How to evolve your magazine’s brand

by Thursday, April 21, 2016

 “Change is inevitable. Evolution, however, is optional.” ― Tony Robbins

Most of us have looked back on photos taken five to 10 years ago and thought, “What was I thinking?!?” Maybe it was our fashion choices; maybe it was a particular trendy haircut that isn’t so trendy anymore. We soon realize that what looked good and was considered in style then definitely wouldn’t fly now.

The same applies in the publishing world. Just as trends evolve in fashion – and we, as human beings evolve and change over time – a publication’s business objectives, design and content strategy can and should evolve over time. Ultimately they have to in order to keep up with the times and what members expect.

Just as I’ve looked back on old photos realizing that trends come and go, I’ve done the same when looking at back issues of publications. It becomes clear that a magazine carefully constructed, designed and planned at one point in time doesn’t translate so well five years down the road. We realize that it simply looks dated because it is dated. Recognizing this and acting upon it is the most important step in developing your new brand.

How often should we consider changing or altering our brand?

Analyze your publication’s brand and its performance on an annual or biannual basis, depending on frequency. A quarterly publication may need to undergo this process every couple years, while something that’s more frequent – say bimonthly or monthly – should be carefully reviewed annually.

When it comes to a complete name change, I’d recommend this only if the current name of the publication has negative connotations or just doesn’t have much recognition out in the marketplace. Name changes should only occur if you think it’s absolutely necessary to elevate the brand or need that opportunity to start fresh. Otherwise it’s always best to use the original name. That’s why picking the right name is so important – it’s the one aspect of your brand that should stay consistent over the long haul.

And keep in mind that a complete brand overhaul isn’t necessary every year or two years in order to keep the magazine relevant and engaging. I’d actually advise against this. While you want the magazine to be fresh, there’s also importance in creating brand recognition, and time is definitely on your side when it comes to this. Slightly changing fonts and design aspects can make a huge impact, so think small when regularly reviewing your publication. And, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fit it. This applies to your magazine’s brand 100 percent.

What’s in a publication brand?

There is so much more that goes into a magazine’s brand aside from its title, the styling of its nameplate, and the fonts and graphics. It goes way beyond that. When thinking of your overall publication brand, keep in mind that this includes the look and feel of the publication, the content it delivers, and how this ties into business objectives and members’ desires and needs.

To get started, we’ll cover some of the main components to consider when you’re ready to take the leap and evolve your publication. You can change your fonts and the way you set up your departments and features, but if you stop there, you’re only covering about 10 percent of what it takes to effectively revamp your publication’s brand. So what’s in the other 90 percent? Read on.


  1. It’s all about the promise

Create a publication mission statement, or alternatively, your brand promise, and breathe it into every aspect of your redesign and branding. As you start the brainstorming and preplanning process, this will keep you focused. Your mission and your promise serve as your compass, and if followed intently, it will deliver you to where you want to be.

For example: “ABC’s association magazine promises to cover the latest topics and trends as it relates to ABC industry, serve the needs of membership by publishing content they can’t find anywhere else, and to do so in a fresh and engaging way that keeps members coming back for more.”

This example is basic, and you’ll want to get more specific as it relates to your organization, but it’s a good framework from which to start.


  1. Brand for who you want to attract

To deliver on your promise, you have to understand your audience inside and out. This means understanding your members’ wants and needs and why they’re coming to your organization in the first place. Is it for education, networking or other special programs?

Beyond what they’re coming to you for, analyze who they are. Is your association made up of mostly baby boomers, generations X or Y, or is there a large segment of millennials? Are they mostly out in the field or are they in high-rise offices? Think of the member you want to attract, and base your design, content and engagement tactics off of this persona.


  1. Analyze your competitors

Look at what your competitors and peers are doing and do it better and/or complement what they’re already doing. Don’t attempt to replicate what they’re doing, because that strategy simply won’t work.

One of the best ways to set your publication apart from the others is to offer something that can’t be found anywhere else in the marketplace. Be unique in your approach and stand out. Striking design, font choice, and engaging and relevant content are a huge part of this.

Never forget the strength of your organization and use that to leverage the stature of your publication. If your organization is the clear leader in the industry, then your publication and brand should be as well. Brand to this effect.


  1. Let it stand out on its own

Your new brand should be complementary to your association’s brand, but bold enough to stand out on its own. Many make the mistake of too closely aligning their publication brand with their association brand. For example, an organization goes by ABC Association, so they brand their magazine as “ABC News.” This is not a wise move because your magazine is now dependent on your organization’s brand, and this can work against you more easily than work in your favor. Not to mention that this strategy is outdated and members are expecting more in terms of creativity on your part.

It’s important to use your magazine as its own separate brand – something that is applicable across the entire industry, not necessarily just across your membership. There’s a difference. A strong separate publication brand can only complement and elevate the status of your association brand. Each brand should be individualistic, each with their own objectives and goals.


  1. Get feedback from everyone

Just because you like a certain layout, concept, department idea or font choice doesn’t mean that everyone will. And that’s the important thing to remember when it comes to design in general. Design itself is so objective in nature that you’ll always have differing opinions, and understand that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never please everyone 100 percent of the time.

With that in mind, once you’ve drafted up your new samples and created your plan moving forward, take it to your staff, board of directors and even a select sample of members. Get their feedback, ask questions and let them know that the floor is open for comments.

Some of the best advice and insight I’ve received about design and branding has come from unlikely sources (thanks, Mom!), so never underestimate the power of branching out and asking what others think. You’ll be surprised one way or another.


  1. It all comes together in the final details

So you’ve defined your brand, created your promise, know your personas, created your new content strategy, revamped your photographs and font choices, overhauled the design and overall look and feel of the publication, and most importantly, aligned your magazine with business objectives and long-term association goals. Congratulations!

You’re not done yet, though. Here are some final pointers that will help bring it all together. It’s really in these final touches that we set up the new brand for ongoing long-term success.

  • Align it across the spectrum. Create icons and alternate logos to be used on collateral and in social media, and keep a specific color palette in mind. Consistency is key.
  • Create separate social media channels. Create accounts for your new brand on social media (or don’t forget to revamp your old accounts), and keep it separate from primary association accounts. Have the two brands interact and support one another online.
  • Don’t forget the collateral! Use the revamped publication as a tool to generate buzz among potential advertisers and sponsors. Don’t forget to revamp your media kit and marketing collateral as a part of the launch. Consider adding new advertising opportunities and products to the mix.
  • Go big in your reveal. Write press releases about the update, align the release with a large event such as an annual convention, and make the launch something your community can (and will!) talk about.
  • Stay consistent moving forward. Heavily promote it and let your new magazine brand shine. Once you’ve put in all the work, promote the heck out of it. Not only the first issue, but every issue thereafter.
  • Believe in it. If you value the new brand as an important part of your association communications mix and treat it as the invaluable member benefit that it is, your members, vendors and the community at large will as well. This, by far, is the most important step in the process.


“Belief creates the actual fact.” —William James

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