Recently, the New York Times (NYT) engaged in product development that has quite marked implications for its brand. It what we might call the "Times File debacle," the NYT violated reader trust, and, in the process, destroyed brand equity.
It was once possible to save an article from the electronic version of the NYT. I must have saved 10 or 20 articles to "Times File" this way. Yesterday, I discovered they were gone. In the place of my Times File was an invitation to sign up for Times Select, at a cost of around $50 a year.
No one doubts that the NYT has to find a way to monitize its electronic play. The Wall Street Journal did this early on, and it’s odd the NYT should still be struggling to catch up. The Times creates substantial value for me, and, frankly, $50 looks like a bargain.
But monitizing is one thing, and dumping "consumer created value" is another. My 20 saved articles represented a tiny investment in time, attention, and choice. (As I recall, one was on Kevin Smith and the 6 blogs that now distract him from his film making. There is a "old media, new media transition" angle here that caught my attention.)
But more than time, attention and choice is lost. Intellectual opportunity was also destroyed. How many potential ideas and understandings were contained here? This is impossible to calculate. But I resent the the assumption on the part of the Times that this value was their’s to destroy. These few articles represented an opportunity for pattern recognition. Their loss represent an act of pattern decognition. Pattern decognition? From the Times?
I suffer modestly. The Times suffers massively. They have just sent me a message. They don’t care about my intellectual capital. They presumed to call this, to make this, worthless.
Um, I believe there is a passage in the new marketing handbook that says a brand wishes to invite the participation of the consumer, to encourage his or her cocreation of value, most of all, to respect the consumer as a creature with symmetrical claims to status and standing in the world.
I am sure that this last condition is exceedingly difficult to grasp for an institution as magisterial as the Times, but too bad. All of us live in a culture and a market place where new rules of status and standing apply. Adjust or die.
What is the precise nature of the brand damage? It is that I now have grounds to distrust the Times. As John Deighton, my esteemed friend at the Harvard Business School, will tell us, trust is the first condition of brand meaning. Squander this and the brand suffers damage to its very foundation.