How Emerson Made Science Sexy with Storytelling

February 24, 2015

One of my favorite quotes from marketing icons about B2B marketing is that it doesn’t mean “boring-to-boring.” And, while logically we know that doesn’t have to be case, it’s rare that hard-core B2B companies do anything to break that stigma.

Unless you’re Emerson.

Of any B2B company that’s earned the right to stay in the obscure, gray corner of nondescript marketing, it’s Emerson. The company’s 125 years old, it’s stocked full of engineers, it’s global and it’s as industrial as a company can get.

No creative soul comes out of B-school and jumps for joy at the thought of doing the same thing a company’s done for more than a century. Except that Emerson turned the stereotype of a staid, boring company into some of the smartest brand storytelling around. They’ve been doing it for years, and now they’re making the entire science ecosystem stand up and take notice.

It Didn’t Just “Happen”
For more than a decade, CMO Kathy Button Bell and her team have been evolving the company’s story. She’s not only reengineered the brand within its industries, but she’s also elevated the credibility of marketing and its ability to drive business growth along the way.

Last week, Emerson created an entirely new set of expectations for brand storytelling. In honor of the company’s 125-anniversary, Button Bell partnered with Internet and science celebrity Hank Green to inspire and empower the next generation of engineers and scientists through its #ILoveSTEM Campaign.

But why partner with a self-proclaimed science nerd to talk about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)? Because, as Green tells it, they both have the same goals – to get more people interested in science and engineering.

From Stories to Experiences
The genius of Emerson partnering with Green is enhanced by the fact that they first aired the ad during The Big Bang Theory. Geared toward a younger, science-geek audience, The Big Bang Theory reinforces the hip outlook that Emerson wanted to convey and provided a natural context in which to tell their story.

The beauty of Emerson’s work is that they’ve built longevity and are smart about how they’re executing on the story. This isn’t a three to six-month effort that will soon be shelved. They’ve successfully made the leap from traditional storytelling to creating true brand experiences for  broader audiences – those young and hip who they hope to recruit into the profession as well as senior business executives who they still target. And they’re bringing the rest of the science fans with them.

How to Create a Killer Brand Story
It’s clear that the Emerson team didn’t just think strategically, but thought about how to truly innovate when it came to creating purpose-driven content around their brand story. “We want to make science cool and show how Emerson is progressive and authentic,” Button Bell told Advertising Age.

Here’s how they did it:

  1. Go big or go home. Clearly, Emerson went into this with an “everything is possible” attitude about how to tell their story. This scares the crap out of most marketers and deeply inspires others. I’m pumped that Emerson chose the latter.
  2. Tell a story that people want to hear. Kids love science. And so do most adults. But as Hank Green pointed out, adults get busy and don’t make time for it. Emerson’s making it sexy – and accessible – for young people to make their foray into careers in science.
  3. Tell a story that’s bigger than you. As humans, we’re curious by nature. Emerson tapped into that aspect of science to fuel interest in the bigger ecosystem of science as well as what they deliver as a company. Button Bell talks about the need for marketing to serve as the Chief Inspiration Officer for the company. There’s a big check mark next to that box.
  4. Disrupt people’s expectations. B2B companies don’t do prime time TV. And they don’t pursue an audience that can’t even buy what it sells. And celebrities are reserved for B2C marketing. Unless you want to disrupt what people think and capture their attention in unexpected ways.
  5. Leave ‘em wanting more. This isn’t an “I want to see if they can keep it going” kind of interest. It’s about the fun of learning how someone made beer from recycled, purified wastewater. Or what could possibly top that. It’s just fun.
  6. They made it a true story, and not a campaign. Emerson blazed past the biggest fail that marketers still have – campaign mentality. #ILoveSTEM and that section on Emerson’s website is another chapter in a long-term tale.

Emerson, you didn’t just reinvent brand stories, you may have also recreated bedtime stories. And for that, marketers everywhere owe you a big high-five for raising the bar for what we say “YES!” to.