Why Publishers Need More than a Voice to Succeed

Being a hopeless news junkie, I start every morning with a large cup of industrial-strength coffee and my RSS Feed, which brings me content from exactly 100 (just counted) publications, from new media upstarts to regional newspapers.

Despite the diversity of my feed, I tend to get a lot of the same stuff. For example, my feed really wants to make sure I didn’t miss last night’s episode of The Daily Show, as evident by the dozen or so posts about Jon Stewart’s latest takedown greeting me when I wake up.

Recapping late-night talk shows, or covering the Kardashian  story of the week, is an easy source of traffic for web publishers. Call it the problem with takes. But it’s problematic for anyone who has to use those takes to build a sustainable business.

Having a “Voice” Isn’t Enough

A sea of publishers cover the same topics in slightly different voices. Fredrik deBoer, an academic and journalist, got to the heart of the matter (and got a few #LOLZ) describing the voice of each new media player in this snarky post. But in listing all the supposedly minor ways in which they’re different, he also highlighted some hidden successes. Examples from deBoer’s post:

  • New York is a little of everything with some soothing noises to remind New Yorkers that they are very very important.
  • The Awl is a lot of the same stuff brought to you by the emotion sadness (personal note: I love The Awl).
  • Vice is a lot of the same stuff written by that guy you knew in high school who told you he did cocaine but seemed to only ever have that fake marijuana called Wizard Smoke you could buy at a gas station.

deBoer’s obviously teasing these sites to some degree, but you know the guy he’s talking about with the Vice description, and that guy sure as heck reads Vice. The crucial question for these sites: can they connect those voices with a larger business strategy?

Demographics Aren’t Enough (Neither are Millennials)

In a previous Parse.ly post on audience segmentation and targeting, I talked about Audience Development editors thinking about segmenting by psychographics of an audience.

Psychographics are akin to demographics, but while demographics (age, income, marital status) are measurable or easily identifiable, psychographics are more qualitative and refer to a person’s lifestyle, personality or identity.

Traditional media, local newspapers or magazines, often positioned itself according to demographics and geographics. Though this worked in the pre-internet era, the supply and demand equation has effectively knocked demographics out as the only piece that matters.

Remember this?

This holds true for any site claiming to go after “Millennials.” Though the term may be used as a proxy for the psychographics associated with millennials, it’s still painting a broad stroke, as Millennials represent about a third of the U.S. population. Identifying Millennials as a target audience is the “Guess Who?” equivalent of asking if the person is a male; it’s the logical and necessary first step, but you have to keep asking questions to find who you’re looking for.

Here Come the  Psychographics

Many new media companies are finding success by positioning not just their voices, but their business strategies according to their audiences (or potential audience’s) psychographics.

For example, Upworthy wants to promote “meaningful stories.” What kind of psychographics would be attracted to those? Descriptors like: cause-driven, motivated, inspired, hopeful, positive-thinkers, come to mind. Upworthy not only creates stories that speaks to those adjectives, they generated $10 M in revenue from brands that want to be associated with them as well. It allows Upworthy to be compelling, beyond pure reach or impression numbers which could be bought on any platform.

The psychographics for the readers of Quartz include: on-the-go, time-crunched, savvy, globally-connected, mobile-first. Instead of just thinking about that in terms of its  voice or coverage, Quartz included the psychographics of its  audience when it  designed its  site. Kevin Delaney, in a podcast with Digiday, spoke about not just adding on an Audience Development team, but incorporating audience development in all aspects of journalism. Said Delaney:

Clearly the opportunity for big news organizations is to rethink the from the very beginning of the process, the reader, and what the context is for the reader.”

Differentiating content from competition will get you a voice, but it should get you more than that. How can your publication use psychographics to turn your voice into a strategy?