Brand Statements: Valuable Tool or The Latest Fad?
By Tony Silber
Quick: What is your magazine’s brand statement? These days, you’re not a serious-minded publisher;and definitely not a strategic-thinking executive;unless you have one.
Increasingly, publishers are using the brand statement (or brand promise) to eclipse the mission statement as the corporate rallying cry, both internally and externally. But what is a brand statement, anyway? And how does it differ from a mission statement? Are both necessary? And do they even matter? FOLIO: posed these questions to 15 CEOs and executive managers representing both large and small companies across all sectors of the industry. Their responses say a lot about management and publishing philosophies, but most of all they indicate that there is no consensus: For some, a brand statement is a valuable new tool, but for others, it’s just a buzzword.
Believers say there’s nothing like a brand statement to solidify a publisher’s unique selling proposition, both inside and outside the company. “Our brand statement is in effect a promise to our customers that we will always come to them with ideas that will help them build their businesses,” Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton says. But the statement works within as well. “I can’t overestimate the positive impact of this in getting everyone in the company to know they work for Hanley Wood, not the magazine or exhibition or e-media divisions,” he says. “Over time, that’s made us seem bigger and more important to the market.”
In a single-market company like Hanley Wood, it’s easy to see the value of a unified message. But what about the value of a corporate brand message in a multimarket company? Many believe there isn’t any. “I guess one could argue that in an over-populated market, like healthcare, the use of this sort of branding would be helpful, but I’ve found, at least in connection with journal marketing, that slogans get lost in the shuffle,” says Stephen Stoneburn, CEO of Quadrant Health Media.
William Pecover, CEO of Haymarket Media , puts it bluntly: “All of our titles can summarize their purpose, approach and reach in one paragraph, i.e. a mission statement,” he says. “Why do we not try to encapsulate this into a single sentence? Mostly because it’s not worth the effort. A sophisticated product cheapens itself with generic claims. A lot of time gets wasted trying to boil a magazine’s qualities down to hooks an ad agency can hang a campaign on.”
Access Intelligence , Cygnus and NTP Media are among those that put the brand focus at the magazine level rather than the corporate level. “In small markets brand differentiation is not created by nifty slogans but by true product differentiation,” says NTP Media CEO Humphrey Tyler.
On the consumer side, Yankee , founded in 1935, uses its brand “charter” to clarify its stance for advertising prospects. “When you’re a 70-year-old brand, perceptions of the brand can vary widely,” says president Jamie Trowbridge. “The magazine’s mission statement describes what we do, but it does not get into the brand attributes. We commonly use it to demonstrate how the Yankee brand supports the objectives clients have for their brands.”
But Ogden Publications opts for the magazine-specific brand statement. Mother Earth News, for example, uses ﾑThe Original Guide to Living Wisely.’ “We don’t have a brand statement for the company as a whole, because we frankly don’t believe it’s a brand,” says publisher Bryan Welch. “A mission statement is, to my way of thinking, drafted for an internal audience most of the time.”
ﾑSelf-Serving and Silly’
On the topic of mission statements, Charles McCurdy, CEO of Apprise Media, says they may mean bad news for a company. “In my experience, many companies adopt mission statements when they have lost their focus.”
And Hanley Wood’s Anton says mission statements have one useful purpose. “We don’t have a mission statement,” he says. “They always seem self-serving and silly;good to post over the receptionist’s desk in lieu of good art.”