From today, you’ll notice a number of changes to SmartCompany. We have a new logo and colour scheme, new website design and user experience, and a number of new formats across the website and our social handles. (If you don’t follow us already, check us out on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.)
But that’s the shop window. Like any ambitious business, what really matters is what’s inside the store. For us, that means the content and the attitude that lies behind it.
For most media companies, branding changes are treated as pure marketing, communicated with a simple ad campaign and the lightest of detail.
But SmartCompany is different — because we run a business for people who run businesses themselves. It’s a bit like designing an office block for architects.
So instead of marketing hype, I’m going to tell you what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and how we built it. A case study, of sorts.
Why we changed
Four months ago, we conducted a clinical review of SmartCompany. There were a few key strengths we all agreed on:
- We reach a sizeable audience of loyal readers;
- We have good access to a significant number of advertisers who want to reach this audience; and
- We’re growing, with our combined reach across social and web up year-on-year.
But we also felt we faced a number of challenges:
- We should be much more bullish about increasing our addressable audience. There are many more business owners and startup founders in Australia than the 400,000 we reach every month. We might be one of the biggest media platforms for this audience, but why benchmark against that. We can, and must, do more;
- Our brand felt outdated. If we were serious about pulling in the next generation of Australian entrepreneurs, we were overdue an update; and
- Our revenue is highly dependent on advertising, and yet many of our advertising relationships were transactional and infrequent. We can do much more to build ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with commercial partners that will allow us to invest even more in serving our audience.
We pulled together a consolidated report of revenue, costs and audience insight for the last three years, and from this, we started to make judgments about what was working, what wasn’t, and where there might be new opportunities.
We developed some provisional conclusions and recommendations, ran them past the management team at our parent company Private Media (which also publishes Crikey and The Mandarin), took on board their feedback, and built a clear new roadmap with accompanying timelines.
Our plan was split into four core sections: content, design, product and advertising.
Broadly, we felt the content we were creating required the least change because all the data (website traffic, social reach and newsletter engagement) suggests our audience likes and therefore consumes our content in large doses.
But we all felt we could add even more substance to our journalism, in ways that take readers even further inside the minds and actions of successful entrepreneurs.
So, to kick things off, we’ve added a new regular feature called Brains Trust — you can read the first one on Friday — where a panel of some of the smartest business minds in Australia will analyse and dissect some of the most relevant issues for growth companies.
The most significant structural change we’ve made is to retire StartupSmart as a standalone publication for startups and tech news.
This was a difficult and time-consuming decision because we’re proud of what we’ve achieved with the brand.
However, analytics and user feedback revealed our startup readers were consuming our small business content (and vice versa), and once we dug a little deeper, we saw people were interacting with two homepages, two newsletters and half a dozen social accounts just to get the mix of news they wanted. At this point, it seemed like poor user experience to have two brands, and nonsensical to be using our limited resources to keep two machines running.
To quote Steve Jobs:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.
“I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
So from today, we’ll continue to cover tech and startup news — if anything, we’ll probably cover it even more — but it will all be housed under the SmartCompany brand (which means a combined homepage and daily newsletter).
The SmartCompany brand and logo had remained unchanged for several years. It was familiar to many, but was increasingly outdated against web norms. The pallet was too dour, and the faux lightbulb in our logo, while useful as an identifier, was skeuomorphic rather than ‘flat’ (some context, here).
We set some parameters for what we wanted for the new design, using agreed marketing best practices:
- It had to retain elements of the existing brand; we’d built something significant and didn’t want to lose association with the trust we had with our audience;
- It needed to be distinctive;
- It needed to feel new and relevant to all elements of our audience, including the growing ecosystem of tech-focused businesses; and
- It needed to work across all platforms including LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram, and especially on mobile.
We settled on what you see here, today.
We kept the meaningful parts: the same name, and we kept the lightbulb, but brought it up to date with modern design.
We had some very lively and passionate discussions about the green. In the end, we chose it because it’s memorable, and nobody else is using it. If you’re not a fan now, hopefully, we can change your mind over the coming weeks.
SmartCompany was founded in 2007 — the same year as the iPhone — at a time when the web was a very different place. Yahoo, AOL or a news website were the likely destinations when you first powered up your PC each morning.
Today, most people start their day on mobile with email or a social feed — think Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. News websites have increasingly taken second place to the big digital platforms.
The best of SmartCompany will always live on smartcompany.com.au. It is also the most direct way to monetise with advertising, and a destination we know we can grow to attract an even bigger audience than we do already.
But if we’re serious about our planned growth, we need to more actively engage with other platforms, and grow our audience wherever they might be. We can’t expect them to find us — we must find them.
Part of this is the extension and rationalisation of our investment in newsletters. We will now publish every day except Sunday, bringing you the most important news and information across the small business and startup space.
This also means more content across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We have big plans for multimedia. We’ve already been experimenting with video; have a look (and subscribe!) to our YouTube feed to see our first few videos. We have lots more in the works.
We are an advertising-funded business. We don’t charge for access to our content.
In some ways, this meant we were already well-positioned. Google and Facebook’s increasing dominance in the advertising landscape is well-documented.
From my personal experience, I can tell you running a big, general news and entertainment media company is only getting more challenging.
But as a more clearly defined media company with a much deeper engagement with our audience, here at SmartCompany we can offer advertisers something the tech platforms can’t — that being, trust, relevance, environment, entrepreneurial ethos and a highly targeted, interested audience.
So we’re reworking the sales team to shift the emphasis from selling purely transactional deals — meaning banner ads, click-through campaigns and downloads — to a broader, deeper and much more creative (and therefore engaged) range of content for our information-hungry audience.
We’re moving from just selling exposure to offering commercial partners the opportunity to communicate compelling ideas.
(Shoot me an email if you’d like to know more about advertising with us.)
A new chapter
We know this new chapter is not without its risks. Like anyone who runs a small- or medium-sized business, it can feel like flying a plane while you’re swapping its wings.
We believe we have the right plan and I know we have a great team. But our success relies entirely on how well we serve you — so we’d love to hear your thoughts on what we’re launching today, or indeed what we’re doing now. You can reach any of the team on email@example.com, or me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.