Magazines are often the face of your association's brand image. So, how do you know if and when it is time to rebrand?
By Jeffrey L. Dever
Your brand identity is a key asset for the positioning and promotion of your association. Your magazine, whether print or electronic, is a primary tool for putting a face on that brand, and giving a voice to your organization and its membership. Often cited as the number-one member benefit, it reflects the essence of who you are, what you do, and why you care.
Given that pivotal role, a periodic review and assessment of how your magazine is performing is a wise investment of time and resources. Your audience's perception and feedback should be a key piece of any evaluation. Because your existing brand has recognition, and therefore some value attached, a full repositioning and redesign of your publication is not always appropriate. There are times when a thoughtful evolution or expansion of an existing brand—a tune up, if you will—is all that is required. But there are other times when the reconception and repositioning of a magazine are vital to its future success. That's when it's time to rebrand your publication.
The process of taking a close critical look at one's self can be daunting. The ability to really see what's happening and what's needed in response may be clouded. At these times, the external perspective of a magazine brand consultant may best facilitate the evaluation process. Gather all the major stakeholders for your magazine, executive, editorial, marketing, and design staff, as well as your new media strategist, when assessing the performance of your publication and its brand. They will all have unique perspectives and a vested interest in its success. It is also an excellent team-building exercise where everyone takes ownership.
Take a look at the following questions and consider the reasons for rebranding your publication.
1. Have we evolved? When your parent association has encountered a major paradigm shift in its mission, values, or goals, your magazine should reflect this new impetus. This is especially true if the entire organization is going through the rebranding process and building a new identity for itself. While a magazine is a key part of an association's identity and should reflect the overall brand, there are specific issues unique to publication design and its implementation that may be best served by a magazine design specialist.
2. Are we unique? If your magazine has become indistinct from your competitors, and you no longer occupy a unique niche in the marketplace, it's time to reposition and rebrand your publication. A magazine should have its own editorial voice, and its brand identity should be a recognized face to complement and reinforce the perspective of the association it represents. Today more than ever, the elements of this identity must be designed to translate across the range of emerging new technology platforms.
3. Are we relevant? Is your editorial voice hierarchical or dialogical? Is your content topical and timely? Does your magazine encourage interaction? Audiences today have an increased expectation of rapid response to their needs and preferences. This dramatically impacts the need for all publications to keep an ear to the rail and listen to their constituents. A well-conceived brand strategy can position and promote you as the "go to” source for relevant information.
4. Are we user-friendly? The influence of the internet and other e-media has altered the way readers recognize and process information. If your publication doesn't provide information in an accessible and intuitive format, you're missing an opportunity to connect with certain demographics in your audience. If this is the case, part of your brand consideration should be the division, flow, and navigation of content in your magazine. A reader must be able to intuit editorial content from advertising.
5. Are we outdated? Sometimes there just hasn't been the time, the will, or the budget to re-evaluate and update a magazine. This can involve the content, aesthetics, structure, or even the distribution. If you haven't asked yourself these questions in the past few years, you're overdue—and, very likely, outdated.
Take the time to evaluate your publication and ask yourself the previous questions. The effort will pay dividends by guiding your choices for the future of your magazine's brand. Change for change's sake without a plan will always undermine your brand and market position, but stasis is death.
Jeffrey Dever is president-creative director of Dever Designs and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Final Proof Committee.