The ability to determine what elements work to produce a desirable result is a valuable skill—both in marketing and engineering. Technology and innovation company GE proved this to be true when it combined education with e-commerce to inspire the next generation of female engineers through The Maker Shop.
Created in partnership with Brit + Co—a media and e-commerce platform that offers educational and inspirational products for young women—The Maker Shop is an online, curated store that sells fun and informative gifts to help young women tap into their “inner engineer,” explains Sydney Lestrud, GE’s global marketing manager. Women can purchase everything from jewelry and champagne flutes to 3D printed roses and programmable tote bags that light up.
“The purpose of the shop was to curate a collection of gifts and tools that we believe would inspire the inner engineer, the inner maker, [or] the inner hacker in all women to use these tools [and] to really think about creativity in a new way,” Lestrud says. “So, how can these new tools help inspire them to build something, fix something, or hack something to make it better?”
Deciding which products to include in the collection was one of the biggest challenges for GE, Lestrud says. Thankfully, the company had a little help. GE called on its own engineers from its different business divisions to help curate the products.
“We talked about not only their engineering skills that they use in the workplace, but also what are some of the daily tools that they use in their everyday lives that they find really useful,” she says.
Besides containing a shopping component, the online store has a content marketing element. There are profiles about the engineers who curated the shop, as well as articles that explain how patrons can use the shop’s products in innovative ways. GE also posted a series in which women explain how learning to code changed their life, both personally and professionally.
“For us, [the goal is] really more about hoping that our audience will read the stories and connect to the engineers we’ve profiled in the editorials and to help surround the shop,” Lestrud says. “That’s what we’re looking at most, versus sales, in particular. It’s much more about these stories of engineering and hopefully inspiring that next generation of engineers [to] look at engineering in a new light, look at it with this creative lens and relatability, and be inspired by it.”
Not only is GE educating women through its content, but it’s also offering to teach them valuable skills through on- and offline courses. For example, every time someone purchases a product, they get a free Electronics 101 video course, taught by Brit + Co’s founder. Also, site visitors can take advantage of a $100 voucher from nonprofit Girls Develop It and apply it to in-person coding classes.
Lestrud says that GE is driving consumers to the site primarily through Facebook targeting and posts, as well as through Twitter. The company’s campaign partners are also promoting the site through their social channels, she adds.
The Maker Shop isn’t GE’s first foray into e-commerce. Lestrud says that the company worked with men’s digital lifestyle company Thrillist Media Group and its men’s flash sale brand JackThreads last summer to attract sneaker enthusiasts by redesigning a modern sneaker using advanced materials inspired by moon boots that GE had created.
“What we find so interesting is when we’re able to lean into specific passion points…. It’s the thing that people feel so strongly about [and] so proud of and they want to share it, talk about it, and have the tools to build even better,” she says.
Using e-commerce as a marketing tool, she adds, allows GE to integrate its brand into consumers’ daily lives in a more recognizable way. “For us, it’s an opportunity to make our brand a little bit more tangible,” Lestrud explains. “We make very big things—jet engines, locomotives, and gas turbines—and sometimes you can’t put those directly in people’s hands. We can still find ways to put the brand into our fans’ hands; we just have to be a little bit more creative about it.”
The Maker Shop was originally going to stay live until the end of May, but GE has extended its run. Although Lestrud declined to share the results of The Maker Shop thus far, she says that GE intends to track engagement metrics and traffic to the site. But overall, she says that the brand has experienced great response.
“Women and STEM is such an important topic, and it’s such an important issue now,” she says. “And it’s extremely important for GE to celebrate women in STEM and recognize women in STEM. So, any time that we’re pushing that message and pushing that message of encouraging engineering from all sides of the fence, we see a really great and positive reaction—no matter how we do it.”