In 1988, Blackie became the world’s wealthiest cat when its owner died and bequeathed it $12.5 million. In 1994, Daniel Bent completed the bog-snorkeling triathlon in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 24 seconds at the World Bog Snorkeling Championships. In 2015, 2,681 boy scouts came together at Denver Area Council's Camporee to pop bubble wrap.
While these three events may have little in common on the surface, they all share a distinct honor - they all set Guinness World Records.
Such an achievement has been the focus of millions of hours of hard work since the first Guinness Book of Records was published on August 27th, 1955. Over the last fifty years, it has sold over a hundred million copies, reportedly making it the fourth biggest selling copyright book in history after the Bible, the Koran, and Chairman Mao.
Over this time, the publishing industry has changed beyond recognition. Many, many companies have failed to adapt to these changes and fallen by the wayside as a result. Guinness World Records (GWR) has survived, indeed flourished, because it has managed to overcome the challenges faced by the publishing industry and stay ahead of new technologies and consumer trends. It has developed and implemented an incredibly agile strategy that has kept it at the front of the pack.
At the heart of this strategy has been diversification. While declining book sales have left many floundering, GWR realized that it needed to maximize the potential of new revenue streams and promote the business as ‘more than just a book’. It has subsequently evolved into an entertainment company, becoming a multi platform global brand, moving into digital, TV, and live events, from virtual reality to branded events. All of these are fast evolving fields besieged by disruption, and as such Guinness World Record’s strategy has had to be incredibly agile even as it diversifies. It now also works alongside the world’s top brands to create highly engaging marketing and PR campaigns.
Speaking at the recent Chief Strategy Officer Summit in New York, Samantha Fay, senior vice president, global brand strategy, Guinness World Records, noted: ‘All of the businesses we decided to enter are changing dramatically and, with businesses of all stripes looking for something to distinguish themselves, marketing and marketing services must adapt.’
Its biggest challenge remains in publishing. GWR books have expanded their range of titles from just Guinness Book of Records over the years, and they’ve taken core products from popular culture and done spin-offs i.e. one exclusively for video games, one for animals, thereby targeting specific audiences. These books still accounts for 70% of the business, selling 2.7 million editions across 100 countries every year.
GWR employs a three-fold strategy - protect, follow, diversify. Fay says they tried ‘a bit of everything to see if we could stay in business’. They protect their main book by conducting market research among their target audience to ensure it’s still offering content they want. The book also has to look good, stay on shelves, and it has to be well promoted. They follow in terms of following the crowd into the digital space, expanding into e-books, apps, and whatever other platforms customers were moving towards. They diversified into live events and commercial products.
The biggest advance from GWR has come in the growth of their digital presence. GWR is fortunate in that it has incredibly shareable content. It deals in extremes and that is what social media is all about. Its content is unique, often weird, and by its very nature, amazing. They now have more than 14.3 million unique visitors to their website annually, 12 million Facebook fans and more than 300m views of their videos on YouTube.
Guinness World Records has used this to its advantage by working with other brands. Companies can benefit from it by beating world records themselves, even if the product they are using is only used tangentially. GWR also benefits by having its name splashed everywhere whenever a record is publicized, and the media that publicizes it benefits because it’s something people want to hear about. For example, the Jaguar F-Pace was used to break the world’s biggest loop-the-loop. The resulting publicity saw more than 750 broadcast pieces, combined readership of over 75 million, and more than a million views on YouTube. This digital success is opening up a new audience of 18-34 year-olds, the majority of whom are male, moving them outside the family demographic of mothers and younger children.
GWR is an institution, but so was Blockbusters. They’ve realized that being an institution is not enough to survive, they have no divine right to success, and have worked hard to adapt. As Fay says, they have realized that there are ‘certain parts of human nature that stay the same, and that’s something we have capitalized on.’ This is a lesson that every incumbent could learn. They realized what the core of their success was and didn’t just try and adopt new technology for the sake of it, they built around their raison d’etre, they didn’t try to redefine it.