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Purpose-led by design - The Independent Publishing Magazine

By Claire Hall

As featured in The Independent Publishing Magazine, by Max du Bois.

Publishers’ brands are under attack from all sides. The tectonic shifts the sector is undergoing have been brought on by a combination of increased competition, mainly in the form of consolidations balanced at the other end of the spectrum by nimble pop up publishers, and digital disruption.

Now more than ever, publishers need to focus on being purpose led organisations to readily attract authors, reviewers and users, tell a story that is larger than the journal’s individual impact factors, and draw on wider brand strengths to help promote their individual values.

They can only achieve this by first clearly defining their role and delving down to their core values to establish a meaningful space in the sector.

For many, the journals are all important, towering above the publisher brand, pushing it into irrelevance and obscurity. And isn’t this how it should be? After all, people subscribe to or write for the journals; the publisher is there, in the background, to facilitate this, no more.

The result—silos and often unlinked and an incoherent portfolio. A powerful central brand on the other hand will allow the collective strength of the portfolio to be gathered, which will have a number of positive effects.

From spreading the value of top and niche performers across weaker brands and encouraging cross selling, new journal launches and a wider dissemination from expansion into parallel sector to events. Focusing on being a purpose led organisation will offer publishers greater opportunities to accelerate growth throughout the entire group.

This constant imperative to demonstrate and deliver value has become crucial for publishers, who must play a central role in supporting their portfolio of publications, without however getting in the way of any individual journal.

Leveraging brand strategy so as to emblomise brand assets and touchpoints is a fundamental battleground these days if publishers wish to remain relevant.

Insights that matter

This is something Emerald Publishing realised in late 2016 when they recognised that their relevance and meaning had become blurred. They needed to retrieve their centre of gravity.

With a growing portfolio of over 300 journals, some 2,500 books and over 1,500 case studies, Emerald Publishing have been connecting research, education and professional learning for 50 years.

They acknowledged they had clear strengths that needed to be emphasised. These were defined as being independent and principled, with a niche subject focus, a diverse product portfolio and a supportive attitude towards their multiple users. Re-asserting their brand required weaving these elements into their overarching holistic and strategic approach.

This kind of soul-searching meant asking themselves what lasting impression they wanted to create – the answer was both simple yet impactful. For half a century Emerald Publishing had nurtured fresh thinking and focused on showcasing insights that delivered tangible impact. They wanted to be known for bringing research to life, for bridging the gap that all too often separated theory from reality.

The value of a publisher’s brand should impact positively on the individual publications. Yet all too often fragmented internal structures appear to be a key barrier across many organisations. This is particularly evident in the variety of different journals following their own marketing and communication agendas.

Pulling these fragmented structures together without losing the value of each in the ensuing chaos is a juggling act publishers increasingly have to manage if they are push above their weight and create standout.

Focusing on connecting

The most effective publishers are those who understand and deliver a relationship between perception, values and delivery. In some cases this can mean learning to embrace complexity, something The Royal Society of Chemistry discovered as they rebranded.

With 175 years of history, spanning 6 global territories and 3 separate businesses, one could be forgiven for thinking The Royal Society of Chemistry would have sufficient clout and heritage to make it a global brand. Yet according to research people used and valued their products but often had no idea where they came from. Individually highly successful brands stood in a fragmented vacuum, starving the Royal Society of Chemistry of visibility.

Their re-brand was inspired by their international community of scientists and the dynamic creativity of chemistry. By putting them at the very centre of their story they overturned the existing misperceptions of a ‘fusty dusty’ society while using the prestige of their heritage and full name to attract new audiences in the UK, Asia and the Americas.

Their vision was to connect the world with chemical sciences and establish the core organisation as the world’s leading chemistry community’ and the focus of the organisation as ‘advancing excellence’ in the chemical sciences.

This shift in emphasis of the RSC’s entire marketing campaign resulted in membership increase from 48k to 53k, harnessed the power of its independent specialist groups (in one case increasing users from 3000 to 20,000 members) and created a platform for its publishing to mushroom by 400% over five years.

Future proofing

A publisher needs to be able to describe their relationship with their various audiences; otherwise their brand will be out of step with the way they are viewed. The Biochemical Society’s subsidiary publisher, Portland Press found this out as they struggled to embrace changes in the landscape where collaboration is vital and the lines between academia and industry were blurring.

In this case deriving coherence out of chaos required The Biochemical Society’s new brand to carve out its place as the hub of the biosciences community, championing their value and relevance and opening up biochemistry for the next generation. This allowed them to leverage themselves as ‘the home of the biochemical community’.

Portland Press’ role focused on the dissemination of knowledge and the competitively unique reinvestment of their profits into advancing the life sciences.

Publisher brands that project purpose and link their portfolio will more readily amplify their strengths in a distinctive and relevant way. In so doing they will benefit from the powerful commercial shift as they become far greater than the sum of their parts. This will enable them to punch above their weight, launch new products more easily and diversify into new areas…it really is that simple.