What Niche Marketers Can Learn from Rachel Maddow

POSTED ON May 20, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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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.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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