Lessons from a Newspaper for the New Age of Marketing

When The Guardian‘s new television spot came out a couple of weeks ago, it struck a cord with where we’re seeing journalism go as a medium.  The Guardian‘s open journalism policy isn’t just about using it’s readers to create and curate the news, but about the effect of how a community built story can change the impact of current events.

This new branding strategy has separated The Guardian from other UK-based (and globally-based) papers.  In a sense, The Guardian is the first newspaper that doesn’t just tell stories, but enables them.  They’re brand has been shifted to a community oriented one that empowers the very people who read their publication each day.

For brands and marketers, this is a powerful case study in what can and should be done in the digital age.

Here are six lessons brands can take away with them to be more digitally relevant:

1) Create a trans-media campaign to tell your story: As we see in the Guardian spot, the news doesn’t happen in a siloed medium. As the commercial plays out, the pigs story is told on their website, on an iPad, in YouTube videos, in forums, on Twitter, through reader polling, on Facebook, and yes, in traditional print.    As The Guardian knows, people don’t solely rely on the actual paper for information anymore.  With multiple screens and multiple media entities vying for their attention, they have to make sure they tell their story in multiple places.  Brands, whether goods or services, have to think similarly when it comes to marketing themselves.  People aren’t just watching TV or just reading the paper.  In order to really gain the attention where they are — everywhere.

2) Enable your audience to help tell your story:  What The Guardian does really well, as reflected in their spot, is use their audience to help enable their stories to move further.  We saw how Twitter, Facebook, and real-time polling showed audience sentiment for the three little pigs and their fate.  We saw how their online opinions led to political activism in terms of housing reform.  The Guardian’s use of story to help further tell their story is an interesting idea we’re seeing happen more often.

The most prominent example currently is the KONY 2012 campaign — people watched the video and were told to act on getting Kony’s name out there.  Although, like in the video for The Guardian, we see that sometimes enabling your audience can lead to negative repercussions.  The key takeaway for brands should be that you should enable your fans to help tell your story, but be okay with the fact that your campaign may not go as planned.

So what can a brand do to make this happen?  For example, a brand like Bed, Bath and Beyond can curate wedding stories from couples that have gotten married. These stories can help soon to be newlyweds figure out what items they should put on their gift registry.  It’s one thing if Bed, Bath and Beyond tells you what to do, but it’s another if you get help from someone else who’s been in the same situation as you.

3) Run an adaptive marketing campaign and be ready to go with the flow: If there’s one thing we saw with the Guardian spot, it’s that things in the digital age move very rapidly and can change on a dime. In a traditional, non-crowd sourced world, the three little pigs would have gotten off innocent (as told in the fairy tale).

However, in this new fast paced environment aided by mobile phones and social media, things may not always go as planned.   A good case study of this happening is when the Gap changed their logo and faced consumer backlash.  Instead of not listening to fans, they decided to adapt accordingly and switch back to their original logo.

Regardless of whether or not brands decided to become more “open” like The Guardian, the social media-oriented world requires brands to be able to adapt quickly and roll with the punches.  Those that fight it will suffer.  Those that don’t will continue doing business as usual.

4) Give the whole picture (i.e. be transparent):The Guardian‘s big brand idea is that they give you the whole picture.  This can be in terms of the transmedia campaign they create in their stories, but there’s more to it than that. What makes The Guardian unique is that they are a fully transparent business in terms of where they get their source information from.  Whether it’s a journalist or a curious reader, we see in the ad that, as the story unfolds, we know exactly who is contributing what to the prosecution of the three little pigs.  This is a really interesting tactic we don’t see many brands use.  People feel welcome from open, transparent brands.

One of the best brands at doing this is Chipotle.While other brands (like their owner McDonald’s) don’t tell you where their food comes from, Chipotle makes it their mission to let you know their food is fresh and produced naturally.  As a result of this brand positioning, Chipotle has become a leader in the QSR vertical.

While for some industries it’s hard to be transparent (like financial services or healthcare), brands should keep in mind that an open brand can actually lead to a more trustworthy brand.  For example, a healthcare company like Merck should make it their mission to let consumers know they don’t test on animals — it’s a branding strategy that could help them come off as the more humane pharmaceutical company.

5) Create a digitally-enabled (or digitally-driven) brand: While many newspapers have shut down, The Guardian is still around and are continuing to operate profitably.  What separates them from countless other newspapers? They embraced the new mediums that we’re disrupting their industry.  As we see in the three little pigs spot, a majority of the fairy tale story wasn’t told in print but in digital and as a result, they actually told a better story.  Videos gave a better look into the events occurring and social media helped drive the story forward and amplify its message.  Like The Guardian, if companies want to survive they need to adapt to the times.  Companies like Blockbuster and Border’s didn’t and they failed.  Others like Netflix and Barnes & Noble did and they are still around and doing relatively well.

A company like Visa or Mastercard, for example, should now be thinking about ways to digitally enable their brand.  This may mean allowing consumers to pay by mobile phone or even allowing them to get deals pushed to them via social media (like American Express is doing with their new “Sync” platform).

As the world moves faster and becomes more technologically advanced, those who don’t jump on the boat early enough will miss the boat entirely as a result.

6) Create a socially enabled brand: Part of the reason why The Guardian has done so well isn’t just because they embraced digital, but because they’ve created something that’s “social by design.”  They’re businesses has almost become dependent on social media to perform better in the market.  They rely on their readers to help make their newspaper a more open, more engaging platform.  Other brands can learn from The Guardian that being a social business can sometimes even make you a more profitable business.

The Guardian is one of the few news publications out there who are doing things right, but they can still be used as a case study for brands in other verticals looking to still be relevant in the digitally fueled age.  It will be interesting to see what companies follow suit and which companies go out of business for not adapting early enough.