Branding may be a misused buzzword sometimes, but it’s a concept newspapers have to pay attention to if they want to thrive in the digital age. Publishers like The Washington Post Company, Gannett Co., and The New York Times Company have all leveraged their reputations for being trusted information sources to build their digital brands.
Yet few local dailies in the United States have strong, positive brands that are relevant to their readers, according to the Readership Institute at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University. Even if there’s not a competing paper to differentiate itself from, a newspaper has to create a distinctive brand to survive today’s ultra-competitive news market.
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What Brand Is and Is Not
Brand is built within a publication, by determining what engages readers. A great brand links into readers’ lives in such a way that they’re inclined to read the publication more. Brands are shaped by consumers, and they have to make sense to consumers.
Brand is not the same as a newspaper’s logo, tagline, or name. In fact, a newspaper’s brand may not even be what the publisher wishes it to be. Readers perceive the publication how they will, and while an engaging publication can help shape brand, it certainly can’t dictate it.
Brand and Reputation
Brand and reputation aren’t the same, but they’re related. Since brand is ultimately formed in the minds of your readers, you have to go to those readers to learn what they think of when they think of your newspaper. The sum total of their experiences with your publication, what they think about it, and what they associate it with in their minds is your brand.
When readers are more passionate about your newspaper (for good or bad) it means your brand is stronger. Learning what brand has organically grown up around your publication requires quantitative and qualitative marketing research to determine what your audience’s strongest perceptions of your publication are.
Capturing Attention to Build Your Brand
Capturing the attention of today’s news audience requires skillful use of the tools of the digital era. Your website should capture attention within seconds, with clean style, easy navigation, and compelling headlines. Your site’s visual vocabulary should include things like easy-to-understand infographics, embedded video, and other engaging visual content to complement your text.
If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re missing out, because that’s where people consume news now. A 2013 survey by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute found that 55% of news consumers access content on their mobile devices, compared with 42.8% who consume news via desktop computer, and 31.1% who read print newspapers. Mobile needs to be part of your branding strategy.
According to data reported by Jim Chisolm of the Nieman Journalism Lab, newspapers fall short on reader engagement. While over 60% of Americans with internet access visited a newspaper website in May 2013, newspapers represented just 1.5% of pageviews by Americans that month.
Strong brands are ones that work consistently on developing their voice, whether they’re newspapers or not. For example, GE and IBM, companies that have developed their brands around science and technology innovation, sponsor general interest technology magazines as well as blogs that bolster their branding ”voice.”
A big part of reader engagement in the digital era is making content easy to share. Content that resonates intellectually or emotionally is likely to be shared on social media, while content that doesn’t is often passed by. That doesn’t mean that every article has to be ”click bait,” but it does mean that all your content should arise from a strong, authentic voice that resonates with readers.
Adding Context with Value
The whole idea of the ”scoop” is different than it was in the print era. People pay attention to content with context that somehow connects with them rather than who got there first. Content with a recognizable ”voice” and relevant, contextual information is more likely to be turned to when news breaks. That doesn’t mean news content should be biased, but it does mean it should be written in such a way as to prompt conversation and sharing.
Website analytics, reader comments, and social media stats give publications plenty of information about what readers want to read and what they share. Taking a keen look at this information can help you learn what you’re doing right and where you need to improve.
Digital news publication is challenging, yet very rewarding, and newspapers have to be flexible and ready to work on audience development and revenue development in new ways. RealMatch offers recruitment advertising solutions to digital newspapers and media companies with a revenue sharing concept that allows websites to diversify their revenue streams effectively.