National Geographic: Defying extinction through visual storytelling

Print is dead and digital is the new king. So say the numbers in the publishing industry, with even cornerstones of the magazine industry such as National Geographic feeling the pinch.

In September 2015, the National Geographic Society sold the majority of its media assets, including its magazine and book, to a partnership headed by 21st Century Fox, the same partnership that saw the launch of the National Geographic Channel in 2001. It was a last-ditch attempt to save the nonprofit parent organization and throw a lifeline to its beloved magazine which, according to the Washington Post, had seen its readership drop from a high of 12 million subscribers in the US alone to just 6.5 million subscribers worldwide in all languages.

However, if you thought that National Geographic would go quietly you are sorely mistaken – a giant of the print industry, National Geographic is certainly no shrinking violet in the digital sphere.

By focusing on its strengths – visual storytelling – National Geographic has carved out a space in the digital world where it is not only excelling, but leaving the competition in its wake.

According to Nadine Heggie, Vice President of Global Partnerships for National Geographic Partners Europe & Africa, National Geographic reaches 730 million people each month, a number fuelled by social media – a Shareablee study in 2015 found that National Geographic was the number one social brand across all platforms with more than 482.5 million social actions across all platforms surveyed.

An example of an informative and engaging National Geographic social media offering.

In his post “How To Use National Geographic’s Storytelling Philosophy In Your Marketing”, Andy Vale hits on two key reasons for National Geographic’s social media success: emotion and consistency. He writes: “Good storytelling is how people will care about your brand. It connects with us on a human level that even the most cynical marketing hack is susceptible to,” adding that National Geographic’s success “stems from a consistent social media strategy that illuminates some of the world’s most fascinating stories.” Andy Vale, Audiense (Follow him on Twitter: @AndyVale).

This strategy forms a large component of National Geographic’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) strategy. According to the Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications, IMC is “a strategic approach through which organizations drive performance by engaging, serving and communicating with consumers and other constituents. IMC combines qualitative understanding of consumers with large-scale analytics to develop communications and content that build and maintain strong brands.”

Consistency is not just key to any IMC strategy, it is almost fundamental to its definition. “Integration means communicating a consistent identity from message to message, and medium to medium, and (more importantly) delivering consistently on that identity.” Consistent messaging avoids confusion and reinforces the brand with consumers over time and builds greater trust and awareness, making an organization’s products or services top of mind when it comes time to purchase, wrote Stephen Zoller (Follow him on Twitter: @stepzoellermktg)

National Geographic are consistent in their digital and social media strategies because they are relying on their primary strength (visual storytelling), and because this strength fuels their brand’s existence.
“We invest 27% of our profits back into science, exploration, and education. This cycle of philanthropy allows us fund new assignments and it enables us to invest in the storytelling and the storytellers,” explained Heggie.

The emotional connection between humans and the world we inhabit is something that National Geographic have captured brilliantly, and have capitalized on.

Whether it’s unbridled joy…

The simply unbelievable…

The heartbreaking…

Or the inspiring…

…National Geographic has it covered, with the brand’s social media channels and website focusing on visual storytelling in an highly effective IMC strategy.

An example of a typical landing page for – imagery is front and centre.

Imagery and feelings are two of the six building blocks in Keller’s Brand Equity Model, and play a crucial role on the path to creating positive brand resonance.

Applying the four steps of the Keller Brand Equity Model, it’s clear that National Geographic have achieved a highly desired level of brand resonance.

From “Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity” by Kevin Lane Keller. © Pearson Education Limited 2013

It’s this positive brand resonance that serves as value proposition for the National Geographic brand; even in the rise of the digital era, a brand that established itself through print publishing has been able to forge a spot in a very different market. National Geographic’s social media and digital platforms have played a critical role in enabling this to occur.


Farhi, P., 2015. National Geographic gives Fox control of media assets in $725 million deal. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November2016].

Keller, K.L. (2003) ‘Strategic Brand Management,’ New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Litsa, T., 2016. How National Geographic uses visual storytelling to stand out in social media. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].

McKee, S., 2012. Integrated Marketing: If You Knew It, You’d Do It. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].

Medill, 2016. What is IMC?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].

Morrison, K., 2015. Report: National Geographic Is the No. 1 Brand on Social Media. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].

Vale, A., 2016. #SMWLDN: How To Use National Geographic’s Storytelling Philosophy In Your Marketing. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].

Zoeller, S., 2016. Why use an Integrated Marketing Communications Approach?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 27 November 2016].



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s