Stronger relationships with fewer people over weaker relationships with the masses

(December 18, 2019)

In 2009, famed writer and editor Kevin Kelly wrote an article debunking the myth that you need to be famous to make a living as a creator.

According to Kelly, we only need 1000 true fans. You can read the article HERE or a simple synopsis of the article (as well as a case study applying its ideas) HERE.

The article was revolutionary not only for creators but for businesses, too, in our post-industrial era. In a world cluttered with noise, you can’t market to everyone. Marketing to everyone is marketing to no one, as the inimitable Seth Godin as stated time and time again.

So, the alternative is to market to a niche audience. Find out what they yearn for and create something remarkable just for them.

The premise of having only 1000 true fans is that your mentality has to switch from having customers to loyal customers. If you have a customer who buys everything you sell (a true fan) you don’t actually need that many customers.

Today, in an ever-changing and over-commoditised world where fewer people are buying any one thing, having true fans counts.

Consider the New Yorker.

The New Yorker has never strayed from creating literary journalism. Every week, there are only a handful of articles. But they’re around 10-15 thousand words. Accordingly, the magazine’s clearly not for everyone. They only serve a niche group of intellectuals and culturally aware. It’s also very Left.

When the world went digital, most publications for the first time ever could measure what articles people were reading the most, as well as the least.

As you can imagine, there are fewer people in the world who want to read a 15,000-word research article on complicated world politics over a 150-word clickbait article on a cat who got accidentally got shot with an arrow. (True story. Sad, I know.)

10 years ago, these publications sold advertising space on their websites. The cost of the advertising was justified by the number of people who visited the site every day.

The more people visiting the site, the more a publication could justify the price of a banner ad.

So publications began creating shorter and shorter articles on more trivial subjects to boost web traffic and click-throughs. (Save for the New Yorker.)

But now, advertising isn’t working. The return on investment for companies who pay tens of thousands of dollars for space on a website is dismal.

So companies stopped paying for advertisements. Now, as an alternative, these publications are looking to subscription-based business models. Pay $5 a month and you’ll get unlimited articles.

Here’s a synopsis of the journey:

Before digital era: Publications created for loyal readers.

Start of digital era: Publications created for advertisers.

Now: Publications creating for loyal readers. 

The problem, though, is that in the process of selling out to advertisers, publications like the West Australian or lost their true fans. Now, they can’t find enough people who want to pay the $5 a month. After all, no one wants to pay money for sensationalist journalism (shit journalism, in other words). They should’ve stayed true to their intelligent readership. 

The New Yorker, on the other hand, didn’t sell out. (It helps being known as one of the most prestigious publications in the world, but still). In turn, the magazine has been able to navigate the vagaries of this new digital revolution because their true fans have remained loyal.

Why is this relevant to copywriting and brand storytelling?

When you prioritise conversion rates and click-throughs and sales over building relationships, over time, you either never gain true fans or lose the trust of your loyal fans.

Brew Copy, a storytelling studio that helps you build your brand—with words. Contact me at Stay in touch on Instagram. Or on Linkedin.