Friday, July 20, 2012

Brand This

There’s a big to-do in the magazine industry about a publication’s “brand.” Over the course of the past six weeks, we’ve heard from everyone from Cosmopolitan to The New Yorker on how they’re working to extend or improve their brand.

At first, I saw the term in its technical form, as the overarching label applied to all of the company’s projects and interests. It seems like a simple enough concept, right? Yes, if you’re thinking about it only in that way, but if you consider what a brand means to a magazine and to readers, the conversation takes on a whole new angle.

On Wednesday, the editorial staff of Field & Stream piled into a conference room to hear a presentation by our Vice President of publishing, Eric Zinczenko. He started off with facts about how readers get their information (Today, more people are accessing the Internet via smartphones than traditional technology like computers. Crazy!) and how this affects ad sales, growth and market goals; all very relevant information to the business.

But then Erik played a TED talk video featuring author Simon Sinek. We only watched five minutes of the 18-minute speech, titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” but Sinek made a profound point early on using Apple. He said there are plenty of other companies out there capable of creating quality smartphones, yet Apple remains the clear leader with the iPhone. He argued that, unlike these other companies, Apple focuses less on the “what” and the “how” and more on the “why.”

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Sinek said.

 BOOM. EPIPHANY.

Okay, so it’s not rocket science, but it is true. It’s easy to spend time thinking about how a product is made and forget why it’s made or what its intended affect is supposed to be. In terms of magazines, we think about the quality of the paper or the layout and style of writing, but it’s possible that sometimes we forget why we do it. In the end, it might be a great product, but if we’re not connecting with readers on a certain level, the brand suffers.

So why am I boring you with all of this industry talk? Because Erik’s presentation got me thinking about my personal identity or brand. Beginning from an early age we use accomplishments or our roles in various activities to define ourselves. Titles like “Editor in Chief” or “Captain” or “President” become part of the language we use to create our brand. Why do these terms matter?

They matter because, in many ways, life is about selling yourself and your beliefs to those around you.  When you go in for a job interview, you’re trying to sell the interviewer on why you’d be a good fit for their company. All of your past accomplishments and beliefs are a part of your brand and are important in proving your worth, but they won’t necessarily get you the job.

What I’ve learned from all of our mingling with literary legends and industry insiders these past two months, is that everyone in this field is pretty darn accomplished, my ASME peers included. But at the end of the day, the school you went to or the place you interned, doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is a person’s “why.”

Why would someone like Veronica Chambers, now deputy editor of brand extensions at Good Housekeeping, have put in 19 hour days (split between a part-time job counting people at Grand Central Station and her intern duties at Seventeen) just so she could barely make ends meet? Why would Esquire’s Editor-in-Chief, David Granger spend six weeks homeless on the streets of NYC when he was first starting out just so he could land a job writing a book about gardening? Because they knew why they were here and why they wanted into this industry so badly. They hold the belief that magazines make a difference in people’s lives.

If we haven’t started to already, I think most of us are beginning to answer the “why” for ourselves. Why do we want to work in magazines? Why are we crazy enough to think we might just make it?

Well, Why not?

-Tommie Ethington, Field & Stream
Trinity University

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