Know your audience: How Cosmo is getting it right (and you can, too)

cosmoTen years ago, I would buy an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and hide it in my bedroom, embarrassed to admit to my mom that I was curious about the S-E-X emblazoned on the cover. Five years ago, I’d buy it for a little airplane entertainment. Back then, it was known more for it’s ridiculous sex tips involving ice cubes and lipstick than it was for, well, anything else.

But all that changed two years ago, when Joanna Coles, formerly of Marie Claire, took over as editor-in-chief. Previously, she had transformed MC from a run-of-the-mill women’s interest publication to a must-read, packed with investigative reports and top-notch features. She brought the magazine to the 21st century, revitalizing its digital initiatives and recreating it as a brand, not just a glossy.

I admit I was disappointed when she left MC for Cosmo, but still, it was an interesting move. After all, even though its reputation among millennials was laughable (and still is, for those behind on the times), there is a lot of power behind the name. Cosmopolitan is the best-selling magazine in the world. There are 61 international editions. Seventeen million people read every single issue. Think of the opportunity.

And certainly, that’s what Coles did. She’s brought Cosmopolitan’s signature sassiness to an audience that used to scoff at it. And she’s done it by refreshing the content, and thus revamping the image.

Cosmo under Coles stays true to the brand—it’s still about the fun, fearless female—but it’s updated to cater to today’s woman. The new chick on the block is still sexy, but she’s moved beyond the sexual revolution. She’s very much focused on her career, her friends, her family, her health and the world around her. Cosmo has broadened its scope to include all of those entities, and drives it home by focusing on who its audience is: a generation of 20- and 30-somethings who remember the ‘90s with great affection, are obsessed with social media and pop culture, want to look fabulous on a budget, and want to be treated like the smart women they very much are.

Consider a sampling of recent headlines on, which scored a mobile-friendly facelift this week: “These insanely adorable pets are so over yoga.” “Why don’t more people call themselves feminists?” “16 reasons college was not the best years of your life.” “Brazilians fight police brutality at world cup with Kama Sutra-themed campaign.” “Kesha talks bullying, glitter, and being a ‘person in progress.’”

It’s a diverse group of articles, spanning clickbait cute animals, listicles that produce tons of shares, relevant celebrity news and real news with a quirky, Cosmo twist (Kama Sutra, really?). The language is on the fun side of snarky (“Robin Thicke partners with 1-800-Flowers, which is sad”), adopting the tone you’d expect from a good friend sitting next to you on the couch. In short, it’s the type of content you’d find on a Facebook feed, scoring thumbs-ups-a-plenty.

Do you want to borrow a little bit of Cosmopolitan’s success? Here are a few best practices:

  • Consider your audience first. After all, if you’re publishing great content but directing it at the wrong audience, you’re wasting both time and money. Think about who you’re targeting, and develop content they will want to read.
  • Check your voice. Thanks to the rise of social media and an increase in communication between brands and consumers, readers react more positively to a conversational tone rather than one that is stiff and formal.
  • Make sure it’s seen. Push your content through appropriate social media platforms, focus on user experience and stay up-to-date with search engine algorithms. As of spring 2014, Google favors long-tail keywords over spam-y posts focusing on keyword density over quality content.
  • Opt for balance. Return to your business plan and consider your goals. Ask yourself what verticals, or topics, you want to address. Then, create an editorial calendar and map out in advance the posts you’ll publish. Vary the themes so that you’re representing each of your targeted topics equally.

Ready to take the plunge? Look before you leap. A consultation with a pro can pay off, even if you opt to do the heavy lifting yourself. Shoot me an email at to get started.




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