We helped the Guardian newspaper bring new focus and energy to their fledgling membership scheme, which grew from 50,000 paying members to 230,000 in a year.

In 2015, we were asked to help shape the core proposition of the Guardian Members brand, to clarify its relationship to the parent brand and to give it a distinctive look and feel which would signal a new, reader-focused spirit for the organisation, without challenging the history and equity of the parent brand.

At the time, there was much debate about the role of membership. It was viewed as a very important way of building a meaningful connection with readers, potentially bringing them right into the heart of the organisation, but there were also fears that membership could signal a ‘paywall’ – something The Guardian wishes to avoid at all costs. No newspaper in the world is as committed to free and open information as The Guardian. ‘Exclusivity’ sits uncomfortably.

Over time, and in close consultation with various people at the centre of these debates, a careful piece of branding began to emerge – one that would offer a contemporary take on The Guardian’s ‘cause’, give the potential member value for money and also offer them chance to become much more than a reader by having a seat at the frontline of news creation. These were the different objectives to reconcile.

As a result of our work, a powerful manifesto, based around the idea of ‘up close, first hand’, now drives The Guardian Members experience, synthesising the Guardian’s editorial principles with a contemporary sense of participation.

It helped us convey the feeling of a ‘backstage pass’ to the one of the world’s greatest newspapers. It is written to communicate a mixture of excitement, special access and individuality. In the spirit of the manifesto, the scheme feels different from others of its kind.

We continued to use the spirit of ‘up close, first hand’ to develop the other key aspects of the brand, particularly the UX – a vital part of the offer. To help imagine what this could be, we created a ‘year in the life of a Guardian member’, which outlines how the member might be engaged over a period of time.

This would be through a mix of conversation, inspiration, networking and information, keeping the member engaged on a regular basis and importantly, giving them ways to contribute and shape the offer and experience for themselves.

Finally, with the brand strategy and member experience agreed, we were able to finalise the look and feel for the new brand. This would bring together all the intentions and the spirit of Guardian members, in a visual (and beyond visual) form, which everyone could intuitively connect with.

Not surprisingly, the inspiration for the creative identity came from a busy editor’s desk covered in contact sheets, marked up versions of stories, draft documents and unfinished content. This is content in its most raw, unedited form, just like the experience of The Guardian members itself. Our visual system represents an array of rough content through layers of colour, texture, photography and annotation to create distinctive layouts.

A final key element is the tone of voice we created across all communications. This is a mixture of The Guardian’s own official and informative tone and the conversational response and reaction from the members themselves. The Guardian’s own tone is used to convey the informative content that we need to know (titles, body copy, location etc.) but the members’ voices are super imposed on top, conveying ‘the word on the street’ in relation to the topic being presented. The brand itself always represents the interplay between the organisational voice and the reader voice.

The Guardian members brand has been a great success, bringing clarity and confidence to an underused part of The Guardian offer. The number of paying members increased from 50,000 to 230,000 in the year running up to April 2017 and the scheme continues to thrive.

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