former Managing Director and Head of Global Communications of GE Global Ms Penny Shone shared her insights, knowledge and experience in overseeing content marketing for the huge American conglomerate.
Known for GE Reports—one of the most successful examples of content marketing by large corporations anywhere—GE has created a huge library of fascinating articles, videos, infographics, podcasts and other content formats.
Straddling different content pillars like innovation, thought leadership, sustainability, business performance, energy, technology, investor relations and more, GE Reports focuses on good storytelling and employee participation to fuel its impressive content machinery.
Here are some highlights from the interview, edited for brevity and context.
From NZ to RGS to Citigroup and GE
Do you know that Penny Shone is a New Zealander? Or that she once taught in Raffles Girls School (RGS)?
Sharing her personal career journey over the years and how it inter-twined with Singapore, Penny recounted how her undergraduate degree in literature, history and drama put her in good stead for an illustrious career in journalism and communications.
Now doing voluntary work for Singapore’s AWARE, she spent 12 years in Citigroup’s Global office, and had the privilege of interviewing leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Colin Powell.
GE’s Content Marketing Goal
Reflecting on the content archetypes of Poet and Professor shared earlier by LinkedIn, Penny opined that the ultimate goal of content marketing laid in building a strong relationship with your customer.
To achieve this, a global company like GE had to consider how global content pieces could be filtered and meaningfully curated for regional and local markets.
GE also needed to consider the relevance of their content to their audiences. In doing so, they tapped the common interests of content readers—for instance showing cool aviation technology from GE to attract engineers across different disciplines.
To reach their goal, GE focused on co-creating content with their customers. They actively looked for case studies where customers bought a GE product or service which helped to solve a business problem. These stories would include both the human and the business dimension.
Creating Content for Global Markets
For GE, they need to consider how their brand stories can fit different markets. These include answering the following questions:
- How to make the brand relevant in a country that is not valuable (in terms of revenue)?
- What can they use and what needs to be local and international?
- What is the right digital strategy for the market? In certain markets, digital content may not be as valuable as traditional content.
- What is the front end, back end, and mix of online and offline content to be created?
A key consideration here is to translate the content to the different languages in their target markets, localize and contextualise it to their unique socio-cultural environments. This varies significantly from market to market. For example, while the latest technologies may be sexy and cool to an American audience, the same may not be true in developing economies.
Securing Senior Leadership Support
To succeed in getting the senior leadership of GE to invest in content marketing as a strategy, Penny sold her team’s ideas to the bosses and CEOs of each country. She made a case for the importance of content in each business unit, and coached these executives on how cost effective and useful content can be for their business units.
Penny’s team also worked hard to produce results with their first few pieces of content, helped these country leaders tell their story, and tapped diverse teams across GE’s global markets to develop content.
Due to the limited resources of her content team, Penny was selective in which markets she chose to feature. She focused not only on the businesses themselves, but their commercial value. By doing so, she ensured that her team did not run around ragged trying to service internal clients.
Targeting Global Audiences
With such a wide span of audiences around the world, what strategies does GE take to reach them?
First, GE considered the importance of treating every B2B customer as a human being. This is evident in the way they craft their content and customer stories, focusing on the human stories behind each flashy new technology or innovation.
GE’s content team also partnered with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in each arena. For example, they would work with their China team to craft content for the Chinese market, or engage with their investor relations team to develop investor reports.
Understanding the business mix was also key. Penny shared how healthcare’s prominence in China triggered the creation of more healthcare related content in that market. Content in GE’s corporate HQ was also repurposed for a local market based on the appealed to the customers in those regions.
Finally, GE conducted sufficient research to learn what was deeply relevant to the people in that country before they crafted and curated content targeted at that market.
Content Marketing Trends
When asked on her thoughts of where content marketing was heading, Penny provided the following guidance:
- Consider where the broader directions of your industry is going
- Create content which your specific audiences like – think about both brand awareness and customer engagement
- Think about the action which they can take on your behalf, and reflect on whether it is realistic or unrealistic
- Short content formats like videos and photo stories appear to gain traction with the diminishing of attention spans
- Ensure that your hygiene factors are done well. They include your article headers, subheads, use of images, infographics and videos.
- Long-form articles may still work if they are relevant to your senior executives and buyers
- Finally, consider how different types of content work in an integrated content mix
Sharing the example of the Olympic Games which GE sponsored in Brazil, Penny highlighted how the customer engagement component of GE’s content helped it to gain cult status and national television coverage. Focused on healthcare, customers loved what they saw as brand and businesses worked together to create synergy.
Content Marketing Metrics
Towards the end of the session, Penny responded on the metrics used for digital content.
These depended on three key factors:
- The target audience
- The business goal
- The stage of GE’s presence and development in a country
Should GE be just starting out in a new market, her priority would lie in getting critical stakeholders to sign up for GE Reports.
For challenging markets, base level metrics like clicks or time on site would be used.
For more developed markets where GE had an established presence, business scores such as the number of customers who subscribed and reached would be used.
As GE’s content marketing efforts improved in each market, their metrics grew tougher. Ultimately, the content team’s goal was to prove that they could generate a direct business impact and get customer endorsement.
For more on GE’s Content Marketing journey, read ACMA’s Full Transcript here.