Create for the 10% and the other 90 will tolerate it…

I wanted to share some great insight I learned while listening to Russ Roberts on the EconTalk podcast interview his long time friend Gary Belsky, Editor-in-Chief at ESPN The Magazine. Towards the end of the interview Gary mentions:

I tell staff be more of who you are and what you’d want to see as a sports fan. It’s my job to make this judgment–will at least 10% of our readers like it and will the other 90% not be offended? (Gary Belsky)

I think that is an important clarification. The philosophy there is are you creating content that will deeply moves 10% of your audience while the other 90% tolerate it? ESPN the Magazine does this well by in its bi-monthly magazine. One issue you may find a feature story on boxing, football then next, and outlier stories such as the cover and story This is Africa on the rise of African soccer. With 40-50 million soccer fans in the U.S. and 2 million subscribers this fits the model perfectly.

Variable-Interval Reinforcement

The magazine also does something else that adds power to the 10% argument. Dr. Tom Stafford, co-author of the book Mind Hacks, believes that slot machines and email (I relate this to content) follow something called ‘variable-interval reinforcement schedule’. He says

“which has been established as the way to train in the strongest habits. This means that rather than reward an action every time it is performed, you reward it sometimes, but not in a predictable way. So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there’s something wonderful – an invite out, or maybe some juicy gossip – and I get a reward.” (Stafford).

The magazine does this well. You are rewarded every so often with your passion or the features on your sport which you share a great affinity towards. At the core though all subscribers of the magazine are typically sports fans.

Digital Media and Your Content

Social networks and even one of the most visited website on the net the contain this element of the variable interval. In past bouts of unproductive behavior I’ve found myself visiting the a few times a day. This to me is a secret pill and something you should employ in your own marketing efforts. If your content or what you do doesn’t have an element of this ‘variable ratio’ feature, I suggest you actively build one.

Then I think it’s important to ask if you’re creating content that will deeply move 10% of your audience while the other 90% tolerate it. And in a way just as important is the other 90% waiting for that time when they will be part of the 10?