March Memo: Everything Is a Product Now - 2

March Memo: Everything Is a Product Now - 2

Maxwell Ryan
Mar 2, 2017
Julia Child's success was an amazing combination of timing, intelligence, passion, a friendly, challenging voice, the ability to teach AND eventually television. "....Finally, when it was first published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, the 726-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a best-seller and received critical acclaim that derived in part from the American interest in French culture in the early 1960s. Lauded for its helpful illustrations and precise attention to detail, and for making fine cuisine accessible, the book is still in print and is considered a seminal culinary work."
(Image credit: Via Gretchen Rubin)

>> Back To March Memo I


In the first part of this memo I talked about the historical characteristics of great media with its strong emphasis on technological superiority as well as the opportunity to track the unique generational shift. You'll remember this list:


  1. Clear reader focus: businessman, housewife, etc
  2. Clear category focus: news, homekeeping, cooking, business
  3. The aspiration to do or live better in the new era


  1. Great writing & imagery - a distinctive and even disruptive voice with a clear perspective
  2. Revolutionary format/product & delivery - a new concept of how content is delivered and consumed

We have already achieved the first three points of the list up top. This is not rocket science. It requires good housekeeping. We need to rely on our analytics to make sure that we know our reader and are reaching them with each thing we write, shoot or film. In our business as a media company it is having the last two that will set us apart.

  1. Great writing & photography - a distinctive and even disruptive voice with a clear perspective

This, I believe, we have not pushed far enough across our teams. We're very good, but we're safe and it's a bit of a legacy in our DNA. In particular, we need to push a stronger editorial "voice", that will connect with our info-hungry and iconoclastic audience. We are smart, optimistic, fun and confident; all of this needs to be carried in the images, titles, first sentences and arcs of our story lines.


We are ultimately about Good Living for a new generation in two home areas: Design and Food. Thus I am providing this rewrite on our tag lines to make a point. Consider these working titles right now only:

Apartment Therapy - Design for Good Living

Kitchn - Food for Good Living

Short and snappy, we want everyone to be clear that we're here to raise their game and the passion points are food and design, not simply cooking or decorating.

Additionally, to get in the right formation for this charge, we need to think about approaching our audience from two different perspectives: Teachers and Challengers.

Teachers break it all down, explain life and make it easier. They show us the design behind the problem and teach us to fish. They are clear, simple and optimistic that we'll succeed. They explain the past in a fresh, new way. They take something complicated and show you how easy it is. They take something new and show you how to set it up and get it working.

Teachers help create all the content that we use to learn and which we refer to over time. It is by nature rich, detailed and evergreen and should have a long and successful life as readers share it and find it through search.

Challengers break it up, show us new things and inspire us to go to new heights and try new thoughts on. They are at the forefront of decoding this new world that we're living into and uncovering all the new opportunities that the old guard does not see. They are living a fresh new life that can be run with its own rules and built uniquely for a new place and time.

Challengers create all the content that spurs conversations and which comes to define the "character" of our sites. This feature content is what drives loyalty to our brand and provides our authority in the marketplace. (Note: Creatives behind photography and Video capture the world in these two ways as well.)

What's an example of this in action? The first thing that came to mind was, where they always use their words and imagery to inspire, while breaking things down to their elements so you have the romantic feeling that rock climbing, hiking, rafting, you name it... is easy. I went to their site and these were the first two images I saw. Bingo. Perfect examples of the Challenger first and then the Teacher:

First splash page....

(Image credit: Patagonia)

Second splash page on their carrousel...

(Image credit: Patagonia)

What's an example of what this might look like on AT and K? With our Travel vertical on Kitchn, we could share glorious images of an intrepid trip to Turkey and finding some traditional bread made on a hot metal plate in a small village that's simply delicious and as old as the culture. What? Turkey's not safe right now? Even better. Let's remind people what an rich country this is. Let's give every story an angle that's challenging and surprising.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

(*Another example: look below at CHOW's cover. "Great illegal cheese" is a smart way to provoke interest and highlight both delicious cheese and the US laws preventing some European cheese. Who doesn't want to eat it now?)

And then we could break it down in another post, adapting the recipe or process into something super doable at home... It might even spin off variations in our kitchen.... and an easy kid's lunch idea...

(Image credit: June Bhongjan)

On Apartment Therapy the Challenge might be to start your Cure in January and it might kick off with an inspirational story of a couple who have transformed their home into a fully functional and minimal cabin off the grid somewhere in the woods..... where they live with their FIVE children... or herd of alpacas. We'd pull out their story and make it a feature that sits at the top of the site for one full day. Then it goes into the CURE itself, and we break it down into lessons and how to's to get folks through the month. We could spin off multiple how-tos that could sit in the month, but be used anytime, such as building your own indoor composter, the best way to organize your clothes closet, how to build a "Landing Strip", a Guide to Online Sources for places to take your old clothes and furnishings that will turn them into $$, or seven ways to raise up your bed so that you get extra storage that doesn't look ugly.

All this is not to say that we don't do a lot of this already. We do. It's simple that we double down on it all with focus each and every week so that our AUTHORITY becomes absolute and better known.

Next steps?

Consider this a Q2 OKR. Janel, Faith and I will be working closely with one another and both teams to develop these ideas, figure out concrete changes and put them into practice.

To be continued....

*Note: Cook's = good but dry service with accent on cooking and process

LESS like this!
(Image credit: Cook's Illustrated)

CHOW = great irreverent, youthful service, with accent on eating the food and enjoying it

MORE like this!
(Image credit: Albertson Design)


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