How to Become a Purpose-Driven Storyteller Like National Geographic



“Let’s go further together.” Nadine Heggie, VP, Brand Partnerships, National Geographic Partners Europe & Africa


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Sixty-five percent of global consumers are making belief-driven purchases, a 50 percent year-over-year increase and sixty-percent of consumers are looking for brands to make it easier for them to see their values and propositions as important issues.

More than ever, consumers are looking to brands to be a voice for good in the world and a global leader in this space is National Geographic.

During #SMWLDN, Nadine Heggie, Vice President of Brand Partnership, National Geographic Partners shared insights into how the brand is dominating the social landscape by creating a virtuous cycle of purpose-led storytelling.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Purpose-led Stories are Fueled by the Truth
  • Be Thumb-Stopping by Pushing Boundaries and Creating for the Platform
  • Harness the Power of Communities to Boost Relevancy
  • Reimagine Cultural Moments to Target New Audiences
  • Empower and Add Value Through Interactivity

Purpose-led Stories are Fueled by the Truth

“In a world full of doubt and unease about the validity of content and authenticity, NatGeo is committed to science and fact-based reporting is our true north,” shared Heggie.

To underscore this point, she offered examples including Jane Goodall, Steve McCurry, most famous for his photograph Sharbat Gula also known as the “Afghan Girl” periodically featured on the cover of National Geographic, and Joel Sartore, head of The National Geographic Photo Ark project, a 25-year effort to document the approximately 12,000 species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.

By emphasizing these efforts, NatGeo effectively taps into storytelling to fundamentally shape how we understand our planet and our role in it. “Purpose is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s a virtuous cycle…When we understand the world we are more likely to care for it and therefore take more responsibility,” said Heggie.

Be Thumb-Stopping by Pushing Boundaries and Creating for the Platform

For NatGeo, being thumb-stopping has everything to do with investment in storytelling. Particularly, an underlying goal of the company no matter what platform is being discussed is the achievement of strong visual storytelling.

“At the heart of our yellow border and what has fueled our brand is exploration, collaboration and an unmatched passion to push the boundaries.”

Heggie shared the example of a YouTube documentary hosted by Bertie Gregory titled The Big Freeze. The combination of the story of his journey to Manitoba, his charismatic personality, and the intention to create the film it specifically for NatGeo’s YouTube audience has been critical to success. Video views are garnering 8x as many engagements as normal video content and the first episode of the series was one of the highest-grossing videos on youtube in July this year.

It is these types of decisions that have translated into impressive outcomes for the brand including attracting 444 million followers on social and earning a total global audience reach of 760 million globally.

Harness the Power of Communities to Boost Relevancy

“At NatGeo we like to think that our social communities are just beginning of driving real social impact,” said Heggie.

She elaborated on this point by pointing to the brand’s Women of Impact community, launched in 2018. The collaboration with Facebook and Deloitte digital is primarily focused on spotlighting women in the areas of conservation, science and photography and has now grown to 70,000 members. This group, as Heggie put it, serves as the “springboard and inspiration” for the NatGeo editorial team which has recently taken a close look at the wider context behind the Me Too movement.

In 2019 the editorial team polled the group to gather their perspectives on harassment issues, the job market and feminism today. The results were shared just the other month in a dedicated edition of National Geographic Magazine.

Reimagine Cultural Moments to Target New Audiences

How do you engage with social at a time when there is a lot of noise around a cultural moment that is arguably one of the most viewed in history? How do you add value? How do you add value to your communities?

For NatGeo, it’s about tapping into authenticity and begin organic. A recent example of how the brand did this successfully is live-tweeting around the Apollo 11 expedition in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. For four days the brand tweeted about the piece of history and was able to share this cultural story in an innovative way that resonated with a new, younger generation of consumers.

Empower and Add Value Through Interactivity

NatGeo recently partnered with St. Ives in a program celebrating World Mental Health Day and tapped into Snapchat and Instagram in order to target Gen Z audiences and communicate the positive benefits of spending time in nature.

The campaign featured a photo contest where 16 winners will be chosen to travel with a NatGeo photographer to Yellowstone National Park to document and experience their own nature reset.

Separately, the brand’s partnership with Rwanda emphasized the symbiotic relationship between tourism and conservation.

Using polls on social media for people to vote on naming baby mountain gorillas, NatGeo effectively used interactivity to fuel its storytelling purpose and raise awareness of the country’s efforts in saving endangered species.

“Let’s go further together,” Heggie said to close the session.

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