MTV Cops

A few months ago, I heard an interview on the radio with a former television producer. He was talking about how the networks decide which new TV shows to launch each season. Very little about what he said has stayed with me, with one very notable exception.

Apparently, a now famous television show was pitched and accepted by a network on the basis of just two words: MTV COPS. With those two words only, everybody involved — the network, the writers, the advertisers and ultimately, the viewers — knew exactly what to expect when they tuned in, and Miami Vice was born.

I often think about MTV COPS as I read your E-Newsletters. So many of them are well written, well designed and professionally done (OK, many aren’t, but let’s assume yours is).

What’s often missing however — even from the good ones — is a tight, consistent focus. An MTV Cops kind of focus.

And I think I know why. Many businesses — large and small alike — believe that, “the more territory we can claim to cover, the greater the chances are that clients and customers will come to us.” The underlying belief in a wide net approach is that it’s all a numbers game, and the more you can do, the more you will do.

While I admit that this approach has a certain intuitive logic to it, in practice, I don’t see it working that well.

Here’s the problem. Whether marketing your business or marketing your newsletter, the objective is to stand out. (I don’t want to oversimplify my own discipline, but isn’t standing out in a positive light in front of prospective buyers of your product or service what marketing and promotion is fundamentally all about?)

If you want your newsletter to stand out therefore, you need to stake out a piece of ground and own it; you need to be associated with something memorable and specific (like MTV Cops).

Consider the following example. Which one of these newsletters do you think is more likely to attract loyal readers?:

1. A newsletter that focuses on, “Retirement planning for female business owners in the Southwest,” or

2. A newsletter that focuses on “Financial planning.”

The former, although certainly of interest to a smaller audience, is much more likely to be a home run with a woman who fits the profile. Home runs are what we want.

To find your E-Newsletter focus, here are two questions worth thinking about:

Question #1: Who’s your target audience? Men, women, seniors, affluent, tech savvy, rural, homeowners, white collar, etc. You need to pinpoint who you’re talking to so that you can speak in a way that resonates with that group. The more broadly you insist on defining the audience on the other hand, the more difficult it will be to hit a home run with any of them. (No home run, no rising above the crowd.).

Question #2: What do you write about? Think like a magazine publisher: Better Homes & Gardens; Inc. Magazine; Sports Illustrated. Each has a specific range of topics intended for a specific audience. Notice as well that none of these is focused on the company doing the writing, which is why (thank God) there’s no such thing as, “The Magazine That Talks About What The Folks Here At Time Warner Are Working On.”

Specific content, for a specific audience.

Take another look at your newsletter and see if you can answer questions one and two succinctly and unambiguously. Don’t worry so much about who you leave out; focus on who you can attract. At the end of the day, your objective is to build a loyal following of readers who (altogether now)anticipate, open, read and pass along your newsletter. Don’t make me send the MTV Cops after you.

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