National Geographic – The Ultimate Brand Experience?
The greatest brands have always been characterised by high awareness, a clear and distinctive image, an ability to evoke a strong rational and emotional bond with audiences, stretch into new markets as well as change with the times. With the opening of its new London store, The National Geographic Society has set a new high standard for a brand experience.
It all started in 1888 when 33 explorers and scientists gathered to form the National Geographic Society ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’. Over the years, the Society has supported many expeditions and research projects including polar and undersea expeditions, studies of animals, for example Dian Fossey’s study of mountain gorillas, and enabled many discoveries including the wreck of the Titanic (Robert Ballard) and the man-like Zinjanthropus in Tanzania (Louis Leakey).
The first brand extension, National Geographic magazine was published later in 1888. With its articles on geography, science, world history and current events, dramatic photographs from around the world, and trademarked yellow border, it has become an icon of our times and a coffee table essential amongst the chattering classes.
In June 1985, National Geographic chose a close-up of an ‘Afghan girl’ as the cover photo for an article on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.
Photographed by Steve McCurry, the girl had sea green eyes striped with blue and yellow and peered with a mixture of bitterness and courage from within a tattered burgundy scarf. Her picture touched the souls of millions.
In 1964, the brand extended onto television with stories of adventure and science. It provided fame for marine explorer and ecologist Jacques Cousteau and his adventures on board Calypso. The first TV channel followed as recently as 1997. And in 2007, National Geographic created a global media group comprising all of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital and maps units.
In conjunction with franchise partner, Worldwide Retail Store, National Geographic opened its new store in Regent Street last November. It is a living extension of the brand and a fantastic sensory experience.
On walking through the door you are greeted by a staff member from one of the many nations that are represented in the store. To the right are the magazines and videos, all with the iconic yellow border, perfectly displayed in a small pagoda-like structure. Beyond is a café with rustic tables and chairs. It is a great place to chat and enjoy a drink and pastry or pincho created by the fabulous Spanish chef. To the left of the door are a series of horse sculptures carefully crafted from driftwood. Beyond are rows of hanging prints taken by National Geographic photographers. Inside is a market-place brimming with hand-crafted furnishings and artefacts from all over the world. And everything is for sale. All is interposed with state of the art interactive screens and video walls bringing HD quality pictures from around the world up close and real. After hours, the merchandise can be easily packed away and the room becomes a lecture theatre.
In the basement, there is clothing for the great outdoors as well as the most fashion conscious. There is a cold chamber where you can test the weather-proofing abilities of the outerwear. This includes a wind turbine, block of ice, thermal imaging camera and visual display to add dramatic effect. To demonstrate the premium that great brands can command, the shirts are priced at £119.
On the top floor beautifully polished wooden desks adorned with glowing globes signal this is where you can book your expedition (or holiday). In the nearby technology department the latest camera and optical equipment is showcased in sturdy steel cases. Dressed in their khaki safari gear, staff are unobtrusive yet close to hand to help you make the most of your visit, for example by advising on what’s best to see the stars or (photographically) shoot the beasts in the bush (or stuff in the store). All that seems missing is a Masai warrior or lion on the loose…… but then again, did I really look everywhere?
Marketing Inspiration: While many brands originally evolved by accident, what’s also critical today is management conviction, vision and rigorous attention to detail to push the boundaries, inspire and deliver consistently through all behaviours and activities. You should be able to experience (see, hear, think and feel) the quality, value and difference.
Photo credits: Afghan girl – Steve McCurry, other photos of the National Geographic Store © Guy Tomlinson 2009
Do you want to develop and deliver a distinctive and compelling brand experience? If so check out The Marketing Directors’ brand marketing consultancy . We help set you apart by adding personality and telling your story.