GE’s Linda Boff talks branded content and brand's Millie Dresselhaus ad at C2 Montreal

Linda Boff, CMO of GE, takes the stage at C2 Montreal

For the past few years, GE has been striving to brand itself as a company whose digital chops are just as strong as the machines it manufactures.

Linda Boff, who has served as GE’s chief marketing officer for nearly two years, has helped spearhead the 125-year-old company’s new vision via a marketing strategy that relies heavily on experimentation and a willingness to be first on emerging media platforms.

While GE still sometimes relies on more “traditional” mediums like television to spread its message, the company is fond of experimenting with new ways to tell its story. In the past year alone, GE has released a branded content series on YouTube called In The Wild, a fictional podcast titled LifeAfter (a follow-up to its successful sci-fi podcast The Message), and a Facebook Live video series called Drone Week that detailed how the company’s technology helps power the Olympics.

Speaking with The Drum at C2 Montreal, Boff said that GE’s “plan of attack” when it comes to trying out new platforms is pretty simple.

“We’ll ride the horse, but if the horse stops moving, we get off. I think that’s okay,” she said, adding that the risk of “not being out there when it seems like something has traction with an audience” is worse for GE.

“Some platforms will come and go. We know our brand well. Because our brand stands for innovation, the desire to express that in new ways, on new platforms, is one that kind of feels core to us. I think the price of experimentation is to skin your knees sometimes, and that’s okay,” she said.

GE launched In The Wild earlier this month to show off how the company is doing things like digitizing shipping logistics. The series, which currently has four episodes on YouTube, is hosted by former Mythbusters host Adam Savage and Innovation Nation correspondent Alie Ward.

According to Boff, In The Wild is also already a hit amongst the audience that GE is trying to reach with the series. On YouTube, each episode has more than 100,000 views.

“People seem to love In The Wild. The response has been great,” she said. “We don’t need to reach everybody in the world. We want to reach the people who share our passion for technology and share our passion for building things, who are curious.”

Boff added that she’s wary of describing things like In The Wild as “branded content” since she said the term “can be an excuse for content that’s not very good.”

“What we’ve tried really hard to do is to create content that tells our story through the voices, the formats, and the platforms that we think will reach the right audiences. So something like In the Wild was a great way to do first-person storytelling [with the] borrowed equity of Adam Savage and his sidekick Alie Ward, to [have them] come and kind of experience the grandeur, the geekiness of GE firsthand, and to tell those stories.”

While GE is investing a lot of its resources into new forms of media, TV is still an integral part of its advertising — in fact, its ‘What’s the matter with Owen?’ recruitment campaign that launched during the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2015 resulted in an 800% increase in employee applications.

In February of this year, the company aired an ad starring Millie Dresselhaus, the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering, on TV to announce its goal of having 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020. The spot imagines what the world would be like if society treated lauded female scientists like Dresselhaus in the same fashion as celebrities.

Boff said that the Millie ad isn’t supposed to be the female equivalent of the brand’s Owen campaign (a spot than ran last year starring a woman named Sarah was meant to appeal to prospective female employees), but is instead meant to be a catalyst that will drive change not only at GE but within the tech industry as a whole.

“Millie is a catalyst for what we’re trying to do, and that is ignite the industry - ourselves and the tech industry - to simply put more women in tech jobs. If we can play a role in doing that, that’s a great thing,” she said.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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