The Verge turns five on November 1st, and we’re in the process of refreshing our entire brand for the next five years. In Refreshing The Verge, we’ll be looking at how that refresh process works, and what it’s like to adapt a brand like The Verge to a world where media platforms have become dominant.
When we launched The Verge in 2011, our founding team was a very small group of people who’d worked together for a long time, joining a company called SB Nation that had around 80 employees who’d also worked together for a long time. It was very easy for decisions to filter out to the entire Verge team, and it wasn’t all that difficult to communicate with the entire company when necessary. So our mission statement at the time we launched was very simple — I don’t even know who wrote it, or when:
The Verge's mission is to offer breaking news coverage and in-depth reporting, product information, and community content via a unified, modern platform.
What’s striking about that statement, aside from its confidence and brevity, is the emphasis it places on "unified, modern platform." In 2011, our assumption was that The Verge’s audience would almost entirely encounter our brand on the web at theverge.com, and that we could control and shape those interactions — and thus, the totality of audience interactions with The Verge — by controlling our proprietary publishing platform, Chorus.
A few years later, we updated our mission statement to better reflect our more expansive editorial mission. It’s the statement that’s still on our about page today:
The Verge was founded in 2011 in partnership with Vox Media, and covers the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture. Its mission is to offer in-depth reporting and long-form feature stories, breaking news coverage, product information, and community content in a unified and cohesive manner. The site is powered by Vox Media's Chorus platform, a modern media stack built for web-native news in the 21st century.
This statement is just fine — it is a list what we cover and what’s on our website. But it doesn’t really capture the ambition of our team or the spirit of our brand, and it doesn’t include any mention of video or photography, which have become critical elements of what we do. And it still refers to The Verge as a "site," when our goal now is to become a media brand that speaks to audiences on a range of platforms from the web to television.
Our refresh process is being managed by Bo Kim, Vox Media’s product manager for brand development. In our very first conversations about updating the Verge’s brand, Bo asked us to come up with a new mission statement to guide everyone who works at or with The Verge for the next five years.
Says Bo, "Defining a mission statement forces editorial teams to focus on the impact they want to have and what their audience should rely on them for. Without that, our refresh would have been generic and soulless. The mission statement is our bellwether; it challenges us to stay smart, weird and beautiful in everything we do. It drives what the staff covers and the voice it uses, regardless of medium or platform. The whole point of a refresh is to enable The Verge’s vision, and the design system we create is a true and meaningful expression of that."
"It was almost like The Verge was a feeling."
To be honest, I found this process to be incredibly difficult — I’ve seen The Verge grow and define itself from the start, and it’s tempting to believe that everyone else has internalized what our brand stands for in the way I and so many of our senior staffers have done over the past few years. But Bo did a bunch of interviews with our team and found that there were discrepancies between how we all felt about what The Verge is and does, and how we went about expressing those feelings in the work we put on the site every day.
"When we asked the staff what The Verge was, they used a lot of the same nouns, and there was clearly a lot of passion, but there was no clear shared language amongst the team," says Bo. "It was almost like The Verge was a feeling."
While I love the idea of The Verge as a shared emotional delusion, we need to be a lot sharper and clearer if we’re going to extend our brand across every platform we want to live on. Not everyone will always see the totality of what we publish every day, after all. And our staff needs a set of common touchpoints to make sure everything we do in every format speaks to a shared vision. We have to define the emotion in order to make it stronger.
So: what is the main idea we’re trying to communicate with The Verge? How do we craft something that’s effective in all the contexts it will serve, ranging from editorial staff producing work for our audience to our sales and marketing staff talking to advertising partners to engineers and designers inside Vox Media building us new tools and storytelling formats? How does it not only set us apart from our competitors, but translate itself and communicate the value of The Verge’s brand across platforms like YouTube and Facebook?
Here’s what we came up with:
The Verge is an ambitious multimedia effort to examine how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience.
This is as simple as we could make it while hitting all the notes: our scope, our desire to operate on multiple platforms, our sense that the audience interested in technology is even bigger than anyone currently assumes. And it works in all the contexts it needs to work in, whether that’s explaining to potential job candidates what The Verge does in a job listing or guiding the art direction and interactive design of a big feature story. I’m pretty happy with it, and it’s already been a an illuminating factor in many of our design and strategy conversations throughout the refresh process.
It might seem like a small thing, but it’s what’s going to hold The Verge’s brand together as it goes beyond being a website, and into the next generation of media.