What follows is my column from the Nov/Dec issue of Publishing Executive magazine.
Mr. Magazine’s M.O. : ‘Dare to Be Different’ and Other Tips for Success in an Innovative World
I have a collection of more than 1,000 neckties, however one of them stands apart from all the rest. It is a red tie with tens of white sheep and one—and only one—black sheep. I wear it to class the very first day of school mainly to remind the students about the need to be different. Forget unique. There is nothing unique in this world. A sheep is a sheep is sheep. However, a black sheep is different than a white sheep, and thus the theme of the class becomes “Dare to Be Different.”
➊ Dare to Be Different and Better
Almost on a daily basis I receive phone calls and e-mails from folks who want to start a new magazine. They all start with the same opening line, “There is nothing like it on the marketplace.” My typical answer, “Guess what? There is a reason there is nothing like on the marketplace. It does not work.” So my first tip is always to dare to be different and better than what is out there. There is no such thing as unique. Every publication out there has a different DNA; find out what your DNA is and mingle with the crowds. If you are better and different you will stand out.
➋ Romance the Customer
Being better and different means you have to know and romance your customer, your intended audience that you are aiming to reach to sell a different and better message. We spend so much time nowadays romancing the technology where, in reality, it is not the technology you need, my friend, but the customer. Falling in love with your customer requires knowing that customer, dating that customer and partnering with that customer. There is no better tip than falling in love with your customer. Romancing the stone—or the technology—will take you nowhere.
➌ Serve the Demographical Divide in Your Audience
Dissect that customer based on the demographics. The last few decades, the industry focused so much on psychographics. The challenge today is the demographics. We are approaching a three-generational divide in the country: those who are under 25, the ones born right after the birth of the Mac and the desktop publishing era (remember those years); the ones between 25 and 55, the ones who actually witnessed the birth of the Mac and worked their way to the iPads; and those who are over 55, many of whom spend most of their time with what we now call “traditional media.”
Guess what? Each one of those audiences consumes media in their own way. There is no one size fits all. We need to be aware of the changing demography of this country and adapt our media to that change. Did you know that there are more folks over the age of 50 in the United States of America than under 50? What are you doing for them?
➍ Focus on Who and What … Not How
Last but not least, that fictitious division between old and new media needs to be thrown out of the window. It is something that we create, and, in reality, it does not exist. My grandson, who is barely four, shifts from his iPad to his books without evening thinking, or saying, for that matter, “I am moving from the digital age to the ink on paper age.” It is part of the routine. It is us folks over 50, who make that reference to the shift from one age to the other. To the younger generation, every day brings in a new media, whether it is in print or on a tablet. The absolute best tip I can leave you with is the one that I have learned from my students at the university. Focus on whom you want to reach, with what message, and the how to reach will follow. Stop spending time on the how, but rather on the who and what.
Dare to be different …and I will say one more time, different and better. PE
Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine™, is founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed at MrMagazine.com