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For a few moments, I'd like you to join me in a "thought exercise."

No, I won't charge you $10,000 per day for this exercise. Plus, I promise, it won't result in some magical brand incantation that may or may not work, but must certainly be repeated.

(I was once in earshot of a brand shaman at one of those marketing conferences that we've all been to at least once in our lives. This guy has all the books and credentials that you might expect of a brand shaman. He's a scintillating speaker. He dances about like a man possessed. Plus, he has thoroughly wonderful hair that I am convinced may yet have a career beyond its current context.

Anyway, he was regaling an assembled group of slack-jawed admirers with "war stories." Not a single one of the stories was about client success as measured by sales. It was all about the pitch and the show. And how he and his cohorts sold some amazing deals on the basis of nerve and verve alone. Have I mentioned that I'm no great fan of brand shamans?)

The thought exercise, I assure you, will be painful. Hey, at least, I'm being honest.

Imagine that your company is a magazine.

To be a little clearer, you're still in whatever business that you're in, but there's an important magazine component to what you do.

Okay, so what does this mean?

Let's start with the obvious. You will need articles, but not just any articles. In particular, you need articles that are of interest to your readers (i.e., customers and prospects.)

Pause. This is obvious stuff, is it not?

But, if it's so obvious that you need articles that are of interest to your readers, why is it that your current e-mail newsletter is entirely focused on issues that only your company cares about, e.g., mind-numbing details about a new product offering, endless repetition of "brand police"-approved language that very few outside the company can decode, interviews with employees and gratuitous bragging about this industry award or a new deal the company just signed?

Your e-mail newsletter is the equivalent of what most women consider to be a date from hell: The guy that can't stop talking about himself, about his accomplishments, his job, his favorite breath mints, ex-girlfriends, car, "football" knee, whatever.

Now, could any magazine succeed by writing or reporting just about itself? Nope.

You are now the company editor. Your job is to uncover the stories that will move your markets. Those stories, I assure you, will NOT have headlines like, "Release 5.7 Is Now Available" or "Our Singapore Sales Office Is Now Open" or "John ‘Itchy' Nebbers In Accounting Is One Of Our Company's Best Assets."

Your customers and prospects are (and have been) facing one of the worst business climates in recent memory. Translation: pain is everywhere.

In some cases, though, they are the so-called "survivors," having avoided layoffs, your customers and prospects are afraid of championing new initiatives or doing anything that will draw attention to themselves. Folks are placing a high premium on improving their professional credentials, because who knows what tomorrow may bring?

And into "their" world--and, trust me, when you send that e-mail newsletter out, it leaves your world and enters theirs--you can parachute in the written equivalent of foodstuffs, clean water, a compass, and survival gear. Or you can drop them an article about John "Itchy" Nebbers, that darned colorful guy in accounting who has a parrot that knows several Mexican curse words and can hum part of the original "Star Trek" theme.

The choice is yours, editor.

But, there are other, perhaps more evocative implications of "the company as magazine" idea.

For example, whether it is explicitly recognized or not, knowledge is one of your company's most important "products" and sources of differentiation. So, what kind of magazine-style columns might begin sharing that knowledge?

Who might be your columnists? And how might having columnists personalize the company and create new opportunities for conversations with readers? And could, over time, these columnists come to be seen as experts, viewed in the same light as industry analysts?

Would "the company as magazine" ever set about conducting a series of in-depth interviews with prospective clients with two goals in mind: qualitative market research and the creation of Web site articles and profiles that would be of great interest to readers? I think it would--and gladly, at that.

Finally, in case you haven't noticed, "the company as magazine" ends up generating a lot of what we call "reusable marketing objects:" content that can be used on a Web site, in mailers, in sales literature, etc.

Given all the above, isn't it time to prepare your company's next edition?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Maher is president of Fosforus, an Austin-based, business-to-business marketing, media, and interactive design firm. Reach him at CMaher1997@aol.com