Look to ‘The Loop’ for Good Branding Ideas

IDG laid off my buddy Jim Dalrymple about the time I got the boot from eWEEK. Jim wasted no time starting a new enterprise, and at the right place: The brand. Jim brilliantly rebranded himself, and what he did should be lesson to any person or company looking to launch a new product or service.

It’s easy to dismiss Jim, because of “the beard.” You wouldn’t think he’s all that bright, because of the shag, which gets more in your face than his. Jim is so small town he doesn’t live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but just outside the city. Most Americans would respond “Where?” if asked about Halifax. Hehe, that could be a “Jeopardy” answer. But greater Halifax, the largest city north of Boston and east of Montreal, is home to about 360,000 people.

The beard obscures Jim’s intelligence, perhaps, but I met him when he was mostly clean shaven, obviously bright, friendly but imposing and news director for Mac Publishing. He emailed me about Microsoft’s “HailStorm” on March 20, 2001—our first interaction. We later struck up a long-distance friendship that has grown over the years. Ironically, maybe, we became friends while I worked for CNET, where Jim now freelances on the side.

Jim was an important confidant during a crisis to my reputation. In late July 2002, a Sun executive told me that the company was cooperating with Apple on StarOffice for Mac OS X; I always assumed he meant OpenOffice, but that’s not what he said. Sun went on an aggressive campaign proactively contacting other reporters and telling them I had misquoted the executive. I had not. Jim is one of the people who listened to the recorded interview. There was no question what the executive said, or the context.

Jim and I now share a personal crisis. We are both long-time tech journalists, who are laid off and seeking redemption through reinvention. There are no jobs for either of us. The hot trend among news organizations is to lay off senior, high-salaried staff and replace them with freelancers, sometimes the same people let go. I’d work for somebody, but maybe that’s because I’m not as ambitious as Jim.

Jim Dalrymple
Jim Dalrymple

We received our walking papers about the same time. I learned of my impending layoff on April 22 and finished at eWEEK on April 30. IDG notified Jim of his layoff on May 8. I remember his phone call, oh how shocking it was. Jim is a well-known and well-regarded Mac journalist (the man has a Facebook Fan Page); he was Macworld’s editor at large until May 28, his last day. No one surprised by my departure as editor of Microsoft Watch could have expressed more shock than my reaction to Jim’s layoff.

But Jim took the layoff in stride, planning a comeback. He really is a smart guy, and perhaps he purposely uses the beard to obscure this, so that people will underestimate him. I dress down for news interviews so that people underestimate me, or I hope they will. He wasted no time applying his online street smarts to a new enterprise, “The Loop,” which launched on June 8. Jim was going independent.

The Loop is simply great branding in so many ways. The best brands tap into existing connotations, and there are plenty here that also resonate with Jim’s Website, which subtext is “making sense of technology.” Connotations for The Loop:

  • The most obvious is Apple’s address: One Infinite Loop; Jim’s logo uses the infinity symbol for the two “Os”.
  • Designers and photographers use a loupe—pronounced “loop”—to magnify images. Not only are both groups popular Mac markets, Apple’s Aperture uses a digital loupe motif.
  • Jim is also known as a musician. In music, a loop is a sample that repeats. Amateurs using Apple’s GarageBand would know about the music loop.
  • Another and related musical connotation: The tape loop, which has largely been replaced by digital sampling.

Wikipedia offers many other references to “loop”—but the ones above came to my mind.

Jim knows the competition is fierce. He told me over IM today: “There are a lot of good Mac news sites on the Web already. I don’t think anyone wanted or needed yet another news site. The Loop is different and leaves room for it and the other sites people visit on a regular basis.”

When Jim and I became friends there were only a handful of Mac news sites. The Mac faithful followed Apple in 2001, but pretty much no one else. Apple launched Mac OS X days after our first email exchange. The first Apple stores opened two months later, and Apple introduced the iPod another five months later. The year 2001 was Apple’s most important since 1984: Apple Store, iPod and Mac OS X seemed innocuous launches at the time, but they would later be the three pillars raising Macs from obscurity to mass popularity. Today, there are seemingly bazillions of blogs and news sites covering Apple news and new lines of business, like iPhone.

With so much news competition, and more still from social networks and Twitter, The Loop launches at a conceptually bad time. Jim understands, but what can he do? He didn’t voluntarily give up his job at Macworld. Jim told me over IM:

It’s a tough market for journalists these days, so you have to think about what you can offer to readers that they can’t get somewhere else. The opinions and commentary I offer on The Loop come from my 15 years of covering Apple. They are unique and give the readers something to think about.

Something else Jim did smart with respect to branding and marketing: While the site debuted in June, Jim gave The Loop a kick-start by issuing a press release last week. I was surprised by how many blogs, news sites or tweets treated The Loop as newly launched when it was more than two months old. That says something about the power of a press release and the poor quality of independent reporting (See what happens when the most senior reporters are laid off).

Can The Loop succeed? So far, Jim has made good branding, content and even design decisions. The site’s design is clean and content is easy to find and read. Then there is reporting experience and deep sourcing that come from covering a company for a decade-and-a-half. Yesterday, Jim tapped his sources to debunk rumors Apple would launch a tablet Mac during a planned September 7 event. It’s sad no news or new media organization will be pay for Jim’s experience.

Jim and I also spoke on the phone today. I asked what advice he had for others. Jim is surprisingly and sadly realistic about the state of our profession. For people thinking about the news media: “Don’t become a journalist.” For journalists laid off or soon to be: “Take the retraining.”

Photo Credit: Shawn King