Target, Serve and Adapt: A Simple Model for Audience Development

Audience fragmentation is an oft-cited source of mainstream media’s ills, but two dissimilar publishers show that valuable attention can still be acquired.

Politico, an on-the-rise political publisher, is expanding while everyone else is contracting. In a recent interview with mediabistro’s FishbowlNY, Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei said there’s opportunity in niche content models:

I don’t think our model can be easily replicated, at least on the print side (unless the federal government moves to another city). John [Harris, co-founder] and I do think there is a very robust future for niche sites online. The new media formula is pretty simple: If you can build a desirable audience that a class of advertisers wants to reach, you have a darn good chance at success. Advertisers want efficient ways of reaching their target audience, and niche sites offer it (if you can build a big enough audience). We have some thoughts on variations of Politico that might work elsewhere — and we might have more on that next year.

A separate story about a <a href="successful hyperlocal initiative from Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman reinforces VandeHei’s optimism:

My Ballard has exploded in popularity beyond our wildest expectations, surpassing the weekly neighborhood newspaper in monthly reach (unique users compared to the paper’s physical subscription base.) We’ve even launched similar blogs in surrounding neighborhoods with the help of friends and friends of friends, forming a news blog network covering the core of Seattle’s fastest-growing communities.

Politico is geared toward affluent decision makers and information-hungry political junkies while My Ballard is serving up local news to an engaged urban community, but both sites are employing the same simple model: target a promising market, serve it with compelling content, then adapt to the needs of the audience.

Old-guard companies who still believe audiences can be cornered are bound to fail because the exponential increase in distribution channels empowers audiences to form and shift on their own terms. Audience freedom has pushed the publishing industry into perpetual beta, and content firms that acknowledge this — and work with it — are best positioned to succeed. That’s why there’s so much value in the trails being blazed by Politico, My Ballard and other publishers — including smart “old” companies. These publishers recognize that an ongoing cycle of “target-serve-adapt” is the best way to attract attention from on-the-move groups.

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