The most important issue for a new or existing magazine (or newsletter, website, blog) is to clarify your target audience.

A new magazine needs to carefully define who they are serving with their publication. Saying that your magazine is for “everyone,” or “all Christians” is not an adequate response. Such a broad audience focus will make it difficult for you to evaluate whether particular content will meet the needs of your audience. It also makes it hard to find your readership, as you will need to share about your magazine with everyone or all the Christians in your area in order to develop a following.

It is tempting to define an audience broadly because you don’t want to exclude potential readers. But a broad, general focus will not distinguish your magazine from among a rack full of magazines. Why would someone choose to read your magazine? What unique attributes can you offer through your magazine?

A well-defined target audience doesn’t exclude other readers, but it clearly invites in those who match most closely with your core readers. Someone outside your target audience may read your magazine and even become a regular subscriber, but that’s because they have found that your content is interesting.

For example, a magazine focused on people under 30 who are interested in spiritual conversation and open to Christianity will have a design style that resonates with people in that age category. It will include articles that invite people into considering ideas about faith and promote questions and exploration on topics relevant to people under 30. Having such a clearly targeted audience doesn’t mean that someone older will not pick up and read your magazine. But it does mean that every piece of your magazine package is focused on meeting the needs of that under-30, spiritually-interested reader.

A clear focus helps every design and content decision. As your graphic designer is working on layouts or your editorial team is planning content (or you, if you are wearing all these hats), all the design and editorial decisions will be filtered through a consideration of how your target audience will react to the content and design.

Audience definition goes beyond age, gender, and faith position. As you work to align your magazine strategy with the needs of your audience, it is helpful to create a few fictitious personas to whom you are targeting your content. These can be based on actual people you know who fit your desired audience, or they can be a compilation of attributes that you know are characteristic of people in this stage of life.

What about an existing magazine? When do you need to re-define your target audience?

Your magazine strategy can carry your magazine through many years. However, at least once a year, when you do your annual planning cycle, revisit your target audience statement and consider if it is time to adjust your focus. You may combine this evaluation with a reader survey every few years, or with periodic questions on social media to get feedback.

One of the hardest things about a magazine targeted as an age demographic, is that you need to keep adding readers at the younger end of your niche, so you don’t “age out” of your audience. If your readers are parents, then over time your current readers age out of your audience and have grown children. You probably don’t want to shift your focus to older adults, but you need to continually replenish your core audience, so you keep serving parents in each successive generation. However, since there are always new parents who seek guidance, your audience can be replenished, if you stay relevant to the current needs of parents.

Defining your core audience and keeping your magazine content and design focused on the needs of this audience is essential for a sustainable magazine.

By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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Magazine Training International’s mission is to encourage, strengthen, and provide training and resources to Christian magazine publishers as they seek to build the church and reach their societies for Christ.