I was reading a recent post from Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 blog, in which he contemplates two aspects of brands that are changing in the online world. Wikert was pondering brands after Google’s Eric Schmidt said brands are vital to sorting out the online “cesspool.” They may be vital, but they are also being fractured in the new media space.

First, there is the fact that brands churn up faster than ever these days. Facebook, Google, iPhone, WordPress, Huffington Post, and many others have become household names in relative blinks of the eye. This is due mainly I think to the speed and completeness of both the communication of a new brand’s value equation and, if the value exists, the quick adoption by users of something they need or like.

On a macro scale, this means that all brands have more to compete with, and should respond sooner to entrants since they can realize equity positions in the brand economy more quickly than ever.

Second, there is the even more problematic part — that is, multimedia brands are being diffused across media. This is especially painful for old brands, which have built up equity in prior media environments but now find themselves broadcasting new value equations onto platforms they aren’t geared to exploit. So, while the New York Times had a great brand as a newspaper, it’s a softer brand online, struggling against competitors and value equations it never had to vie with before. Its brand is a double-edged sword at best, as well. And it only has so much brand support to give. So, which does it support? The print? The online? The Kindle version? The iPhone application? The reader?

As Wikert states:

What’s critical is figuring out (a) how (and even if!) your print brand can also be an engaging online brand and (b) how to continuously reinvest in that brand to stay ahead of the rapidly evolving online competitors and upstarts.  It’s foolish to assume that your well-known print brand will automatically draw loads of interest online.

This last aspect is jarring when you realize users often settle on one version of your brand experience and don’t use all versions. So, while a brand is technically “one brand,” each one is in fact and experience a separate brand from user-tribe perspectives. The Kindle tribe experiences the New York Times differently than the print tribe, and so on.

For owners of older brands with legacy equity (almost all scholarly publishers), this means additional weight in the cart moving forward, with brand managers pulling the increasingly out-of-step but often vital part of the brand forward with one hand while inventing the next forms of brand equity in a mosaic fashion with the other.

It brings to mind Sisyphus, and a distracted one as well.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

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