SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

August 19, 2013 11:23 ET

Bezos Buying The Washington Post; How Will He Leverage the Credibility of the News?

Christopher Johnson, CEO of Whitehorn Group, Weighs in on the Potential of This Important Acquisition

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - August 19, 2013) -  Amid disruptive changes in readers' habits, technology and communications, The Washington Post enters the most important transition in its 136 year history, when Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon ultimately takes over the legendary newspaper.

According Christopher Johnson, CEO of brand strategy firm Whitehorn Group, "Bezos' leadership qualities will be beneficial to the future of Washington D.C.'s most influential newspaper of record." Though this could be true, the real questions still remain, Johnson asks, "Will Bezos be able to convert this failing business into a fortune?" and, "Will this deal exemplify what Bezos has previously referred to as "Investing in the future?" Or, Johnson asks quite simply, "Will Bezos be able to produce the Amazon magic yet again?"

As a branding expert Mr. Johnson view brands as corporate assets, and reminds us, "The Washington Post is being acquired as a private investment by Bezos, and Amazon has nothing to do with it (yet)." However, the CEO of Amazon may have what it takes, and more, to deal with the issues facing the entire newspaper business itself. As Bill Gates said in 1996 when Microsoft ruled the world, "Content is King," and The Washington Post is a leader in this regard.

Johnson states, "We have reached the moment where digital has forever replaced print as our primary source for the news." Newspapers are frantically trying to reinvent themselves for digital success. There is much speculation about Bezos' personal objectives behind owning The Washington Post. Is this a step towards gaining more influence in Washington? Just an interest in the news business or is it politically motivated? Not many people know. Mr. Johnson states, "Jeff Bezos' ownership could be the Perfect Digital Storm of Success of The Washington Post."

From a strategic view, Johnson sees three major challenges The Washington Post is facing. The first is global competition. Historically, the paper was protected by its geographical conditions. He states, "Let's not forget, in spite of its international reputation, The Washington Post's main competitors were the local media. Major portions of the sales generated by the legendary newspaper were from Washington, D.C itself. But now, that's not the case anymore. In the age of Internet, the The Washington Post must to compete with everyone." Just producing news, as any other paper does, may not serve the purpose. It has to differentiate itself while doing so. This could well be a significant challenge, which falls directly in my own experience repositioning legacy brands for growth as markets change. This is one thing that Bezos has yet to do, after all Amazon was a new business. Not a small task, but an exciting one for sure."

The second is reinvention. Transition from conventional media to digital media will certainly come at the expense of something. Experimentation here requires creativity, toughness and more importantly -- willingness to self-cannibalize. Johnson points out, "Making obsolete your own technology with a new innovation before your competitors do it requires a degree of boldness. And, Bezos sure has it. We have seen him employ these self-cannibalization acts with Amazon before. Don Graham knew it for certain, I assume."

The third is patience, which could also be referred to as tolerance towards failure. Not easy. The pressure from public markets neither favors reinvention nor innovation. Only a handful of CEOs such as Bezos himself, are able to exemplify any of these attributes. Fortunately, almost none are better than Jeff Bezos in managing across all three of these fronts.

It has been almost two decades since Bezos started Amazon; His mantra of "customer orientation" has succeeded enormously. Even today, not many companies are able to live up to this vision as well as Amazon does. Amazon's innovations such as fulfillment, Prime membership, the Kindle and recent efforts into music and television programming have showcased the bold approach Bezos is capable of taking, if need be.

Mr. Johnson recalls, "I have seen this potential before when I helped CNN develop their brand as cable confronted similar challenges two decades ago. Just as Ted Turner created Turner Broadcasting as the multichannel capacity of cable exploded, Bezos has the potential to create a new broadcasting model for the Internet age. Like Ted Turner brilliantly leveraged the Credibility of the News -- Bezos now has the potential to establish his own broadcasting empire leveraging The Washington Post's brand without geographic or format limits thanks to the Internet." Johnson summarizes, "Bezos has the potential to fully broadcast Any Content, Anytime in Any Format, Anywhere. So eventually he may not only revolutionize the newspaper business, but also broadcast television, cable, the music business and the movies. If we look closely, he's already well on his way."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of the Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on creating and positioning brands that change entire markets like Infiniti Automobiles and JetBlue Airways. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize. www.christopherwjohnson.com

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, design, product innovation, celebrity brands, business strategy, global marketing and distribution. www.whitehorngroup.com

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