NDQuesday: Breaking a Brand or Bringing the Brand Back Together

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I’ve been editor of North Dakota Quarterly for less than a month and I’m already worried that I’ve broken the brand. One of the challenges that I’ve faced is that I’m not, as readers of this blog know, particularly concerned with brands and branding. I find much of this rhetoric invested on building value and value, too often, slides from intellectual or cultural worth to areas of economic worth. A project’s value and an institutions brand becomes tied to its ability to convert resources into a product.

Over the last month, however, I was reminded that a brand also relates to the ability of an institution to advance and define its goals. This may be, in our current academic culture, too closely tied to our ability to acquire resources. After all the concept of a mission statement has come frequently to mark the spread of “business speak” in the academy. But for a public humanities journal, having a well-defined brand, also relates to our ability to attract contributors, to attract readers, and to have an impact.

Over the past year or so, I’ve worked hard to bring a wide range of content to the NDQ website, but I also assumed that it would be a portal for subscribers and contributors to the print journal. As the fate of the print journal continues to be negotiated, however, the website has started to stand in for the journal itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does force me to realize that what is posted on the web will impact how people see NDQ moving forward. If we want a diverse, eclectic, and wide ranging public humanities journal, then I feel like the website embodies some of those characteristics. If we want a journal that embraces literature, poetry, and the art of the essay and the review, I suspect we’ve strayed from that more narrowly defined, but altogether reasonable brand. The question is can we bolster NDQ’s brand identity without stifling the potential to move forward and without becoming mired in the corporate-speak of “mission statements” and “goals”?

On a superficial level, I do recognize that we need to do more to promote the traditional, paper presence of NDQ. To that end, I need to modify how the journal appears on the web. Right now, it literally belches forth content, with little in the way of introduction and even less pretense. My thinking at present is the update the website to promote a bit more clearly the print version of the journal and its deep historical roots. I also need dig back into those roots for content to bridge the gap between paper and digital. There is a tremendous amount of back content from NDQ much of which we link to, in a general, through our archive pages. A more curated approach to this back content, however, will make it more accessible to our audience and reinforce the longstanding traditions associated with Quarterly.

Finally, I keep thinking about the challenge of hybridity. Yesterday, my other publishing project, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, released a print-on-demand and PDF download of the web journal Epoiesen. In other words, we sought to bridge the gap between digital and print by embracing multiple modes of publishing that were nevertheless integrated. We approached the Codex project in a similar way.

The same challenges face us at NDQ except rather than building a hybrid project from the ground up and instead of navigating media as something deeply embedded in the form and content, we need to find a middle ground that respects both the paper and digital form and the paper and digital content as interrelated but not always interchangeable things. We need to both explore the potential keeping the paper and the digital as distinct ways to use the media to share expectations of the content that nevertheless embodies the same brand. In short, we need to bring the brand back together.

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