Why the Indy wasn’t wrong

A comment from a friend of mine has underlined the virtues of knowing your market, knowing what your customers want and setting yourself apart from the competition.

The friend is Richard Palmer, Royal Editor of the Daily Express (you can find him at @RoyalReporter on Twitter), and he’s a smart guy.

I was scoffing at the Independent the other day for choosing what I felt was a very poor story for its splash (the main story on a newspaper’s front page.)

It was the day after six British servicemen had been killed in Afghanistan and a young British hostage shot during a failed SAS rescue attempt in Nigeria. Plenty of strong news stories around, then.

The Indy splash, however, was that the London Olympics were running even more over budget, this time to the tune of £2 billion. This didn’t seem news to me – after all, the Olympics always run over budget.

But Richard pointed out that papers like the Independent and his own Express (both hard up and unable to buy or fund the research for big exclusives) need to set themselves apart.

If they splash on the same story as their immediate rivals (the Guardian/Times and Mail, respectively), they lose sales. Readers don’t buy them, but go for the better-resourced opposition instead.

In business as in newspapers. The key to attracting customers’ attention is to be different, to find your hidden nugget, the ‘special thing’ that sets you apart. It doesn’t have to be unique, you just have to choose to boast about it.

It’s a case of knowing your customers – and what will entice, interest, impress or surprise them.

The Indy has just done it again, by the way. Splashed on a warning from the notoriously doom-mongering World Health Organisation that resistance to antibiotics may become so acute that a scratched knee proves fatal.

Well, at least it’s different.