Think about your favorite products for a moment: Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Disney, Apple, Nike, Tide, Chevrolet…the list goes on.
Now think about what images come to mind when you think about those names. On the surface, maybe you think about the products themselves—Nike shoes and cans of Coke, for example—but odds are also strong that you envision more than just those products. Perhaps, on another level, you think about where you’ve seen those images before—on racing cars and clothing or as a title sponsor for a major event. Now think about the emotions those types of images convey: Excitement? Happiness? Family-friendly? Cool?
If you’re thinking about all of those ideas, then you already understand the concept of branding.
Branding: A definition
“Branding” is an industry term that the American Marketing Association (AMA) defines as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” (Here’s a good article on branding to give you a more detailed overview.) Each of the above companies has worked hard over the years developing its unique brand. Those companies spend millions of dollars each year trying to carefully craft, not only the products they create, but also the feeling those products invoke in their intended audiences.
For our purposes, we need to think of our publications as our “brand,” and we need to do whatever we can to develop that brand for our readers.
Establish your brand
Your first step in creating your brand is determining what image you want to convey in your readers. The words “responsible,” “accurate,” “timely” and “credible” come to mind immediately, but you might have other ideas, too. “Contemporary,” “exciting,” “authoritative” and “cutting-edge” might be on that list.
So how do you convey that message to your audience? Look at different colors and fonts and images to see how you can better illustrate those ideas. It’s not a bad idea to head out to your local bookstore and check out the magazine rack. There you’ll find literally hundreds of examples of brands in one spot. Find the magazines that “speak” to the image you’re trying to convey and then determine what it is about those magazines that gives you that impression. A clean, contemporary magazine like Martha Stewart’s Living conveys one brand. Skateboarding magazine conveys another. Make an idea file to bring back to the classroom and discuss it further.
Where to start
First I must point out, in the interest of space for this article, I’m talking about the branding of your publication. Good branding, though, starts with branding of each individual on staff. If you think of your favorite news organization, for example, chances are you have a favorite author or photographer who works there. That individual’s brand works toward developing the overall brand of the company. But I’ll discuss individual branding at a later date.
For publication branding, a good brand starts with a good product. For most of you, that product is your print publication and, to a lesser extent, your website. So take a look at what you’ve got. What are you known for? Your photography? Your design? Your breaking news coverage? Find those strengths and capitalize on them.
Then, once you’ve determined those strengths, figure out how you want to visually illustrate that personality. Look at the physical characteristics of your products. What does your nameplate look like? How about the fonts you use?
Note that visual brands are pretty simple—a Nike swoosh, an Apple logo, Mickey Mouse ears, a big capital letter M—so you’ll want to keep your brand simple, too. And once you create it, you’ll want to put it everywhere. Of course it should be on your print publication and website, but what about other outlets? What about your Facebook and Twitter accounts? What about your business cards and thank-you notes? Source questionnaires? Letterhead? It should be in all of those areas, too.
Be consistent, and be careful
Don’t take the job of branding too lightly. Once you dive in to all of your outlets, it’s tougher to change. In the past, you just had to alter your nameplate or your headline font to reinvent yourself; but with branding, and all of the areas that entails, that change is more difficult. The key is that you need to be consistent. If you make a change to one area—your nameplate, for example—that change should be reflected in all of your other areas as well.
You’ll also want to take steps to both teach your staff about your brand and to teach them how to protect it. Teach your staff members that everything they do enhances that brand. Thank you cards with the newspaper logo on it should be professionally done. Likewise, items on official letterhead and even individual tweets and Facebook updates should all meet a high standard of consistency and credibility. Know that a visual brand is a tangible representation of something much larger. Your staff should be reminded of what that represents and work on a daily basis to live up to that representation.