The greatest content marketing case study in history

greatest content marketing case study

GE customers react to seeing their photos displayed on Times Square

By Mark Schaefer

I was going through some old files from classes I taught years ago and came across the most beautiful and wonderful content marketing case study. It is my all-time favorite because it touches so many bases and I thought I would pass this along to you for a little fun and inspiration.

First I have to explain that this case study was featured on a General Electric blog that is now defunct and I can no longer find a link or the original article. I even asked GE for help but they could not locate the story either. So, you’re just going to have to settle for my description of this case. Here we go.

The greatest content marketing case study

One of GE’s products is a scanning electron microscope. You know the cool, close-up pictures you see of scary bug faces, pollen, and other geeky things? This is the machine that takes those photos.

GE asked its scientist customers from all around the world to submit their favorite photos for a contest. They received dozens of submissions that were like little pieces of art.

The company then selected the best photos and invited the winners to their headquarters in New York for a celebration. But the scientists were about to be treated to much more than a dinner and a plaque.

As the cameras were rolling, the GE team took the scientists to Times Square and told them to look up. There, in a magnificent electronic display as tall as a building were their photos! The reaction was amazing. Tears were streaming down the faces of the customers as they saw their hard work on display for all the world to see. They literally gasped with astonishment and delight.

This was a lovely story of the common becoming uncommon, the trenches becoming the mountain, the mundane becoming glorious, for just one amazing moment.

Here’s why I love this piece of content so much.

  • This was an extraordinarily effective use of video, photography, and text to tell a multi-media story.
  • The concept created this incredibly powerful emotional reaction, a reaction so profound in fact that it is still on my mind five years later. GE made its customers shed tears of joy. Hello.
  • It celebrated customers. Too often, corporate content is me-centric. I can imagine what these customers were thinking as they gazed into the night sky: “Somebody noticed me.”
  • The basic art was user-generated content. B2B content at that.
  • It applied a creative story-telling approach to highlight a potentially boring B2B product. Scientists and engineers are human too. Show that humanity. Make that connection.

Did it achieve anything?

The one thing that’s missing here is measurement. Every good case study has a measurable deliverable, right?

Obviously this was a GE corporate video so I don’t know if this content piece ever sold one microscope … but I don’t think that matters. The goal of great marketing is to create an emotional connection between you and your customer that leads to trust and loyalty over time. GE’s customers were crying. I guarantee you those business leaders will never forget that evening on Times Square as long as they live. Heck, I won’t forget it and I wasn’t even there.

Mission accomplished.

I love this B2B marketing example so much because it breaks a paradigm and makes a common product beautiful and breath-taking and emotional.

There’s also a great lesson here. Stop using your industry as an excuse. Just because you’re in banking or finance or engineering, doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Engineers and bankers love interesting and entertaining content, too. Nobody is going to ever choose boring over not-boring.

You probably don’t sit around the office wondering how your company can be more entertaining today. It’s time to start thinking that way.


Note: After she read this post, my friend Jackie Scott remembered I had used this case study in training for Johnson & Johnson, dug up some old slides, and found a link to the actual video that played on Times Square in 2013. Here it is:

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon. 

Illustration courtesy General Electric 

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