Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

 - Pete Townshend

The Who’s 1978 anthem is not, of course, about newspaper and digital audiences.

But it got me thinking about unique selling propositions, and the need to revisit them frequently to ensure that what we deliver aligns with who we are.

Simple? Yes and no.

Newspapers of yore were arguably all things to all readers. That worked for a good long spell; now, not so much.

If editors and executives at your properties are watching circulation leak away and Web traffic dwindle, it’s no doubt time to ask the philosophical yet business-critical question: “What are we about?”

Deseret Media Companies (the parent of The Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media) did just that, which guided content plans and business practices. Now it’s no surprise that the companies’ news and information media brands boast enviable No. 1 positions in the state of Utah, and equally impressive high rankings as compared to national sites.

For example ksl.com, Deseret Media’s broadcast news site, is the second most-visited news and information site in the United States. (By comparison, MSNBC is No. 1, CNN is No. 3 and Fox News is No. 4.) It averages 10 million-plus page views per day, with 250,000 unique visitors each day.

Core to every business and content decision made are the companies’ unique selling propositions: Family, Faith, Education, Financial responsibility, Care for the Poor, Values in Media, and Trust.

Michael Petroff, Deseret Digital Media’s vice president of Sales and Revenue Products, points out that with Deseret’s ownership being the LDS (Mormon) Church, “there is a higher expectation put on our media companies from both members and non-members alike. From this expectation comes a level of trust from our marketplace.”

Such trust means customers of Deseret Media know that the company “gets” them, and covers topics that help them live better lives as informed citizens — no doubt the goal of most newspapers in its simplest form.

Extending from content are community-improvement efforts, such as a new initiative called Read Today, a literacy programme led by the company’s lead TV anchor who goes out with the news helicopter each week to reward schools that achieve certain reading levels. Students can track their reading minutes at a micro site called Read Today.

Petroff notes that Utah spends more per household on education than any other state, so it stands to reason the Deseret Media customers care about education. Deseret Media also hosts two book fairs, one at Brigham Young University, the other at the University of Utah.

This emphasis on core values of the subscriber base equals positive print circulation growth as well: Deseret News circulation has grown and hit net positive in 2011. As of May, year-on-year Sunday circulation is flat, up from -2%, and year-on-year daily circulation is positive, up 2.2% from flat. Petroff says company digital properties grew 74% last year, and Y/Y have grown 63% so far this year.

In essence, though obvious, it is instructive and mission-critical to ask — yes, religiously and often — “What are we about?”

And to have the discipline to not try to be everything to everyone — but to be the one thing that your community, in all its uniqueness, can’t live without.