It’s reasonable for any self-respecting newspaper to feel its particular heritage and journalistic legacy can justify the grand title of being a “brand.”

But let’s consider this idea more carefully.

According to the Webster dictionary, the definition of “newspaper” encompasses both the producer and the product:

Definition of a newspaper:

  1. A paper that is printed and distributed usually daily or weekly and that contains news, articles of opinion, features, and advertising.

  2. An organisation that publishes a newspaper.

In today’s digital, 24/7, multi-media world, “newspapers” of this definition are a rarity. Few and far between are newspaper companies that print just daily and weekly publications; now it’s the world of platform and time-agnostic news brands.

But have news companies and their products adopted the characteristics of a brand versus delivering the daily news, features, and advertising? A couple by-the-book descriptions might help here:

Definition of a brand:

  1. A brand is a product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed.

  2. David Ogilvy’s description: The intangible sum of a product’s attributes — its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.

Both descriptions suggest newspapers need to firstly have clear differences then market them. Yes, we’re on track, aren’t we?

Maybe not. Having a unique identity and communicating it may be enough to be a brand in its simplest form, but being a successful brand is actually a two-way street.

A brand really only exists if it has a living relationship with its consumers. While functional product attributes and benefits distinguish it, what gives it real life is the more elusive emotional resonance it has with its consumers.

In other words, a brand is not a real brand until it’s loved by someone.

By my reckoning, there’s a three-part triangle for creating brand love. It begins at the base with the basic functional and ends in the emotional, kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s about satisfying needs, delivering solutions for the wants, and, at the peak, exceeding expectations to generate advocacy and passion.

There’s another twist, though. Left to their own devices, consumers only want what they know and need what they lack. The unique quality of a great brand is one that defines a new want, a new need, and then achieves the unexpected. The element of newness, surprise, and delight is the trigger for a stronger emotional response. This elusive “cool” is what newspapers rarely offer.

Think about some of the world’s most beloved brands. YouTube gave users access to a world of free, unlimited entertainment on demand. Facebook revealed a world of being social even when alone. Apple has for years given its users devices that they didn’t even know they needed, from unimaginable music storage capability to apps for everything under the sun.

If you dissect many of the newest top brands of the world, they don’t focus on building emotional resonance. They work to build great products that surprise and create a new need, satisfy a new want, and, in turn, trigger the powerful emotional response of love.

In the old days, marketing could promise its consumers that “You’re never alone with a Lucky Strike” and sell cigarettes by playing on the smoker’s emotional insecurities through positioning alone.

Does that still apply today? In our world driven by value and technology, today’s more discerning consumers are more fickle and demanding than ever before. A strong brand has become tied to exceeding performance expectations and delivering unique benefits, whether in terms of quality, functionality, or distribution convenience.

In news, we’ve all been working hard to meet consumers’ wants by delivering the information they want, in whichever form they want it, in as timely a manner as possible. How can we hope to exceed expectation when we are struggling to keep up?

We can start small. Exceeding expectation is not just about making things better than the competition. It’s about starting a new idea on what the consumer really wants and needs.

So to create true love for our brands, and to become the news brands we want to be, we need to dream up our “wow” ideas. What we’d love to do for our readers to create a great news experience should be our guiding principle. Such ideas can start by looking at the speed and frequency of our news, our news products, or our engagement with readers.

We can stand by our heritage and journalistic legacies, but unless we challenge ourselves to surprise readers with fresh ideas — and deliver exciting new product innovations and services that go beyond their expectations — our brands can get very tired, very quickly. Bravery, invention, and constant reinvention is our new reality; a hundred years of virtually no change in the world of newspapers is already deep in the archives.