WHAT DO YOU think of when you hear the name Coca-Cola, or Cadillac or McDonalds? Each conjures up a specific image, an expectation of what the product will be like and the quality you'l receive.
These images are worth millions of dollars. They help convince consumers to buy these products and give them an edge over competitors. In the terms of modern marketing these images help constitute what's called "brand equity."
The word equity is roughly defined as "value", so what we're talking about here is the very value of the brand name itself.
Newspapers have brand equity too. Think about The Wall Street Journal or USA TODAY or the New York Times. Clearly, each enjoys tremendous brand equity. But so does the tiny Maryland Gazette in Anne Arundel County, Md. which has a very positive image in the community and incredible loyalty rating among its readers.
Unlike packaged goods products, such as soap or laundry detergent, most consumers don't have tremendous choice when it comes to local newspapers. Sure, readers can pick up USA TODAY or The New York Times or some large regional newspaper. But most markets have only one true local newspaper.
But that doesn't mean brand equity isn't important. There's no such thing as a monopoly market. Research shows that newspapers are in competition for readers' time; and this is competition that's getting tougher every day.
In the past three years, since leaving my position as Director of Research Services for Gannett Co. Inc. to join American Opinion Research, I've been involved in dozens of research projects for such major corporations as 3M, General Motors, Siemens, Inc. and Apple--in addition to many newspapers. One thing all these corporations know, that has yet to gain wide, spread acceptance in the newspaper industry, is the existence and importance of brand equity. It can be one of a newspaper's biggest assets and it's something you can develop.
With the evolution of new products--both print and electronic--the concept of branding becomes even more significant to newspapers.
The Meaning of Brand Equity
Brand equity is really a combination of factors including awareness, loyalty, perceived quality, the feelings and images and any other emotions people associate with a brand name. In the newspaper industry, that means the intangible feelings consumers associate with your paper, your columnists, comic strips, and the newspaper masthead.
There are newspapers today that are deriving substantial income from the sale of items bearing their familiar logo, items such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, umbrellas and books. If you think it's not important, think again. Brand equity in the coming decade may mean the difference between prospering and merely surviving, perhaps even between life and death, for some newspapers.
Your brand name, or masthead, can be one of your greatest assets if it creates the right image in customers, minds. It's worth literally millions of dollars. This image often becomes the discriminating factor behind the decision to buy the publication, or read it even if the paper is already in the household.
Key to the development of brand identity is the element of promotion, Whether it be carrier promotion, community events, billboards, or in-house advertisements, a newspaper must convey a common message, Whether that message is "We cover your world" or "your concerns are our concerns," the newspaper has to position itself as being of value to individual readers. Proper and continuous promotion can convey all of the newspaper's branding strengths.
What's in a Name?
Grit magazine is a good example. Grit, which proclaims itself America's Family Magazine, has been around for 110 years though in recent years struggling to maintain circulation in the face of changing lifestyles. Stauffer Communications, the relatively new owner, commissioned an outside research firm to conduct a series of studies and focus groups to determine how Grit could increase readership and reader satisfaction. …