How Brand Purpose Plays into Building an Interactive Experience

May 10, 2013 Jen Frost

Does brand purpose play a role in building an interactive experience? YOU BETCHA!

We’ve been talking a lot at One North about how the brand purpose can have a strong impact on the interactive look and feel, content strategy and user experience. Having a clear understanding of the overall brand experience you are trying to create and making sure that experience is different and unique, enables marketers, creatives, technologists and strategists to create an interactive work that brings that to life.

It’s easy to talk about this idea in the abstract. In fact, these are the types of discussions us agency folk enjoy pontificating on. But I’m a practical marketer. I want to see real proof of how a clear brand purpose can truly drive the interactive experience produced. So I went in search of examples, and with not too much effort, I found a great one!

USA Today, also known as “The Nation’s Newspaper” and sometimes even “McPaper,” undertook a complete makeover of its brand in an effort to “transition from a newspaper brand to a news brand,” as noted by Larry Kramer, President and Publisher of USA Today. At its core, USA Today faced a complex challenge. “How do you compete with publications like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal?” The answer seemed to be to build from its core—USA Today has always focused on being accessible to the everyday person—but also use new mediums, like digital and mobile, to be part of the conversation. Here’s how USA Today defines its brand purpose:

“USA TODAY is a multi-platform news and information media company…Through its unique visual storytelling, USA TODAY delivers high-quality and engaging content across print, digital, social and video platforms. An innovator of news and information, USA TODAY reflects the pulse of the nation and serves as the host of the American conversation – today, tomorrow and for decades to follow.”

A few things jump out at me: 1) They are focused on visual storytelling 2) They want to tell stories in many interactive mediums 3) They want to be part of America’s conversations. Let’s see if they can accomplish this.

USA Today-AI

I actually prefer “The Voice” over “American Idol,” but that aside, USA Today’s Idol Meter visual depiction of the winners isn’t lost on me. True to their mission, they’ve found a way to tell the story through the use of an infographic.

USA Today-Derby

The Derby offered yet another opportunity to present compelling graphics. Whether it be the number of Mint Julep’s consumed or the likelihood of rain, USA Today’s Facebook page used graphics to tell the Derby story. It also helped that it showed a few big hats!

If the ideas above weren’t testament enough to USA Today’s commitment to visual storytelling, here’s a little test. Go to the USA Today homepage. Do you have a mental snapshot? Ok, now go to the New York Times homepage. Big difference right? USA Today is all about imagery. New York Times is all about copy. Enough said.

All marketers like the idea of integrated marketing. The hope is to coordinate your effort across multiple mediums to tell a consistent story. I think, though, sometimes us marketers think that integrated marketing means the exact same message and format across all mediums. I disagree. You have to have a solid understanding of your brand message, but you need to use each medium in a genuine way.

USA Today-Instagram

That’s what I like about USA Today’s approach. Its Instagram presence, tells the story of our nation through pictures. When I look at it, it does truly reflect what has happened this year in the United States. It’s impossible to look at the page and not have a visceral reaction to the imagery.

For Twitter, the focus is just getting the facts of the day out there...and encouraging retweets and conversations. In fact, check out the Tweet about Prince Harry coming to the US. If you see him…be sure to send your photos using #royalwatch (if I get a photo of Prince Harry I'm sending it to everyone I know AND USA Today).

USA Today-PrinceHarry

I also like how USA Today integrated the icons of its various newspaper sections into Twitter. This makes it easy to visually categorize the types of tweets.

On Facebook, as mentioned above, its focus on imagery and graphics bring stories and topics to life. And true to form, USA Today has created individual experiences for what I would presume are its most “used” mobile and tablet devices.

The website itself is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the use of movement and transition in web design. Sure it can be used on a desktop, but it really lends itself to tablets. So touch, swipe and pinch away…because this site is easy use and digest…just like the newspaper. Be sure to click on the “Big Page” button and to get the full “online newspaper” experience (as shown above with the Katie Couric feature).

The third big “brand” claim is that USA Today wants to be part of the nation’s conversations. So if we are talking about it, most likely it is reflected across the news brand. Today, I can see details about the kidnapping in Cleveland, updates on the Boston bombing, but also highlights from last night’s American Idol. Go figure, these are the same stories I’m talking about with my colleagues at work.

On the homepage, there is a section with top news, but readers can easily flip to the most popular news. In fact, this ability to access the most popular content also appears on each of the section landing pages.

Furthermore, on the right hand side of the page, there is a section called “Right Now” where you can see minute-by-minute updates on the latest news across the nation.

I also really like the “Join the Nation’s Conversation” social media integration within each article. It makes it very easy to post and share stories with my network.

Well, I can honestly say that they have done it. USA Today’s brand purpose most definitely influenced the interactive experience that it has created across all of its properties. I know some people might dismiss the publication because of its lowbrow nature; it definitely isn’t the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. I think that is exactly the point. It’s appealing to an entirely different audience, and its brand purpose is very unique.


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Jen Frost Managing Director, Marketing

Jen Frost is Managing Director of Marketing at One North. She works closely with the Digital Strategy, Experience Design and Technology teams to develop and enhance One North client communication and exterior messaging strategy. In addition, she provides general marketing direction for One North and promotes internal culture.

  • Favorite season: Fall is my favorite season. Probably because I used to live in Massachusetts, and it is just beautiful there in the Autumn.
  • Favorite Chicago spot: The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool hidden in the middle of Lincoln Park.

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