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The Washington Post: A Name in Limbo

Courtesy Adam Glanzman

A view of The Washington Post building on Aug. 5, 2013. (Courtesy Adam Glanzman)

When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post last month, the media began analyzing the sale and questioning the future of the legacy newspaper. One minor detail, however, that may have not been at the forefront: According to a filing with the SEC, the newspaper’s parent company, Washington Post Co., must change its name within 60 days of the deal closing.

There is no indication (as yet) that Mr. Bezos will change the name of the newspaper. But it’s my hope that he will retain the name. While I generally suggest that geographically based or product-based names can limit an organization’s growth by creating limited perceptions of their potential, this does not seem to be the case with The Washington Post.

“Washington” essentially means “national politics” and “Post” literally means to send, to display and to publish electronically. It seems to be a perfect word for becoming the digital medium of Washington.

Retaining a Valuable Position

What Mr. Bezos purchased is an organization that has tremendous credibility within Washington, D.C., and among top political circles within the district. This is a large and important national audience. The Washington Post is to politics what The Wall Street Journal is to business. The paper owns a unique, differentiated and valuable role within the media industry. And according to his recent statement, I think he gets this.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C., and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

If It’s Not Broken…

While his commitment to retaining the company’s mainstay values is apparent, the 60-day requirement may leave them with a new “coating.” If it were my call, the name would not be changed as long as the organization continues its unique focus on, and its credibility in, national politics and all that national politics impact. I would not like to see the Post become a general source of random news and lose its unique reason for being. Design, however, could play an important role by changing the visual expression of “The Washington Post” from a traditional newspaper masthead to convey that the newspaper has become a more contemporary medium.

It seems that Mr. Bezos’ main contribution would be to figure out how to turn the newspaper into a viable model for the distribution of credible news about national politics. He doesn’t need to alter the identity of The Washington Post to do that. In fact, its identity and equity is a major asset for his purpose. I would go so far as to say that the Post is one of few beloved institutions in the political sphere.

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Secret Sauce As a Brand

Special SauceLast week, I wrote about B2B branding: Your audience may not be comprised of “consumers” per se, but it’s still made up of people. People have preferences, loyalty and affinity for certain brands.

So how do you make sure your brand communicates what’s unique and special about you? In essence, what’s the secret sauce that sets you apart?

Making Your Own Secret Sauce

Many clients hire us because they’re having trouble articulating exactly what it is that makes them who and what they are. A lot of our identity work gets to the heart of this—helping clients tell their stories. Even if you aren’t embarking on an identity project, you can still follow some simple principles:

  1. Realize that you never have nothing: If you aren’t widely known for your secret sauce, that doesn’t mean you don’t have it. It can be difficult to pinpoint, and even harder to communicate (and often it’s easier to engage someone to help you find it—which is why it makes up a lot of the work that we do). But there is something worthwhile that sets you apart, and finding it is worth the effort.
  2. Don’t try to be something you’re not: If what you’re attempting feels inauthentic, it’ll be hard to make a shift that will turn employees (likely your most important audience) into brand ambassadors. Take Marshall, for example. We may not the hippest kids on the block, but we’re thoughtful, strategic and big-picture thinkers. Because we know this, we’re able to focus on what we do best.
  3. Don’t be afraid of aspiration: You may need to consider how well your identity tells a clear and cohesive story about your company. When you set out in a direction that is aspirational and authentic, you’ve turned identity into a strategic priority, not just a communications tool.

You’ve got a secret sauce baked in there somewhere, and it’s an essential component of your identity that you should use to your advantage.

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