the_economistThe days of newspapers and magazines trying to be everything to everyone are over thanks to the overwhelming amount of information freely available online.  However, the problem in the 21st century is finding relevant and useful information hidden in the cluttered online world.  Let’s face it — Google searches don’t always deliver the exact information you’re looking for.

It’s no secret that newspapers and traditional media like print magazines have been struggling over the past decade with many completely repositioning their brands and content (e.g., Newsweek, Time), adjusting their delivery frequency (e.g., U.S. News and World Report, Playboy) or moving to web distribution only (e.g., PC Magazine, Blender).  However, as the majority of traditional media organizations struggle to find ways to remain relevant and profitable, one brand has remained strong despite the shift in consumer media consumption habits.  That brand is The Economist whose advertising revenue was up in 2008 and print circulation numbers have remained fairly steady over the past several years (via The Atlantic Online).

How has The Economist remained relevant as other media organizations have lost their way?  Simple — niche and focus.

First, The Economist is written in a manner that appeals to a niche audience rather than for the masses.  In the digital world, people can find very specific content through Web searches (albeit, the search process could take a significant amount of time).  These days, people have less patience to accept and consume content that is written with broad appeal in mind.  They want content that is meaningful to them,  and they spend less time on the “extras” that non-niche publications provide.  For example, why should a person read through an entire entertainment magazine when they really only care about one singer or actor?  It’s faster and more satisfying to go to the sources where that person can find a wealth of highly relevant information than to leaf through the many irrelevant pages of a broad appeal periodical.  Most often, that source these days is online, but a few traditional newspapers and magazines continue to survive using niche audience strategies.

The Economist also syndicates its blog content through Newstex, which gets its content directly in front of niche audiences who are looking for the authoritative content that The Economist delivers.  Unlike other publications that push their content across a myriad of sites on the Internet, The Economist has chosen a more focused distribution approach that caters directly to the niche audience they know finds it useful. 

Which leads us to the second part of The Economist’s strategy…

Second, The Economist has a narrow focus — far more so than many of its competitor magazines.  In marketing theory, the law of contraction tells us that a brand will be stronger if it contracts rather than expands because doing so gives it a narrower focus.  A wide, everything to everyone focus actually weakens a brand.  By focusing on what you do best and delivering the best with every customer interaction, your brand will grow stronger organically, and organic growth is much stronger than artificial growth.

There has been so much buzz both online and offline about the fate of newpapers and printed periodicals of late.  Let’s hope there will be room for both in the 21st century.  However, there are lessons to learn from The Economist for both offline and digital content publishers: find your niche and focus on it through a variety of digital touchpoints such as blogs, video, and more.

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