There’s a time for tone of voice and a place for content pillars, but audiences identify most when you share their world view.
Many moons ago, when I was just starting out as a cub reporter on a national magazine, I received a piece of writing advice from a gnarly old copy editor that has remained with me throughout my publishing career.
“Always keep in your mind a mental image of the person you are writing for,” he told me sagely. “Use the words they would use to describe the things they care about. Readers want to feel they are part of a club that shares their values and opinions. If you can manage that, you’ll reach an audience.”
In the brave new world of branded content marketing, it often feels to me that, as publishers, we have lost this laser-like focus on the audience’s needs. In particular, having a strong opinion seems to get a bad rap. The butt of the joke and, quite literally, a fundamental metaphor, the fact that everyone has an opinion is made out to be somehow a bad thing. After all, we all have eyes too, but poets write sonnets about them…
Creating editorial tribes
My point is that nothing unites a group of people more effectively than a passionately held, shared point of view. As human beings, we are hardwired to gravitate towards people who see the world as we do, just as we are programmed to resist those with whom we disagree. Repeated studies show that we instinctively find people who agree with us more intelligent, trustworthy and attractive. And we create tribes around these people and shared ideas.
In fact, many of the world’s most successful publishing franchises have been built on exactly this premise. From Loaded’s promise in the mid-90s that it was “for men who should know better” to the forensic photography of National Geographic, the art of building an editorial audience depends heavily on knowing not just who your readers are, but also who they are not. Then you must deliver relevant opinions and conversational ammunition that allows an audience to defend their world view against those who see things differently.
Because, in the evolution of human tribes, there remains an advantage to be found in being able to bring people together through a shared idea. It may be a depressing truth, but our power to reason didn’t develop in order to solve the great mysteries of the universe, or even to establish universal, objective human truths. The ability to create a compelling argument allowed small groups of people to band effectively together against perceived enemies. But it also ensured you weren’t the one out risking your life on the hunt while others loafed around in the safety of the cave.
The Daily Mail – Harnessing the power of a point of view
What’s more, if you can get an individual to publicly state or defend their point of view, then something even more interesting happens. Individuals become measurably more wedded to opinions they have had confirmed by others, or that have been challenged by those they oppose. It’s called confirmation bias and it accounts for the rise of fake news, the Trump presidency and the continued existence of Marmite as a breakfast spread.
Love it or loathe it, the Daily Mail’s success lies more in the power of its world view than the strength of its journalism.
Take the Daily Mail as an extreme example of this principle. Love it or loathe it, the Mail is by some distance the UK’s most read daily newspaper, with a national monthly reach across print and digital audiences of more than 29 million people. Its sister, online incarnation is reportedly the most visited digital news resource in the world, attracting up to 15.6 million visitors every day. And its success, I would argue, lies much more in the power of its world view, than the strength of its journalism.
More than just a tone of voice
Don’t believe me? Try this simple test. The following are all front page headlines from recent daily UK papers:
- Jodie Whittaker: the ‘force of nature’ taking on Dr Who
- Britain spends billions on flawed fighter jets?
- Call 999… Get Skype instead?
Chances are you don’t need to be told which one came from the Mail (it was number three, just in case you live under a rock or didn’t click the link…). The thing that gives it away is not a particular “tone of voice” or some highfalutin concept of “content pillars” so beloved of content marketers. You know it’s the Mail because of the outrage that drips from every well-chosen word. Because in the Mail’s well-practised world view, the news isn’t about dispassionate presentation of the facts, it is about highlighting the latest outrage its readers believe has been forced upon them, every single day.
And it works. Not just for the paper’s devoted followers, but for its detractors too. On any given topic, follow the argument into the online comments and they become less and less about the story that inspired them, and more and more about a conflict of competing ways of seeing the world. But in the ensuing war of clicks, comments and engagements, it is the Mail that ultimately emerges the winner.
All of which is not to say that, at Mediablaze, we would ever endorse a Daily Mail strategy for the brands we work with. But what we do know is that opinion matters and finding shared values pays dividends when it comes to engagements. Get those things right, and loyal audiences follow.
Want to know more about developing a point of view for your brand? Say [email protected]