A Surprising Lesson from GE on B2B Branding

In preparation for our storytelling workshops, we request that participants complete some light homework. We often ask them what B2B company does a particularly good job in building its brand and public profile.

With rare exception, GE wins this unaided awareness test.

In a “cement mixer” with thousands of B2B companies, what is GE doing to stand out? How is the company building a brand that people remember?

In reverse-engineering the B2B side of GE’s communications to the outside world, one overriding principle emerges —

GE strives to touch both sides of the brain, the intellectual and the emotional. In analyzing B2B communications over the years, I would say one out of every 100 B2B companies makes this leap … even 1 percent might be generous.

Whether you’re selling bulldozers, semiconductors or lubricants by the barrel, it’s hard to see how a buyer would care about anything that smacks of emotion. Yet, it’s not like these products automatically strip decision makers of their emotions, leaving them in a Spock state.

GE gets this point.

You might be thinking that GE enjoys a unique position as one of the best-run companies on the planet going back to the Jack Welsh days — with the type of  marketing resources that only come from being a $146B company. While true, here’s a takeaway lesson from GE that any B2B company can apply to its outbound communications and brand-building efforts —

Use storytelling techniques to educate, inform and even amuse in contrast to the conventional B2B playbook that shouts “Me, Me … and here’s a little bit more about Me.”

The company’s blog, GE Reports, provides a good example of how this plays out in pragmatic terms. The blog executes on the promise to explore stories on innovation, science and technology, as well as GE viewpoints.

Take a post on the Panama Canal.

The storytelling starts with a double entendre in the headline, “Dig This: The Panama Canal is About to Get Busy”

Next, look at the opening paragraph:

The Panama Canal is a full century old, but it’s going through a growth spurt. The 48-mile-long waterway that cuts across “the backbone of the Western Hemisphere” is going through the final year of a massive expansion. When work is completed this year, bigger locks will allow the giant “New Panamax” class of container ships and supertankers to slip through and boost the canal’s capacity by half.

No mention of GE.

But the part I find most revealing involves the visual storytelling in the post. This is a tough leap for most B2B companies, believing that depth of content, not “pictures,” wins the day. Yet, this is one of the best ways for B2B content to wiggle its way to an emotional touch point.

The GE post’s hero image features a GIF with an explosion sure to capture the most fleeting attention span.

More than scrutinize the visual assets individually, it’s also interesting to consider the “look” of the overall post. Just like newspapers have figured out that a page of black type turns off readers, the same principle can be applied to a blog post.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with two metrics that shape the reader’s immediate impression of a post (before reading a word):

  • Ratio of words to visual
  • Percent of column inches devoted to visuals

GE scores an 81:1 words-to-visual ratio, impressive when the typical post of 300 to 500 words carries one visual. And visuals dress 68 percent of the GE post’s column inches, again far beyond the norm.

The value of visual storytelling also impacts the increasing use of mobile devices to access information. Again, the GE post looks good on a smartphone (two snapshots below).

As I dig – there’s that verb again – deeper in this area, I’ll try to come up with industry best practices for the two metrics on “looks.”

BTW, this post scored an 79:1 words-to-visual ratio with roughly 41 percent of the column inches devoted to visuals.

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