Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Brand Betrayal

The NYTimes and most of the traditional Establishment Media continues to have problems with with the evolving future. The Internet is a disruptive force. It has changed many patterns of commerce and communication. It will change many many more.

Rapidly following the news that InfoWorld was abandoning its 29-year-old print magazine in favor of a purely online life comes news that LIFE is moving in the same direction. Do we want even more online content?

What is the future of publishing, communications and information? The Internet has turned them into commodities. Every industry has faced the possibility of becoming commoditized. When it happens that what you produce is available, with little differentiation, from many suppliers, the lowest cost providers gathers the largest market share. This gives them greater economies of scale and a lower cost basis. This drives the price spiral further down making it harder for competitors to remain in the market.

To break the commodity death spiral every business fights to establish itself as a brand name. Quality, value, differentiation and consistency are paramount in making the buying public recognize the brand value and paying a premium.

What is most surprising is how fast Establishment Media have trashed their historially held brand names. The scandals of, fake reproters, fake-but-true news, fake-but-fake reports, enemy propaganda passed as war correspondent footage, enemy agents posing as reporters, sock puppetry among the columnists, political bias, and indifference have given new forms of information access to what should have been an insurmountable advantage.

WSJ has worked to add value to their print and online forms. They have made it easy to research and find information. They offer several forums and email newsletters to enhance and remind their customers of their presence. They charge for these services, but they are building brand loyalty. The WSJ offers transparency to their items. They re quick to correct and acknowledge errors. They allow the customer to interact and react to stories. They identify their writers. Forbes magazine does something similar but from a different perspective.... Each publication has its own "voice" or view of what they consider important about the news they report. This distinction allows the reader to identify and trust their reports. The combination of print and online are helping to hold their margins while they fight the same disruptive forces. They do not claim to be neutral. They are willing to take sides and defend their position. They are willing to explain their conclusions and provide the details that led to them.

The Establish Media's claims of impartiality, neutrality and summary reporting are arrogant "trust me" voices that are losing their audience as they betray their trust. Their arrogance has led them into blind allies. Their disregard for their readers or viewers is affecting their subscriber and viewer base. This affects their ad rates and general revenues.

All business relationships are based on trust. We trust that the money we provide will bring us the value we seek. We trust that the seller will honor their commitment to the value. When that trust is betrayed, we walk away and never return. When we are truly disappointed we tell others, organize to spread the news of our unpleasant experience and file lawsuits.

Brands are short-cuts to Trust. When we travel we know that a certain standard of quality will be available from the known and recognized brand. When we enter a new establishment, we place our money at a greater risk. We may be pleasantly surprised. We may also be disappointed.

The conscientious trashing of great brands betrays the generations of effort that went into building the public trust. It is arrogance and ignorance that only comes from a distant relationship with the customer. Successful businesses stay close to their customers. They listen, anticipate and reward the customer for their patronage.

There are some that leap in glee at the slow death of Establish Media. We don't. We would like for them to right themselves and regain our trust. To do this, they must get close to their customers. They must be come transparent, stop manipulating the trust that is offered, stop taking short term advantage, provide value for money. Will they act before they begin a death spiral?

The world awaits their decision but is, at present, buying elsewhere


Gail said...

Interesting analysis. I agree with you about the trashing of brand names. Though there are many who are giving up their newspaper subscriptions, I think the NYTimes and WaPo may possiby be attributing this to the internet effect instead of coming to an understanding that for many, content/bias is the reason for drifting away. (Just as an aside, we stopped our subscription to the WaPo for a few months but then resubscribed because we missed having the local news, movie listings and something to wrap the fish in.)

The thing that shocks me are the people who continue to read these newspapers and watch CNN and MSNBC without even perceiving that bias exists. They think that they are just receiving the facts and have no idea that it is slanted. How on earth are they going to get the message?

Andy Johnson said...

WaPo, NYTimes, LATimes, and many others have lost contact with their audience. They have few ways to receive direct communications. They fail tor ealize that knowledge is a two way street. They are in the habit of broadcasting and sending reporters to find out what is happening. The Internet allows us to interact immediately. I have written a few reporters whose bylines have an email link. I have been pleasantly surprised to get an answer within a day or so.

Those who simply receive information are not gaining knowledge. They are not integrating the news into the rest of their knowledge/experience. They are passive consumers. They are often the ones who become incoherent when questioned. They repeat the facts and received and then find them lacking. It's not their fault; it must be the person who challenged them.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning. Not merely the spreading of facts, but the challenge and questioning that accompanies learning...

Every business, media or manufacturer, must focus on their customer's experiences. Why are they buying? What else would they like? Why did they not buy? WalMart, Target, CostCo, Home Depot, etc... all can be successfully challenged if the business will develop the relationship. The bigs guys cannot be as flexible, patient, concerned about satisfaction-Or can they? Can a company with 100,000 employees beat the service/satisfaction of a 10 person company?

The Internet allows all media to be both large and small at the same time. They can serve the vast audience and answer the individual's questions... They cannot sit on a history, reputation or even pile of money and expect the future to be as the past. They have to earn their future success.