In March 2016, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry will open an exhibition called “Brick by Brick,” featuring, among other LEGO creations, a 60-foot replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. The exhibition marries the museum’s ability to produce complex, ambitious exhibitions with LEGO’s status as “a venerable, well-loved brand that has had a real resurgence in the last five to ten years,” says Matt Simpson, the museum’s chief marketing officer.


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For Simpson’s marketing team, building a show around a great product is only half the battle. The team also has to figure out how to use digital technology to generate interest and add value to the exhibition.

“We’ll use digital media to do some storytelling at the front end,” Simpson explained. “And we’ll look to use digital in fun and new ways that extend the experience. We may allow kids to design something using digital tools, for instance, and then create it using 3-D printing. So you may be using digital tools, but your creation isn’t trapped there.”

In other words, the team’s strategy takes full advantage of new technology to tell a story and encourage engagement with a brand. Simpson and others at the 2015 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit emphasize the importance of creating a culture that can embrace innovation and respond nimbly to challenges at a time when digital tools are proliferating rapidly.

“The question for organizations is how they can adapt what they do well while also changing what they don’t do well,” says Gregory Carpenter, a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Market Leadership at Kellogg. “Every organization develops a culture based on past experiences, and then they’re faced with a new reality. And that new reality is digital.

“To be adept at digital, you have to be fast, you have to be agile, you have to be decentralized and less structured, and you have to have more cooperation and trust,” Carpenter says. “The big challenge organizations face is transforming themselves from hierarchical and centralized to more collaborative and trusting.”

Here are ways companies are looking to master their digital-media marketing strategies.

Using Digital Partnerships

To create “Brick by Brick,” the Museum of Science and Industry partnered with Adam Reed Tucker, one of about a dozen LEGO Master Builders in the world.

The collaboration makes sense logistically—Reed Tucker lives in the Chicago area—and synergistically, since it gives LEGO and Reed Tucker a stake in the exhibition’s success. The digital possibilities of this partnership are especially promising. The museum will enhance its YouTube presence, market the exhibition, and add value for guests—and potential guests—with short, shareable videos that not only document the development of the exhibition’s structures, but invite LEGO fans and digital communities to “build” entirely new creations that become part of the “Brick by Brick” story.

"The big challenge organizations face is transforming themselves from hierarchical and centralized to more collaborative and trusting." —Gregory Carpenter

Similarly, the global manufacturing and technology company Emerson Electric has partnered with Hank Green—a musician, blogger, and science popularizer whose short YouTube videos about science have a particularly large following—to celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2015. Emerson created a platform on its website that features Green’s short videos, as well as links to articles and updates on science and engineering.

With their mutual goal of encouraging interest in science, Emerson and Green are an easy fit. Their relationship has helped Emerson reach a broad audience while also building its identity. In a three-month period in early 2015, traffic to Emerson’s website spiked—from about 25,000 page views to nearly 500,000. One explicit benefit to Emerson has been the growing number of people who visit its careers page, resulting in a larger pool of applicants seeking jobs with the company.

In another successful partnership, Emerson Electric collaborated with LinkedIn and The Atlantic magazine on a targeted marketing campaign. The Atlantic curated the editorial content, which focused on women and engineering, while LinkedIn used its database to pinpoint recipients. “It’s been the single most successful thing we’ve done, per dollar,” says Kathy Button Bell, Emerson Electric’s chief marketing officer. “The engagement level—people reading it, sharing it, pushing it along—is just over the top when you can make the content that precise.”

Telling the Brand Story through Digital

Successful companies can offer customers a significant competitive difference by telling the right story.

Take the tech industry. What makes many technology companies so successful is not necessarily that their products are faster or objectively better, according to Farhad Manjoo, who writes about technology for The New York Times. Instead, it is the story those companies tell about themselves that makes the difference.

“In many ways, Apple is the leader in showing how to survive and thrive in a world dominated by lots of choices,” says Manjoo. “A few years ago, many people in the tech industry thought that competing smartphones would become so good that people would start ditching the iPhone for competitors. And the reason that hasn’t happened is that people have a deep affinity with their iPhones. The story that Apple tells becomes part of their identity.”

A key to Emerson Electric’s collaboration with Hank Green, according to Button Bell, is the power of digital campaigns to help define and tell a company’s story. The emphasis on storytelling led the company to focus on supporting science education and women in engineering, especially on LinkedIn. That more general advocacy, rather than product-centric appeals, has helped to define, redefine, and expose the company’s values.

“Doing something about your corporate character, rather than selling, is 100 times more effective when you’re doing social,” Button Bell says, “because it gets shared, and you can’t be a shill. If you’re doing social, it had better be pure of heart. Otherwise, you look like a cheap rug salesman.”

In addition to helping you reach the audience you want in a way that comes across as authentic, using the most current media channels conveys a powerful message about how committed the company is to staying cutting edge.

Creating Communal Experiences through Digital

TV and video streaming and on-demand services have made it increasingly possible for viewers to watch whatever they want, whenever they want to. This has led to TV audience fragmentation. But some shows are bucking the trend, becoming “appointment television” by using social media to add value to the experience during the shows’ original airings. One of the highest-rated shows on network television, Scandal, is particularly adept at doing so: its cast and crew use Twitter to add commentary in real time during original broadcasts.

“There’s this communal feeling that people get when they watch while talking to other people, and that’s lacking when they watch alone,” Manjoo said.

The double-edged sword of technology—its fragmenting effects and its ability to bring people together—presents both challenges and opportunities for organizations.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s ongoing exhibition, “Future Energy Chicago,” now offers a multi-participant simulation game in which teams compete against one another, using the same piece of software, to design a system of energy consumption, production, and distribution. The team that creates the most energy-efficient system wins the game.

“You can be making a decision across the room that impacts what I see in front of me,” Simpson said. “So, what you learn very quickly is the interdependence of all the elements.”

The game’s fluidity and interactive and cooperative dimensions are a good model for the kind of business cultures that are poised to thrive in the digital era.

“In the past, developing a strategy was like making a movie, where you could script everything,” says Carpenter. “Today, it’s much more like improv, and people who are good at making movies aren’t necessarily good at improv. In the more decentralized world, leadership isn’t about dictating. It’s more about developing a shared vision. That’s one reason you see so many more organizations focusing beyond making money on meaning. That focus helps everyone feel more connected to the core mission of the organization.”