What’s a Freakonomic? And Why Does it Matter?
Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly. So said Edward Albee and so say I, now that I have seen and read the blog that I found in my inbox today, written by Al Reis about Stephen Levitt's Freakonomics, and forwarded by Publishing Executive's own Bob Sacks.
That's already a long way to go for a useful nugget, and that was only the beginning. The Freakonomics blog reminded me of a time when I was consulting for a publisher who had invented a very successful and very targeted magazine category, the category of video game strategy guides. Another publisher was gearing up to launch a massive competitor, with the goal of a million copies distribution, and my client was worried. Worried, that is, until I told him that the new magazine was going to have a lifestyle focus. Then he laughed, gave me a high five, and invited me out for some sushi.
Freakonomics tells us that when you expand a brand you often contract the market. Beer manufacturers introduced light beer and lost share of market; Burger King expanded its line and lost share of market; Sears Roebuck expanded its line and lost share of market. It's the opposite of what you might expect to see happen; but then, according to Freakonomics, logic has nothing to do with marketing.
Except to me these results seem utterly logical, or at least common-sensical. Every successful marketer knows that the secret to success in marketing is narrowing your focus to a core group, a target market. In fact, one of the most effective things that a marketer-or editor-can do is to envision one person who represents the target market or audience and speak to that one person. The attempt to speak to everyone waters down your message so you're speaking to no one.
As T.S. Eliot (and I) have said: "the end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started." Freakonomics takes me back to one of the basic principles of marketing, which is also one of the basic principles of publishing: target your audience.
How does that relate to lifestyle? Only that the "lifestyle" concept is often used to diffuse the focus of a publication, to take it from its core mission so it can be all things to all people. Rather than a magazine telling people how to beat a video game, it becomes a magazine about how video gamers spend their time when not gaming, which in turn carries the implication that people who are NOT video gamers might also enjoy reading about these activities. WHICH non-gamers want to read it? Any that share the qualities of gamers; and since gamers are just like you and me, that means, well, everybody. And then what is to distinguish a special interest title from every magazine on every checkout in the country-except, perhaps, the absence of the very substantial financial resources that put those titles on the checkout to begin with?
Just this morning I spoke to the publisher of a special interest magazine who is succumbing to lifestyle's lure. She doesn't want to limit her audience to people doing her sport or using the relevant equipment; she wants to catch the people on the fringes. Well, the way to catch the people on the fringes is to speak to the people at the core. If you know who those people are, if you speak to them in a clear and relevant way, then you are also speaking to the people who want to be like that core group, who aspire to join that core group. As that video game publisher learned years ago, publishers continue to learn today: Speak to everybody and you speak to nobody.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.