Sam Fay, SVP Global Brand Strategy at Guinness World Records talks to us about diversifying the business, the importance of social media and video to the brand, and dealing with declining book sales. 

Sam will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing in November about the brand's progress in multichannel markets.

Alongside Sam's thoughts on publishing and records, we've included some of Guinness World Records' most shared video content, so you can relive those days of leafing through the annual as a child. Enjoy!

Please briefly describe your role at Guinness World Records.

In my role as Senior Vice President for Global Brand Strategy, I'm continually looking for opportunities to strengthen and diversify our brand, as well as exploring new global partnerships, seeking innovation in our digital offering, and maintaining our role as the global authority on record-breaking achievements.

Prior to joining Guinness World Records, I held senior marketing roles at LEGO, Electronic Arts and EIDOS.

How and why did Guinness World Records decide to diversify?

To adapt Guinness World Records (GWR) to the challenges facing the publishing industry, such as declining book sales, we needed to maximise the potential of new revenue streams and promote the business as ‘more than just a book’.

To do so, we repositioned GWR and diversified its range of products. 

Our strategy was protect, follow, diversify. We protected our main book by conducting market research among our target audience to ensure it’s still offering the right content.

We also followed the digital trend by expanding into ebooks and building our online and social networking presence, and we diversified into live events and commercial products.

We developed new products to fit these areas, which have grown into significant new revenue streams.

Our journey has seen GWR evolve into an entertainment company and world-class intellectual property brand, which works with the world’s top brands to create highly engaging marketing and PR campaigns.

Can you tell us where Guinness World Records is currently in terms of being digitally transformed? How reliant are you still on the annual book sales?

While 70% of our business comes from publishing and other media such as television shows, we’ve built up a strong digital following with more than 14.3m unique visitors to our website annually, 9m Facebook fans and more than 300m views of our videos on YouTube. 

In addition to our publishing and digital departments we have a commercial team that creates bespoke campaigns and live events for brands that want to enhance their marketing, PR or employee engagement messages through record-breaking.

These campaigns are a highly effective way to engage target audiences. 

How does the brand strategy change from territory to territory? Do you create bespoke content for each location? 

We create bespoke content for each of our 20 language editions which highlights records that were broken in that country.

However, obviously most records have global appeal, such as the recent Jaguar attempt, which set the record for the Largest Loop the Loop. Jaguar’s record attempt generated 20m views in just 24 hours, and more than 900 pieces of media coverage around the world.

That’s one of the fascinating things about record-breaking, it’s something that appeals to people of all cultures and nationalities. And of course, our annual book, which is sold in more than 100 countries and available in 20 languages, is the perfect illustration of this.

Our website is available in five different languages, and we are currently working on increasing this to seven.

How important is data and customer insight to Guinness World Records in developing the customer experience?

Data and customer insight helps to shape our strategy for the business and guides us on product development and the creation of customer experiences.

For example, each year we hold focus groups in the UK and US with parents to test the cover of our book and the content. We also monitor customer satisfaction levels to ensure that we are giving our target audience what they really want and expect from us.

The digital world provides us with more data than any other of course, and we carefully monitor the content that works best for us, to ensure we’re giving the audience the experience they desire. 

What are the main challenges Guinness World Records has experienced in adapting to a digital-first world?

A key challenge that led to us developing our digital offering has been the outlook for the publishing sector, including declining book sales. However, we’re very fortunate that record-breaking lends itself perfectly to digital platforms, such as social networking sites or website content.

Our videos regularly go viral, while our record-breaking stories often attract the attention of the world’s media.  

How do you track the success of, or analyse, social activity? 

We monitor all our social media activity daily and report on fans, impressions, reach and interactions weekly. We use the native reporting features in each social channel as we find that these meet the majority of our needs. 

Facebook is our largest channel and we are yet to find an affordable social media platform that gives us as much information as Facebook itself. Our main KPIs when it comes to social activity are audience growth and engagement, along with the traffic to our website or our other channels. 

How highly does video figure into your future plans?

Video is an integral part of our activity as record-breaking lends itself so well to this platform. We use video across our website and social media platforms, which has helped us build such a loyal online following.

Next year, our strategy is to further build our digital following and so we are actively seeking partners for a wider collaboration.

Video can’t be treated the same on all platforms, and we cut the same video in different ways, producing different versions for say, Facebook and YouTube.

How did you celebrate Guinness World Records’ 60th anniversary?

We created a limited edition, curated paperback of 60 of the most remarkable achievements (one for each year) to have been awarded a Guinness World Records title, including historic milestones, events and inventions that changed the world. 

For our YouTube followers we developed a 13-part, 60th anniversary series, which featured some of the most iconic records that have been broken over the past six decades.

The series also featured famous record-breakers such as Lord Seb Coe, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Roger Bannister explaining what Guinness World Records means to them.

For more brand stories of digital change, come along to our two day marketing extravaganza at Tobacco Dock in London's historic East End. November 11th - 12th, see the website for tickets. 

Ben Davis

Published 7 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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