'National Geographic's Marketing Secret To Surviving, Thriving After 129 Years

What separates a flash-in-the-pan brand from a 129-year-old national treasure? Story.

National Geographic has been a household name since 1888 because it reinvents itself through storytelling for new audiences and mediums. As CMO Jill Cress said at Adobe’s 2017 summit in Las Vegas: "It’s all about pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling through media properties. You need an unrivaled sense of purpose."

National Geographic has managed to evolve by keeping its core message strong while changing the delivery. It's taken its awe-inspiring images onto Instagram, for example, even allowing other photographers to contribute to the story. Perhaps that's why it has more than 86 million followers.

To capture people's attention (and market share), start crafting your story, too. Here are my top tips for getting started:



1. Channel your inner Indy.

Indiana Jones treks through the wilderness to protect valuable artifacts from villains — giving everything to his mission. Similarly, you must suss out your storytelling mission at the beginning of your content journey and stick with it until the end.

You can’t craft a meaningful, coherent story if you don’t know what you want to say or sound like. Physically write out a mission statement for your content, including a list of places, sources, and other voices that you like. Compile a list of "tone" words. Is your brand quirky or serious?

"Obviously, you need good products, but the success of many brands is linked to emotion," said John Stapleton, entrepreneur and co-founder of New Covent Garden Market. "A strong story based in reality will bring your message and values to life in a way the consumer can believe in.”

2. Turn your mirror into a window.

Instead of self-reflecting on what you want to read about, think from your potential readers' perspectives. Actively try to learn more about them so when it comes time to put pen to paper, you know what will excite, inspire, and call them to action.

Create audience profiles: where customers hang out online, what kind of social channels they frequent, and what their favorite subjects are. Make sure you’re ticking their boxes with every piece of content.

Airbnb's content is centered on the people who list their homes and the travelers who stay in them. Its messaging focuses on the power of human connection — and where it fits into that equation. Its travel stories page highlights the connections its customers have made via Airbnb.

3. Get that “burning topic” off your chest.

Don’t construct a content machine before you’ve mastered creating individual quality pieces. Creativity and authenticity will secure you a place in customers’ imaginations — whether you're a prolific author or not.

What story do you need to tell? Run with that. Focus on creating one great thing at a time. Choose a subject audiences care about, dig into it, and focus on helping them solve a problem.

I believe that brand loyalty starts at that local level. When we walk into stores, how we're treated leaves an immediate, lasting impression; it determines whether we'll return. There was and is a fire inside me to tell this story. We've also baked it into our agency solutions and built a client service practice around it. We focus on the local level because we truly believe brands make it or break it there.

Every brand has a story it's just waiting to tell. You’ll find that as you add chapters to your brand’s story, customers will start getting a stronger sense of who you are. With so much noise fighting for their attention, your story will be the signal — loud and clear.

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