BostInno’s Rebranding

by Holland-Mark | November 28, 2011

Today, BostInno will mark the end of the beginning, launching its newly re-designed site. It’s a giant leap forward, and Chase Garbarino asked me to help tell the story of the brand positioning I helped define with them, in hope of helping others do the same. This is the first installment in a 3-part series telling that story, providing some background on the positioning foundation with Chase’s personal commentary near the end. We’ll follow this with an interview-style piece, describing the birth of BostInno’s “One Simple Thing™,” an insight about the value proposition of the site that brought focus to the strategic and tactical design work that followed. After that Chase will do a piece describing other changes based on these ideas, closing with my personal commentary.

It all started with a request, and an uncharacteristic admission from a grown man in a Red Sox hat:

“We need some branding help. It’s time to grow up.” Chase Garbarino, July 9, 2011

Part I: The Positioning Foundation

Quick… What is BostInno? Why should you read it, and how is it different from and better than direct competitors or any of the thousand or so blogs that cover the Boston startup scene?

Like a lot of businesses at its stage of development, BostInno was not doing a great job of communicating answers to those questions. And it needed to to get to the next level. It needed them to grow up.

Our agency, Holland-Mark, helps clients answer those questions intelligently, and Chase asked us to help him do the same.

We started by collaborating on a formal positioning statement, just to get the basics and lay the groundwork for a more compelling expression of the brand (which we’ll describe in more detail tomorrow.) The positioning formulation we use for that includes the following elements:

  • target – an actionable universe of buyers,
  • segment – the key, predisposing attribute of likely buyers within the target,
  • brand – a name you call yourself,
  • category – a competitive frame that helps the buyer understand what you do,
  • distinction – what makes you unique within that competitive frame, and
  • proof – perceived evidence that your claim of distinction is true.

String those things together, and you get a blurb that looks like this:

For [target] who are [segment], [brand] provides the [category] with [distinction] because of [proof.]

Examples from established brands:

  • For drivers who value automotive performance, BMW provides luxury vehicles that deliver joy through German engineering.
  • For people around the world, Coca-Cola is the soft drink that is the real thing since 1886.
  • For industrial manufacturers who are challenged to differentiate, BASF is the raw materials supplier that makes products better through engineering depth.

The Process

We kicked around a bunch of ideas in that initial session… ideas like the “FUBU Factor,” and the value of “participatory journalism.” We talked about the ways conventional media didn’t really serve the interests of Boston’s younger population, and about the economics of HuffPo’s model. We got to some answers quickly, massaged and refined them on our own, then worked to get consensus among Chase, Kevin McCarthy and myself on something that would hold water. We ended up with this:

For connected people in the city, BostInno is the must-have news source because it reflects what’s up right now.

Let’s parse it.

  1. “For connected people in the city…” We talked a lot about you folks – us, really – the BostInno community. Who are we? What really defines us, as a group? We got to “urban” pretty quick, then went through a bunch of lame-sounding noun-adjective combos before getting to the only-somewhat-less-lame “connected people.” Not ideal, but it was accurate.
  1. “…BostInno is the must-have news source…” Category definition was easy, if broad: “news source.” No real commitment there, except that BostInno is about news, more than other content types. But there are lots of places to get news… What makes BostInno unique? After a few attempts, we hit on an important insight. BostInno had become a “must-have” for many of us in the community, in a way even more established pubs no longer were. The truth is I read the Globe – and the Times, the Economist, the Atlantic – when I can. But I feel compelled to check in on BostInno every day, for one reason: it keeps me informed about what’s happening among many of the people I come in contact with during any given week. I need to read BostInno to stay informed about what’s happening in my own backyard. And it’s not because I’m anything special. We talked with many other folks who expressed a variation of that same idea, and it became the launchpad for deeper thinking about the brand.
  1. “…because it reflects what’s up right now.”  Finally, we had to think hard about what provided the proof of that statement, that BostInno was unique and important because it keeps us up to date about what’s happening among those in the community that serve, employ, or are our friends and colleagues.  That proof came in the form of another observation of the publication that was universally agreed to by everyone with whom we spoke: BostInno is “what’s up right now.”

Commentary from Chase:

Often times, startup founders overlook the importance of a clear, concise and strong brand positioning statement.  The last thing on our mind is defining brand positioning, as it feels like something to deal with after some levels of success that suggest you are worthy of even considering yourself a brand.  However, once market fit is achieved, it is quite critical for a company to nail down a very succinct statement of who they are and what they do in order to clearly communicate to customers why they should be buying their product, and to guide and focus internal operations.

For us, our positioning statement helps us keep focused on who our customers are and how we win in the market we are attacking.  The three main points I try to always focus our team on:

1) Who: connected people
As Mike explained above, there is no great one-size-fits-all name for our community, as you are a wide-ranging and diverse group of individuals.  The main commonalities we have found in those that are a part of the community are 1) deep interest and curiosity about the community we live in and the world at large and 2) a certain level of passion or ambition for having an impact in the world.  The term connected implies people that are plugged in to what is going on and that are interested in what is new, without giving any sense of elitism.

2) What: must-have news source
Very simply, we develop and maintain an online news platform and we produce news content for the platform.  We push as hard as we can each day to make sure the content we host and produce, as well as the overall experience on our platform is “must-have.”  In an industry that can have infinite competitors – pretty much anyone vying for your attention can be our competitor – we need to give people both what they want and need and produce and experience that they cannot pass up.

Very critical to this statement is the term “must-have” versus “must-read” which is where we started.  “Must-have” signifies one of our core philisophical beliefs about the future of news the differentiates us from our competitors which is the idea that news needs to be more than a product that people consume and rather an interactive experience in which they consumer, share, produce and collaborate on.  “Must-have” is much more than just “must-read.”

3) Why: reflects what’s up right now
While at first glance this may seem a bit vague, each word was chosen very specifically.

“Reflects” signifies our belief that journalism needs to be society’s mirror.  Journalism needs to be more than a small group of people (old school jorunalists) telling everyone else what they ought to know about.  Journalists now need to engage communities of people to inform one another of important issues and information – essentially creating a digital reflection of what is happening in a community.

“What’s up” signifies our belief that it is our job to source the most interesting stories in our community in a way that provides an enjoyable user experience.  Traditional news has always been a bit stodgy and at times keeping up with it felt like a chore.  “What’s up” very much marries our belief of covering what is important with our belief the news should be an enjoyable experience.

“Right now” simply reminds us that we value our community’s evolved content habits.  The news is no longer a scheduled experience – i.e. morning paper, evening news cast, etc.  Digital technologies have turned us into content monsters, constantly consuming and producing on laptops, phones and tablets.  “Right now” means we need to be fast and constantly push to meet the growing appetites of our community.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And for now, we’ll let Jay-Z conclude.