While newspaper circulation continues to decline, many magazines have held their own in the digital age. Magazines differ from newspapers in that they have a more defined “identity”, such that Chip Conley (who now helps run a similar effort at AirBNB) developed successful boutique hotels around the concept of a magazine.
“We determine which magazines will best define the hotel, and then we come up with the five adjectives that best describe that magazine,” explained Conley in a recent Forbes interview. ”We’ve found that the people who fall in love with a hotel are people who use those five adjectives to aspirationally describe themselves. The Hotel Rex, in San Francisco, is based on The New Yorker, and the adjectives are “clever, literate, artistic, worldly and sophisticated.” When you check out of the Rex you feel like we’ve refreshed your identity. We’ve created an ideal habitat for you.”
There is a lot of research detailing how, as societal wealth increases, consumers’ needs are moving out of the realm of utility and into the realm of lifestyle and aspiration. Newspapers can’t compete by being simply informational, in a world where information is cheap and ubiquitous. What aspirational values can a newspaper help a reader fulfill?
A lot of my research has been about showing that different people have very different aspirational goals (values), not just goals that people in California deem readily aspirational like feeding the poor or achieving world peace, but also goals like being loyal to their group, keeping faith with family traditions, providing for one’s family, achieving success, etc. These later aspirational goals (among others) may prove more fruitful in a more conservative environment. The Army has a good case study in the use of such values toward achieving organizational goals. I would definitely recommend that forward thinking newspapers attempt to fill a specific aspirational niche, as a result.
Once a niche is decided, a news organization can consciously leverage the fact that these goals have specific storytelling and emotional triggers. For example, in work that I’ve been doing with Zenzi‘s Social Values project, our research indicates that newspapers that wants to serve more traditional aspirations may want to have more stories with happy endings, while a newspaper that wants to serve more hedonistic aspirations might want to instead consider featuring stories about people from far away places. Emotions such as disgust, empathy, and anger vary widely and predictably amongst people with different aspirational goals and stories could be framed accordingly. Editors likely have an intuitive sense of these relationships, but making them more explicit can bring cohesion to marketing, editorial, and journalistic practices toward a singular newspaper voice that better speaks to the higher-order needs of consumers in the modern age.