Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Are Daily Newspaper Brands Failing?

The digital age in daily newspapers is dawning and they don't appear to get it yet. It reminds me of the music industry prior to iTunes and in the middle of the Napster era. I'm astonished at their ignorance or self-inflicted blindness maybe. About three years ago I spoke in Prague about how the newspaper industry should look to developing niche-audiences to package digital content and deliver it to them efficiently. The audience were editors from around the world. Sadly the message was received politely but from my perspective with not much enthusiasm. From my research at the time there was a paper in the Chicago area who were using bloggers to generate custom content for each of the city's districts. They got it.

I attended a local business event recently where Paul Godfrey, the CEO of Postmedia spoke on the newspaper industry. The evening was upbeat and positive. Mr. Godfrey on the other hand took to the podium and unleashed his distain for the audience. He actually stood there and lectured the audience for their lack of advertising support of the Windsor Star. How he favoured the $1. earned from newsprint to the 10¢ earned from digital. From my table and others around me, we took his comments as bitter and resentful. Frankly we thought he missed the boat. The cost of the $1 (newsprint, ink, printing plant, distribution etc.) seemed less impressive to the cost of digital. What ever the financial model the message was clear, their brands were suffering and they intended on blaming the user and charge them more for their precious content, in the form of paywalls. (Charging for the amount of content read).

What the newspaper don't seem to understand is that to get the news today we don't need them. We have independent bloggers and world wide access to news. Personally, I just recently cancelled my newsprint subscription in favour of the digital version. I cut my cost in half. The sadness is that the experience is exactly the newsprint version. No extras. National geographic gets digital in their experience - the stories, extended stories, video, interactive, audio and more. The cost is vastly less than the print version as well. They get it. 

In my opinion, newspapers have to up their game. Lose the arrogance and start being relevant. i.e.: Our local paper (The Windsor Star) is opening a social cafe in their lobby. The news release said the reporters would be mingling with the general public lounging at the cafe for a latté. A reporter (who shall go un-named) remarked, "I don't want to meet the f**king public!" That my friends is how they see us, and from the remarks of their CEO at the BEA, the attitude starts at the top.

As brands, none of us can have contempt for those who pay our wages. The problem is always within. Mr. Godfrey would be wise to read "Long Tail" by Wired magazine's Chris Anderson. It would be a good start.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How Turning Your Brand Around Can Be Like A New Pair Of Shoes.

Are you in this precarious position? Sales are flat. You've downsized as much as the business can stand. You've streamlined your processes to be more productive. You and the staff haven't experienced a raise in some time. Moral is tenuous. What to do - what to do? It's a scary position but every entrepreneur carries the word risk with them every day.

About 10 years ago I too was in this position. We wished our sales were flat. They were actually declining and the credit line was growing. We were looking for solutions in a fast changing economy. We discovered an opportunity in attending an industry conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The down side was the cost to attend for the week was in the $10,000 range. At the time the Canadian dollar was $1.40 for every American dollar.  Ouch.  What to do - what to do?

Well we (I had a partner at the time) decided that we already owed a large some of money, what was $10,00 more? What we couldn't do - was nothing. You have to look for opportunities. Sitting back and hoping it will solve itself isn't a smart option. As a matter of fact, a lot of that attitude carried us to this point. The conference topics addressed issues we were trying to tackle on our own. We needed another perspective. We had to talk to others within our industry and see where they stood.

Suffice to say, the conference was an epiphany. We were buried in deep conversation, morning, noon and evening. We were enlightened by similar experiences and brilliant concepts for success. That conference was a turning point for me personally. On our return, we were contacted by a few individuals we met at the conference with an interesting proposal. How would we like to carry on the conversation for the betterment of all? What this question gave birth to was a quarterly meeting with a handful of individuals who for the last ten years, meets every quarter at a member's city and spends an entire friday, brain storming with the sole intention of helping each other succeed. We call the group "MOOB", (Mind Our Own Business). As a matter of fact we meet in Gary, Indiana next friday (May 18th).

Are you letting money hold you back? Are you allowing fear to keep you from embracing a solution that is within your grasp? Are you throwing up barriers where you should be hurtling them? This article was inspired by a call I made recently with a lead I got. They definitely saw the benefit of strengthening their brand and clearly saw how it could increase sales. Short funds held them back. I was perplexed. If you see a path to increased sales, wouldn't it offset the cost of the solution that could get you there? Obviously there are other internal issues holding them back. What ever the dilemma, doing nothing is not the solution. 

Every entrepreneur including myself have been in their shoes. Some of us will bite the bullet and get new shoes. The rest struggle along with worn soles and a scuffed appearance. Nothing delivers like a new pair of shoes and a new attitude. Naturally the fit is important, but once you've done your due diligence, take them out of the box and try them on. It's the first step in a powerful new brand journey. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Contradiction Is A Terrible Brand

It continually comes to my attention that a good deal of businesses don't do as they preach. As a brand (which to my reasoning is your reputation), you have a responsibility to deliver an authentic experience to your marketplace. A basic example of this off-brand thinking is a real estate agent who buys a home from a private seller. When they are out pitching their services they tout the benefits of dealing with a professional sales person on both fronts - buyer and seller. What does this say about their integrity if their system is good enough for you but not them? We see examples of this contradiction every where.

Online I am constantly checking out companies who profess to be brand consultants only to see their own online brands are horribly lacking. They have no positioning strategy. Their images are amateur at best and their presentations make you cringe. What are they telling you by their failure to help themselves? I can't tell the number of business consultants I have been introduced to who don't possess the very success they argue they can achieve for you. Go to any networking event and take a good look around the room. Who among the attendees stand out and draw attention to their brands. Sadly not many.

Recently a client told me of the journey his son is on to choose a university to attend next year. A university is a centre of higher learning, so you'd expect that they would be on top of their brand experience. One that stuck out in their mind and caused them to doubt their priorities was a professor's letter riddled with spelling errors. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. All of that university's efforts to attract great talent was killed by a sloppy presentation. Off-brand action.

I am investigating some sales training for myself. I approached a internationally recognized 'training' organization. I am familiar with their principals, so I was a warm lead from the moment we met. What disappointed me was the lead person I met with broke every principal in their book. Follow-up was lacking as well. I was promised materials to go over to choose my curriculum, but what I thought was forth-coming took 4 days to email me. Four days! Maybe I should be training them. If they cannot live up to their principals, how are they going to convincingly train others? I hope my experience is the exception, because if it's not, their brand will suffer as a result of this.

Another example of contradiction is one that goes way back. Why do advertising agencies advice their clients to advertise for market share while they themselves don't advertise. Can you recall the last time you saw an ad agency advertise for business? 

A brand experience shouldn't be based on, "Do as I say, not as I do." Brands should "Lead by example." Brands of all sorts must follow this credo. To do otherwise is dishonest at the very least.
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