What Niche Marketers Can Learn from Rachel Maddow

by | May 20, 2011

Last year MSNBC introduced a new prime time show with Rachel Maddow, a liberal radio talk show host. Right from the beginning, it was obvious that Maddow was going to be something different in television, and that has only become more apparent in the months since.

I was watching her show the other day and thinking about niche marketing. (Okay, it’s a sickness, I agree.) Self-publishers, and particularly nonfiction self-publishers are usually niche marketers.

I don’t think it matters what her politics are, although Maddow is fiercely liberal. She is similar to other people marketing to a niche audience that they are also a part of, and which they know very well.

Maddow has re-made the role of a TV host in ways I’ve never seen. And she exemplifies many of the qualities that can make a niche marketer successful. Look at some of the things she does to inspire the tremendous following she’s amassed so far:

  • She is fact-based. Maddow and her staff consistently out-research her competition. She has the facts and figures that are most telling on a topic, and knows how to use them effectively.
  • She is entertaining. A show like hers needs a pretty good-size staff and she puts them to good use. Using her ready access to the goofy, nerdy, wonkish side of her personality, the show constantly delights viewers with offbeat and creative ways to explain complex subjects.
  • She’s not afraid of being smart. TV can be a vast wasteland for any intelligent person. The unremitting drive to address viewers through the lowest common denominator has made TV a dumbed-down electronic fireplace complete with fake logs. But Maddow patiently explains intricate subjects so you can follow them. She shows just how effective it can be to be smart and geeky, because she actually understands the topics she’s reporting.
  • She is passionate. There’s no mistaking where Maddow is coming from. Her beliefs are evident and motivate her curiousity, her outrage and her engagement with her audience. You may not agree with her, but you can’t doubt her committment.
  • She is fearless. Maddow constantly invites actors from every part of the political spectrum to air their views on her show, and never backs down from the confrontation of ideas. Bluster, demagogury, browbeating just don’t work on her and she can face down the most obnoxious authoritarians, treating each guest with respect while poking holes in their arguments.
  • She doesn’t talk down to her audience. When Maddow started doing her show, and talking like an actual smart, engaged, passionate human being to the audience, who she seemed to think was made up of other adults, it was a revelation. More than any other trait, her ability to come across as someone willing to have an intelligent conversation, who assumed that we would all be able to follow along without being pandered to, was startling. All of a sudden every other news or opinion anchor started to seem like a product of the old school of TV journalism, sitting in the chairs provided by old hierarchical, top-down, let-them-eat-cake, don’t strain their brains TV executives putting together programming for the unwashed masses. Every other personality in her niche looked worse by comparison. They appeared to be talking to their audiences like schoolchildren or slow-witted dolts. What a change!

This is a picture of successful niche marketing. If you want to be a thought leader or someone of influence in your field, you can’t find a better model than Rachel Maddow.

When you talk to your followers, when you engage with your readers, when you create content, can you claim to follow this model?

Produce a better product, in a smart, entertaining way, imbue your presentation with passion, take on adversaries fearlessly, and treat your tribe with complete respect.

That’s the “Maddow” way.

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  1. Steve Weakley

    Wow! I couldn’t disagree more. I admire her intellect. I just don’t like her show.I think her long long Vassar/Valley Girl rants sans video are irritating. At least Olbermann put some lipstick on the pig.
    I am nearly socialist by political persuasion but I don’t want someone to put a ring through my nose and lead me there.
    As a producer, I think the show is very poorly produced and it is too much Rachel and too little real information.The whole MSNBC primetime to me has become little more than a political soapbox.
    As a producer, I think the show is very poorly produced and it is too much Rachel and too little real information.
    I like “Morning Joe”, their early daypart, and “Chris Matthews”, but I think in prime they are just counter-programming Fox News for a different political persuasion.

    • Steve Weakley

      And, Lawrence O’Donnell with his oddly detached outrage reminds me of Lurch on “The Addams Family”

  2. Beth

    Great post. The Rachel Maddow Show actually started in the fall of 2008, though, not 2010.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks Beth, I appreciate the correction. I actually wrote this months ago, but I should have checked the dates before I posted it today.

  3. Liz Alexander

    Joel — I’m taking this as a sign I’m on the right track with my next book, which is written for a very specific author psychographic and defies the usual “how-to” advice :-)

    Thank you — off now to be passionate, fearless, respectful…

  4. Lynne Spreen

    Joel, I’ve long admired her – she makes it cool to be dorky! – but haven’t watched her show consistently. Now you’ve made me curious to learn from her. Thanks for the idea.

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    Rachel started out as an adjunct to Keith Olbermann. When Keith left, Rachel became the MSNBC superstar, and easily eclipses Keith’s dull replacement, Lawrence (never “Larry”) O’Donnell.

    Now Larry seems to be loosening up a bit. Rachel clearly is having a good effect on him.

    Smart, knowledgable, tough, fearless, funny and attractive are a powerful combination. Katy who?

    With ubiquitous 24-hour news, there is little need for the 6:30 p.m. network newscasts with their traditional talking heads, or newspapers and newsweeklies.

    But we do need research, commentary, analysis and humor from Rachel, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart — and from bloggers, of course.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750



  1. Carnival of Storytelling – June 9, 2011 | Be the Story - [...] Friedlander presents What Niche Marketers Can Learn from Rachel Maddow — The Book Designer posted at Joel [...]

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