Harvard Business School: The NGS Case Study

This just in — a new case study about the National Geographic Society by the Harvard Business School.

We bought a copy ($12), and will have lots more to say about the study in the days & weeks to come. But for now, we wanted to share this passage about one of our favorite subjects — membership:

[CEO John] Fahey created a cross-functional team, called the Membership Task Force [that] spent 12 weeks developing and evaluating new membership models to support the NGS mission, engage members, differentiate NGS from other media, generate revenues, and “unify our message and our audience.”

The team found that current “members” viewed themselves primarily as subscribers and not as belonging to the Society. NGS promoted membership solely through its marketing of the magazine, with a narrow set of benefits. “We do a superb job at telling the world’s stories, but are not effectively telling our own story,” the Membership Task Force concluded.

The task force saw an opportunity to extend the membership platform and expand recruitment to all NGS readers and consumers, making membership a meaningful experience that “engages, inspires, educates, and involves our audience.” “Every futurist and sociologist speaks of increased alienation and isolation in modern society, a trend that is growing and is worrisome,” the task force explained. “Most talk about the basic need people have for a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves to give their lives meaning, context, and relevance. We can do so. . . We just need to learn how to market [it].”  [emphasis added]

Amen & hallelujah! But… uhh… what’s the “it“? What’s “our own story” that we need to market?

In its 122-year history, National Geographic has embraced so many different story lines. Some have been inspiring; others have been disastrous. Some have spoken to us like citizens who are key players in a great and historic drama; others have addressed us as custodians of a planetary museum. Some are uplifting and engaging; others are a burden. Some draw us in; other make us flee.

Which story should our Society be telling?

More on the HBS case study, coming soon….

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