Several months ago, I participated in a Coursera course on content strategy by Northwestern University. The first of a five-part series, the course laid down basic principles that all content strategists need to be aware of.

Here are some quotes by John Lavine from the course (emphasis mine). I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  1. It’s tempting to put your energies into turning out lots of content that matters to you. But it’s not smart and it’s not strategic.  
  2. Whether you like it or not, target audiences you want to reach will only give you the smallest amount of time and attention. So if your organization’s strategic goals are gonna be met, your content should only be sent if it is a central part of those priorities.  
  3. The content the organization wants to deliver should have value for the intended audience and it has to be told in an engaging way, where, when and how the audience wants it. If this doesn’t happen, the audience won’t pay attention.  
  4. Taking up people’s time with non-strategic content is not only wasteful, it teaches the important audiences that you want to reach to pay no attention to everything you say.
  5. People’s emotional and cognitive limitations are real. They can only attend to a certain number of topics deeply at one time. So people only pay attention to topics when they’re motivated to do so. People will only learn about things that they’re motivated to learn about.

I find that a lot of what passes for content marketing falls into the trap of #1. Neither smart nor strategic, we simply churn out content to meet the demands of clients without asking basic questions like “Is this truly useful or interesting to our reader?”

We are at a real risk of #4 – over time we risk eroding our brand because people start to associate our content with irrelevance. I have lost track of the number of times users told me that our content are “just ads”, and they will simply gloss over them without even bothering to read the headline.

Users aren’t giving us the time of the day. What can we do about it?


Coursera: Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences by Northwestern University


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