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Brand Admiration: Lessons from National Geo

I love National Geographic. And judging from today’s InstaGram milestone—1 Billion Likes!— I’m in good company.
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National Geo’s products are beautiful, insightful, educational, emotional, and inspiring. Their work is also an excellent role model and standard for those of us in professional fields of communication.

What makes this brand so special and what can we learn from them?

National Geographic is much more than its iconic 127-year-old-magazine. The organization’s headquarters in Washington DC is a hub of activity—including exhibitions, speakers, and classes. Lucky for me, I work a few blocks away so I can immerse myself in National Geographic. In the past two months I’ve visited their galleries and attended two lectures—one on kayaking in China, and another on local foods, where adventurers share their stories and fabulous photographs.

If you are curious, love travel and want to explore other cultures and history,  National Geographic will draw you in and delight you in a way that few organizations can. They have the secret sauce of total brand experience—spectacular imagery, intriguing prose, diverse events, a state-of-the-art physical space exceptional design, and friendly customer service.natlgeo.spkr

The way National Geo puts their audience in the center of all they do and the way they manage their immense and rich content also makes National Geographic a model marketer.  A bonus is that all they do is there for us to experience and admire.  I think every business, non-profit, and government agency can study National Geo and apply the essence of what they do within their organizations.

Tying it all together—marketing, design and customer attention

They are with me where ever I go. I can read National Geo’s magazine in print or on my iPad. Each provides a unique experience. I love the fold out timelines and maps in print, but I’m also drawn into the app’s video and interactivity. Their current cover, for example, opens with an aerial pan of Detroit and striking portraits of city residents. I’m constantly inspired by their expert use of imagery and typography.

natl-geo.covNational Geo encourages participation. I find myself sharing their posts on Facebook and Twitter several times a week. I’m fascinated by new wildlife species, interesting cultural insights, and their exciting archeological explorations. Their original well-written articles and photography cut through the noise on social media channels. Even though they may be repurposing content across media channels, somehow it feels fresh and timely—perfect to share.

I want to open their email. Yes, for the same reason I retweet and share their posts, I’m drawn to their emails. I want to know what they are doing, learn about their latest dig, see who won their photo contests. Through their emails I can browse their online store and explore adventure tours. Watch out, temptation is built into every message!

Powerful and elegant design permeates all they do. A century-old organization can feel dated, or it can feel vibrant like National Geo. Before each lecture striking panoramic slides (shown below)  invite audiences to participate in future events, enter a contest, and read their magazines. As you’d expect, their website  is designed to showcase  photography and is fun to browse. Thoughtful and beautiful design is part of everything they do.

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National Geo is a Huge Multi-Million$$ Brand
How Does this Relate to My Organization?

It doesn’t matter how many members you have, the gross income of your business, or what markets you serve, there are key lessons that we can all take away from National Geographic. Here are just a few:

  • Put your customers at the center of everything you do.
  • Invest in professional design and marketing  to raise the quality of your communications.
  • Reward your audience for participating in your activities.
  • Be authentic and true to yourself and your brand.

National Geographic has been part of my life for more than 50 years.  Recently it struck me that I’m learning more from them than what they intended. They’ve also taught me a lot about excellent branding, design, and marketing.