Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin: Lessons from The Guardian on getting, well, everything right

so I’ve been roused from a bit of a blogging famine (not self-imposed) by the surfacing of a rather remarkably brilliant bit of storytelling on two fronts by The Guardian. on one hand, the above is (nice one BBH) a wonderfully articulated ad showing what journalism looks like in the second decade of the 21st Century. the second element of storytelling however relates to The Guardian product itself – and this is where it gets a lot more interesting…

because whilst other newspaper titles have faced a digital-fuelled funding crisis by (delete as appropriate) building pay-walls around existing content / attacking aggregators such as Google / devaluing their brand with ongoing price promotions / bundling subscriptions / creating much-hyped tablet-only titles / add as appropriate – The Guardian has quietly gotten on with doing three things rather well.

one, they’ve developed genuinely channel and delivery-neutral platforms for their product. two, they’ve defended investment in content. three, they’ve introduced and demanded fair pricing for their product.

there are people better qualified than me (The Guardian themselves for one) to comment in more detail about the specifics and implications of these endeavours to their title and the wider journalism category.  what interests Mediation is how these three principles apply to brands per se. because those exact things that The Guardian has done so well should be top of the agenda for every brand and client right now.

one – channel and delivery-neutral platforms

for all our talk of bought earned and owned and platform neutrality, we still have some way to go to break the last remnants of the broadcast disruption advert model. ‘make an ad and get it seen’ is still for too many situations the default option.

our focus should be on a brand’s business challenge or opportunity, not on default bought media solutions. channel-neutral is now easily a decade-old idea, and it feels almost retro to talk about it with even a degree of reverence … but new pressures can fuel flights to perceived safety – flights that more than ever need guarding (appropriately enough) against.

two – investment in content

from podcasts (oh my beloved MediaGuardian podcast) to video to applications and beyond, The Guardian’s story is not just one of investing in content, but of investing in content despite a reduction in revenues as digital impacts cannibalised (traditionally more profitable) print impacts. there was no retreat, no back-pedaling, no compromise in the investment nor distribution of content.

here too brands can learn.  new models are more content hungry than old ones. in short they require much more than 30″‘s worth of content! longer-form video, multi-platform, often generated in real time and in response to a brand’s activities are essential if a brand is to capitalise on and exploit the opportunities that new models present. will it cost more? perhaps. will it return more? perhaps? will you get left behind if you don’t. absolutely.

three – fair pricing for that content

I’m not suggesting that brands start charging for people to engage with their communications (although Apple seem to do quite well in monetising the best ads they ever made in the form of a retail space that isn’t a retail space). rather brands need to acknowledge that for many people the old contract has evaporated…

the contract stated that in return for free content, a brand can interrupt that content as long as they entertain or inform us whilst they do it. for many this simply no longer plays, or indeed pays. The Guardian increasingly, I suspect, relies on a model not dissimilar to an iTunes set-up – simple easy small payments that allow people to access the content they want, when they want it, where they want it. many people are prepared to (micro) pay to do so.

brands face a similar challenge. what are the new contracts you can form with the people with whom you want to connect and engage. what are you offering in return for their attention? value, usefulness, entertainment, information, inspiration? to say that continuing to offer an interuption that communicates what your business believes people should know, hardly seems worth dignifying with a debate.

there’s two last things that brands can learn from The Guardian’s predominance in their field. firstly, let people in – whether its helping to devour MPs expenses data or teasing people to piece together a story that a super-injunction prevents them from reporting, The Guardian isn’t just better by having people be part of the debate, they are – just like brands – increasingly dependent on it.

and secondly, this reporter of fairy tales stands for something. as a brand, as an organisation, as a business, they understand why they exist in the world. they can articulate why the world needs them. and rather than telling people that, they show them…

there is no more powerful navigator for this new world than to have built into your DNA a compass telling you every day in every way which direction to take.

its tempting to say stop the world and ask to get off. to that, I say not by the hair on my chinny chin chin would I want it any other way …  keep up the good work Guardian.

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