‘Warmer, human, empathetic’: Inside the Mirror’s new brand strategy

As the Mirror revamps its brand for the first time in eight years, director of insight and brand strategy Andrew Tenzer explains why adding strategy to his remit was a “natural evolution” of his role.

Reach, publisher of news brands including the Mirror, the Daily Star and the Express, is on a mission to get closer to its readers and provide better customer value.

According to director of insight and brand strategy Andrew Tenzer, that ambition is driving the company to rethink and refresh the brand strategies of its individual publications, starting with popular tabloid the Mirror.

“All publishers, including ourselves, have been extremely successful at building scale digitally,” Tenzer explains. “We’ve done that with all our brands, but particularly with the Mirror, where we’ve been able to become one of the largest digital news brands in the UK.”

However, a recent audit discovered a disconnect between the brand values that come through the Mirror’s print product and the values reflected in its digital properties, says Tenzer – a gap the brand wants to close.

“We in the business have a view of what the Mirror is and we’re very proud of that, but there’s changing consumption habits in the digital space and we know that people meet our brand in multiple channels,” he explains.

“I’m a very firm believer that brand building actually takes on greater significance in the digital age.”

We all have our own biases and sometimes we fall foul of them, but we can’t let our biases get in the way.

Andrew Tenzer, Reach

According to Tenzer, the business identified a “lack of consistency and distinctiveness” across those various channels, making it difficult for the Mirror to connect not only with its existing customers, but with potential UK customers who share the same values as the news brand.

It was also making it more difficult for the Mirror to stand out in the competitive digital news market, meaning a refresh and redesign of its identity was in order.

Last month the publication launched ‘Mirror More Hopeful’, a commitment  to provide more hopeful, nuanced and solution-based news reporting. Strong guidelines are now in place for the editorial team in how, for example, the paper talks about and represents women.

Then, last week the Mirror rebranded with its first redesign since 2013. With agency support from Joint, the redesign include a new masthead and design across all platforms, including the Mirror’s site, apps, social channels and print edition.Does market research need to ‘loosen up’?

Changes to the masthead include a darker red shade and a return to a round rather than square dot over the ‘i’ for the first time since 1965. At the same time the website and apps have undergone a full design and UX overhaul, with a new framework and cleaner look that brings brand relevant content to the fore.

“The whole point of this work is to create consistency,” Tenzer says. “It’s not just about when people come in, it’s about where they meet you in all different channels.

“The redesign has been a massive part of that. We wanted to get across a warmer, more human, empathetic perception in how we communicate our brand identity.”

Tenzer promises more brand work throughout the year to build upon the new design and pledge, with further initiatives to come across editorial, marketing and social media.

“For me it’s bringing to life what the Mirror has always been,” he adds. “We are a force for good and we’re positive that we can make a difference.”

Bringing insight and strategy together

Tenzer joined Reach (then Trinity Mirror) in 2017, heading up its group insight function for the next three and a half years. During that period he became known in the industry for authoring punchy reports that denounced social purpose strategies and proved the fundamental disconnect between marketers and the mainstream public.

Adding brand strategy to his remit last year seemed a “natural evolution” to his role, he says, arguing that strategy should be “grounded” in insight.

“It was clear to me that there was a huge opportunity with our brands, fuelled by the research and insight coming out of them,” he explains. “As a business we’ve not really had a brand function before, but I saw the opportunity to take our strong digital audience into the next phase.”

At Reach, where almost all customer and market research is conducted in-house by Tenzer and his team, bringing together insight and strategy feels “seamless”.

“I can follow things right through from hypothesis through to the insight and then through to the actual application,” he explains. “It smooths out the process if you’re not relying on other people to do insight for you. We’re quite holistic in that sense.”Mark Ritson: Marketers who skip brand research are doomed to fail

An investigation by Marketing Week in November found market research budgets were suffering from a long-term decline in investment, which was heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. In part, that reflects a shift among marketers from investing in more expensive research methods towards cheaper, digital sources.

While noting that a decline in market research overall doesn’t necessarily mean cuts are being made to the areas that define brand and business strategies, Tenzer warns that undermining research will not be a successful strategy in the long term.

“It’s not enough to rely on our own biases and project those onto others,” he argues.

According to Tenzer’s ‘The Aspiration Window’ report from last year, advertising and marketing professionals “wildly overestimate” the mainstream’s desire for fame, money and image. Social purpose also falls much lower on the consideration spectrum for the public than marketers would believe.

This “skewed view” of mainstream aspirations is shaped by the social class and privilege of the majority of marketers, the report suggests.

“Obviously we all have our own biases and sometimes we fall foul of them, but we can’t let our biases get in the way,” Tenzer says, adding that strong insight work is fundamental in ensuring that doesn’t happen.

“The role of insight is about bridging that gap between our own worldview and other people’s.”