Publishers Need to Think More Like Brands

Karl Heiselman is CEO of Wolff Olins, a brand consultancy firm. Follow him on Twitter @karlheiselman.

Pop culture’s in love with publishing. From the lead character Hannah on “Girls” to Edith from “Downton Abbey” to “The Newsroom,” romanticizations of the industry are everywhere. But while the brand of publishing feels huge, the business of publishing is becoming smaller.

Publishers need to invest in digital if they want to match where and how people are using content today, but even that’s not enough. Growing your business means reaching new customers in unexpected places and finding a bigger role to play in people’s lives. There are five critical ways that publishers must also tap their brand value if they’re aiming to grow.

Move from one service to multiple services.
As a publisher, your core service is unlikely to change significantly in the near future. Ask yourself, what are all the adjacent/complementary offers that could surround your product? New ventures and marketing products will create additional layers of value and utility that can lock audiences into your brand, creating loyalty rather than apathy. It’s a win-win, as new ventures enrich the experiences of your audience and lead to new, higher-margin businesses that support your core. Look at Monocle magazine’s retail stores, product collaborations and around-the-clock radio station. What if you rethought subscriptions as memberships, where your members get special access to events or sneak peeks of new products?

Look for under-used assets.
In addition to looking outward and to new platforms for your strategic shifts, revisit the assets you already have in place, from physical assets and partnerships to your access to capital and talent. Consider Mercedes-Benz’s Driving Academy, which took advantage of its under-used race track to reach new demographics through a teaching offering. What if you turned your lobby into an experience center or used your spare office spaces as a startup incubator?

Elevate the kids’ table.
Young people are undeniably shaping the way media is consumed, shared and delivered right now. Give the young people at your business the tools and authority they need to keep your business challenged and in constant innovation. Look at The New Republic, with 29-year-old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes at the helm as publisher. What if you invited at least one person under 25 onto your leadership team?

Make sure you win at your own game.
The simple reality is that every brand is becoming a media company, requiring all business leaders to consider how they produce, distribute and manage their own content ecosystems. But too much content and too many choices are paralyzing for brands and audiences. In a moment that demands that all brands have and share a point of view, publishers have a leg up. You’re primed to develop and share the most useful and highest-quality content out there. Vice Media’s dual-pronged business strategy lets it play the role of both publisher and agency. It’s paired the magazine and loyal readership with a consulting arm committed to the idea that “content is king.” Around what expertise could you offer consulting services?

Let your brand connect the dots.
Our media experiences are fragmented by the many ways in which we come in contact with media brands. While many publishers are focused on those individual touchpoints, they should really be thinking about the whole picture. More than just tackling digital, work to integrate your whole brand ecosystem under a common brand operating system. Look to Microsoft’s recent moves. The tech giant’s new brand isn’t a brand in a conventional sense; it’s a whole approach to interaction. How could you create a different, more liberated and more enjoyable way for people to understand and experience your different offers and products?

Brand extensions are not without risk — they can be a distraction or costly. So it’s important to ensure you start with real clarity on who your audience is and what role you play in their lives. Once you’ve articulated your brand’s purpose and looked at the strategic business shifts you need to make, you can identify the right assets to unlock the maximum of your publishing brand.

Image via Shutterstock

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