FEATURE 

Love You

Some brands transcend the hurly-burly of everyday commercial life to reach deep into the soul of the consumer. Establishing this powerful emotional connection is the Holy Grail for marketing departments across industry. One sector which is closer to achieving this than most, says Philip Preston, is the regional press...

By Philip Preston

We all have a favourite brand we just love; at the moment I’m passionate about my Mini Cooper. It’s not just a great car to drive, to me everything about it is cool, particularly the authentic retro styling. In fact, it’s not really a car, it’s more a toy to show off, play with and enjoy.

Pretty soon I’ll have reached the big FIVE O, so perhaps it’s a male menopausal thing that I’ll grow out of, but I doubt it. And neither will my older brother who just over a year ago bought himself a Harley-Davidson, another brand that stirs up "Loyalty Beyond Reason".

This is a phrase coined by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide in his first book The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution, and the sequel Lovemarks: the future beyond brands. If you are interested in brand marketing then I recommend you take a look.

His theory is that inspirational brands offer much more than great performance. Brands have respect, but Lovemarks go beyond brands. Here’s what lovemarks.com has to say on the subject:

Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Like great brands, they sit on top of high levels of respect - but there the similarities end.

Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.

Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go.

Put simply, Lovemarks inspire.

The Sun, We Love It!

So, what about newspapers? Are they brands or are they Lovemarks? The Sun, the nation’s favourite daily newspaper, seems to think it’s more than a mere brand and makes a big play on the "We Love It" theme in its marketing communications, but does it really pass the Lovemarks test?

According to Kevin Roberts, the three intangible, yet very real ingredients that all Lovemarks must possess are Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy.

Mystery: draws together stories, metaphors, dreams and symbols. It is where past, present and future become one.

Sensuality: keeps the five senses on constant alert for new textures, intriguing scents and tastes, wonderful music. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste.

Intimacy: means empathy, commitment and passion. The close connections that win intense loyalty as well as the small perfect gesture. These are often remembered long after functions and benefits have faded away.

The Sun is certainly a legend in its own lifetime and is responsible for some of the most sensational newspaper headlines of all time, so it probably scores well on the Mystery scale.

The Sun has always been brave in its design and use of colour and is probably the main reason why the "tabloid" sector is nicknamed the "Red Tops". The Sun online is equally bold, and with the addition of animated graphics, moving pictures and sound, it scores high on the Sensuality scale.

Incidentally, in August 2007 theSun.co.uk broke the 10 million unique visitor mark for the very first time but still has some way to go to catch the market leader Guardian Unlimited at 15.8 million unique visitors (source ABCe). To put this into perspective, the online audience in the UK for Facebook and MySpace was around 6.5 million unique visitors each for the same month (source Neilsen/NetRatings).

So the Sun and theSun.co.uk seem to excite the senses, but does the brand score well on the Intimacy scale? It has certainly got passion and a very loyal readership – but empathy and commitment? Not being an avid reader of the Sun, I’m probably not the best person to ask but I suspect views on this are polarised. It’s a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.

I would guess that in Liverpool, even today, the Sun gets a relatively hostile reception due to its notorious "The Truth" coverage of the Hillsborough disaster. What I do know is that in my neck of the woods, sleepy rural Norfolk, it’s the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) and Norwich Evening News that hold the Intimacy high-ground.

Brand Tracking Research

We have just completed a brand tracking research study conducted by Morar Consulting that delved deeply into people’s perceptions of daily newspapers and the clear winners on most of the performance metrics were Archant Norfolk’s two daily titles.

The EDP and Norwich Evening News were placed first and second for readership penetration, preference and Net Promoter Score (a measure of how likely readers are to recommend their newspaper to friends and colleagues).

It appears that in the newspaper sector overall, the "Detractors" significantly outnumber the "Promoters". For example, the Sun scored -29, one of the lowest Net Promoter Scores for a national newspaper, but not as low as the Daily Sport which scored -63.

In comparison, the Norwich Evening News had the highest Net Promoter Score of all daily newspapers at +12. The EDP was the only other newspaper to record a positive score. Perhaps this is an indication of how well local and regional newspapers connect with the communities they represent.

The Heart of Norfolk

It’s probably no coincidence that the EDP is one of the best performing morning newspapers in the country (even so, the latest ABC was down year on year by around 3%) and, like most regional newspapers, it has a reputation for fair, balanced quality journalism. However, Kevin Roberts might rightly argue that this simply earns respect – it must have a passion for, commitment to and empathy with readers to win their loyalty, and once again our research proves the EDP possesses these Lovemark traits.

For example, over two thirds of adults agreed that the EDP "supports and champions the local economy" and "is active in supporting local schools and education." Only 3% disagreed.

The EDP has worked hard to attain this level of appreciation. "Shop Local", which promotes the economic benefits of buying goods produced locally and spending money in local shops, and "Get Equipped", which each year provides £25,000 of much needed sports equipment to ten local schools, are just two examples of highly successful EDP editorial campaigns.

Five years ago, following an earlier consumer research study, brand consultancy Corporate Edge proposed that the EDP should adopt "The Hub of Norfolk" as its brand positioning statement. Over the past few years, this positioning has been the catalyst for the development of a series of successful campaigns, new sections, supplements and brand extensions.

Following the recent Morar research, we have changed the brand’s positioning to "The Heart of Norfolk" as we feel this better reflects the relationship the EDP has with the people who live in the county.

The research revealed how positive people feel about Norfolk. Quite simply, people love living here and a massive 80% agree that the EDP should help them "get more out of living in Norfolk". This is great news for the EDP editorial team whose expert knowledge puts them in the perfect position to help readers appreciate what the county really has to offer.

Both the EDP daily lifestyle section "EDP2" (it took us weeks to come up with that one) and the Saturday paper’s weekend supplement (aptly called "Sunday", because we want readers to chill out with the paper over the whole weekend) celebrate the best things about our county – the countryside, Norfolk Broads, the coastline, market towns, villages, Norwich (the city not the football club) and the fascinating people that give Norfolk its character. In marketingspeak, this gives the EDP one of its unique selling points, and in SaatchiandSaatchispeak moves the brand into Lovemark territory.

Where do we go from here?

In his fascinating new book, The Brand Innovation Manifesto, independent brand strategy consultant and maverick John Grant advocates that the only way brands can thrive is if they constantly innovate. His big idea is the "brand molecule" – essentially the best brands are built around a succession of connected cultural ideas and that the elements that make up a brand (products, consumer experiences, initiatives) should have coherence and authenticity. Read the book, it’s packed with great examples of brands that inspire "Loyalty Beyond Reason".

As far as the EDP is concerned, we are using four cultural ideas to stimulate new thinking for the brand. One of these is the notion of connoisseurship; people’s desire to acquire specialist knowledge, in our case about Norfolk. Typically, "Appreciation Brands", which is how John Grant defines brands that tap into this cultural idea, share these qualities:

* Giving people a first-hand account of what they can expect
* Education as a service
* Great research to find hidden gems
* Integrity: unbiased, authoritative, trustworthy
* Being close to the ground, human, approachable
* Implicit knowledge, demonstration in use
* Key terms, nuggets, bits of wisdom
* Simple guides to key topics
* Entertainment, involvement, stories: not just a list of facts or instructions
* User experts, peer-to-peer mentoring, ambassadors

EDP2 and EDP Sunday are two editorial platforms ideally placed to further exploit this cultural idea. Incidentally, if this has got you thinking and you can clearly see where this might take us then please send your ideas on a postcard to …

Let’s not forget the news

We are not naïve enough to think that our circulation woes can be solved through brand innovation alone. We have to be equally inventive with our marketing communications, promotions and field sales activity.

Similarly, future product development projects cannot focus exclusively on softer editorial content; the EDP is a newspaper after all and must not lose sight of the fact that hard news sells.

As in every other research study we have ever carried out, the Morar research placed local and national news way above all other sections of the newspaper in the popularity stakes. It also seems that both the environment and health have become mainstream topics and deserve more column centimetres.

How we develop our news and features content, both in print and online, and how we stretch the brand into new territory will always be the subject of healthy debate between the editorial and marketing teams.

Ultimately we’d love to be able to grow sales, but that’s a tough nut to crack, so like all other newspapers in the land we are focused on growing our print and digital audience overall. The best way to do that is to ensure that the EDP remains a true Lovemark.