Who Manages A Magazine’s Brand?

posted by Lauren on April 20th, 2011

Lately I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about branding. (I know, you’re shocked.)

Whether it’s a rebranding project at the agency, or a brand that I come in contact with during my daily life, I have a lot of trouble disconnecting and not thinking about how these brands are managed. I admire brands that are able to stay true to themselves in the real world. And sometimes, when I see a brand making a few missteps, I can’t help thinking about how it could be managed a little better.

One brand that is part of my everyday life, you’ll find it on my nightstand or in my bag, is Shape magazine. I’ve been a Shape reader for a few years now; and through the years they’ve done a lot right–including having a pretty nice visual presentation of their content. I mean, it’s no Dwell, but it’s readable, seems to fit with the content in the mag and feels true to who Shape’s been.

Last November, Shape’s longstanding editor-in-chief, Valerie Latona, left the magazine and Tara Kraft took her place. Ms. Kraft has a solid history in magazines; within a few months of her arrival, it was obvious that Shape was changing visually. Under Ms. Kraft’s leadership, Shape has changed their magazine-wide typefaces (one of which is now a rather dramatic serif font), incorporated different shapes and swipes on their cover, and even seems to have slightly changed their logo type treatment (look at that first S in Shape for clues to this change.)

Compare the November 2010 issues with the May 2011 issue:

November 2010                                         May 2011

Now, I know that any brand, including Shape, is made up of many different parts. While a visual representation of the brand is a vital component to ‘who’ the brand is, a brand is more than just its visuals. It’s a feeling. It’s a story. It’s something that makes you want to belong. It’s that thing that makes you want to pay more money for one product (or service) over another.

I’ve got to say – I don’t love the way that Ms. Kraft has been managing the visual aspects of Shape’s brand. Was there a need to give the magazine a bit of a face-lift? Maybe. Do I think that the face-lift it got is true to its brand? Not really. To me, it’s making the brand a little less current, maybe even talking to a slightly different demographic. Mostly, it just doesn’t FEEL like Shape anymore.

1) Brand Management:
It’s interesting how in magazines the editor-in-chief can play such a large role in the management of a brand. I mean, who doesn’t think of Anna Wintour when you hear Vogue? And do you remember the sense of anticipation when Tina Brown took over Newsweek. So I ask, is an editor-in-chief really just a brand manager?

2) Nerdy Typography:
Also, Tina Brown’s Newsweek seems to be using a slightly-similar-to-Shape serif typeface on its redesigned cover. Is this a new trend in magazine design?

Before                                                    After

3) And most importantly:
Should we even be talking about brand managers as people who are employed by the brand? Who tells a brand’s story? Is it someone who interacts with the brand through digital media in a blog post like this one?

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3 Responses to “Who Manages A Magazine’s Brand?”

  1. Rina Hatcher Says:

    Great post Lauren.

    While I’m not current in design because my web-techy side’s reign right now, I enjoy pondering design similarly to how you’ve outlined above.

    A cover is the entry point to the magazine. It’s interesting to see when magazines visually change based on trend, and when they change because they need a facelift and/or it just make sense for an intentional shift in demographic reach, outside of trend.

    When it comes to brands, I do see that there are two perspectives, as you pointed out. Those pushing the brand, and those actually using / interacting with the brand.

    I think it’s too rare that a brand is successful based solely on consumer interaction and viral spread. So rare that there is definitely a need for brand managers, in my opinion.

    However, since brand success is typically based on consumption and conversion, consumers interacting with the brand ultimately decide if it fails or not.

    While a bit extreme to say, to prosper without brand strategy, a brand would have to be so awesome that it inspires true consumer loyalty. by loyalty, I mean to the point where the consumer becomes a brand ambassador, who knowingly or not, directly impacts success on a large, if not global, scale. Sounds like celebrity endorsement. But, what celebrity would do this without profit or other gain from the strategy employed by the brand?

    I can’t think of a good example of where that has happened. Maybe you do?

    Great conversation!

  2. Carlos G. Sarmiento Says:

    Very interesting, Lauren.
    Good eye! and great insight on the importance of the role an editor-in-chief can play in the visual shaping of a brand. Very keen comments on the components of branding, also on the impact changes can have on a given brand.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your questioning, yet clear, comments.

  3. Mario Garcia Says:

    Lauren, enjoyed your smart blog post very much.

    I believe that an editor in chief has a responsibility to understand what the brand stands for, its history, and, then, proceed to enhance it, to give it longer legs. I would not call the editor a brand manager, more like a brand enhancer. Every story, headline, photo, illustration should represent the best of what that brand can offer. Let others worry about “managing” the logistics of everyday brand presentation; let the editor understand what the brand stands for, and make sure that it comes through every page.