When your brand is everything

- Why aren’t more news outlets clear about their values?

…there are some at the Times - usually those who can’t write code - who chafe at these endless waves of experimentation

 

- Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, deputy publisher, The New York Times

 

Arthur Gregg Sulzberger's above quote in a recent Wired  piece really stayed with me. It crystalized a notion - if employees don’t understand or like what you are becoming, how are your customers expected to? Despite a positive end, the divide Sulzberger describes is (from my experience) not unique to the New York Times .

 

Branding for news is barely thought about, and that's a problem

I have said a lot of different things through the years when I am asked what publishers can do to stop the rot of subscribers leaving - or how to get new ones. The one constant element I say is ‘bolster the brand’, and this means different things for different brands.

The New York Times has a brand and for many it is perhaps the epitome of news brands. However, not everyone is so lucky. For example, could you tell me what The Southern Star in Ireland or Dainik Bhaskar in India believes in? The list of awkward slogans is long, but beyond this, most papers have weak ‘about us’ sections or strategies to solidify readers’ loyalty.

The way people choose their news is changing and preference plays a big part. Whether you want a quick, light or deep read, beyond design and accessibility you have to (ideally) like and believe who is giving you information. Currently, news brands are doing themselves few favors in this respect as they claw for clicks, dollars and “innovation”. A quick scan of the major news sites doesn’t make ‘knowing’ them a priority for readers. This is a major problem because trust is at incredibly low levels according to Edelman's recent Trust Barometer.

What can your brand do?

  1. News brands need to be clear on their brand - this goes beyond ethics. People I talk to rarely sing from the same “hymn sheet”, though they are mostly in the same book.

  2. Secondly, taking this brand idea and creating an outward facing brand “bible” that works for both employees and consumers to understand who you are, what you stand for and, importantly in these changeable times, what to expect from the brand.

Cyber-Duck, a UK-based UI/UX company, have done just this using a unique process to create resources for brands that go beyond puff and become resources for designers, bloggers and employees. Features range from brand guidelines to collateral examples to deep diving into the company’s core mission and history. To see what this looks like in the real world check out Cyber-Duck’s own brand bible. IBM also created their own designer resource that saves them hours and cuts down extraneous communication – saving time and money (after the initial cost outlay).

Danny Bluestone, CEO, Cyber-Duck wants to bring brands closer to their consumers:

“Many news websites have little to no information about themselves other than editorial guidelines or historical information.

An online brand design system or digital guidelines can help news brands redefine what their brand promise is and what values underpin that promise. This is relevant and powerful for both readers and internal staff.

A brand bible can also communicate a tone of voice, provide article templates and include a set of user interface (UI) components (such as tables, graphs, icons and links) that can be used by journalists and editors to create consistent and engaging content. A brand “bible” helps create transparency and a sense of mission and commitment when trust is being tested and the competition is investing more in their own brands.”

A brand “bible” helps create transparency and a sense of mission and commitment when trust is being tested and the competition is investing more in their own brands.

Through the massive period of disruption we have seen in the news industry, and future uncertainty surrounding global politics, news brands need to be clear on what they believe. More than this, news brands need to publicly state, restate and continually remind readers and new readers what they stand for, why readers should subscribe…and share.

 

How do news outlets change this?

In my opinion, news brands need to make some hard decisions and bring their own businesses together. This may mean getting rid of those who oppose or seek the past. Once you have the united front, you need to promote it. Not in lieu or detriment to the news at hand, but as part of a new business and retention strategy. Start selling people your ‘why’, as Simon Sinek puts it.

 

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Contributed by Paul Armstrong, emerging technology advisor, HERE/FORTH and author of “Disruptive Technologies” out now.

This article does not express the views of Reuters. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

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