Content strategy is fine, but…

Photo via Bob Warfield's SmoothSpan blog
Photo via Bob Warfield’s SmoothSpan blog

I’m grateful to see the higher ed world talking so much about content strategy these days. This emphasis on thinking about content in a way that connects it with our organizational goals is important.

I’m glad that people are writing books and blogs about content strategy, too. And talking about this subject on Twitter. And planning entire conferences around the theme. These are important efforts, and I learn a lot from the content strategists I follow on Twitter and from their blog posts. I’ve learned valuable lessons that I’ve incorporated into my everyday work, and I’m thinking more about the importance of content in context.

But I sometimes wonder if we’re focusing too much on the content side of things.

I sometimes wonder if we need to pay more attention to the content needs or wants of the people we’re supposed to be creating our content for.

In other words, our audience.

The way content strategy is sometimes talked about, it reminds me of supply-side economics. In a way, I suppose it is. As technology has lowered the barriers to creating and distributing all sorts of content, consumers of that content have more than enough options at a very low price point.

But content strategy without regard to audience is misguided. Simply flooding the marketplace of ideas with more content won’t achieve many business goals for any organization.

Entrepreneur and blogger Bob Warfield touched on this in a post last December. “A lot of entrepreneurs,  when faced with the question, ‘What’s the most important thing to do first?’, would answer, ‘Build a product,” Warfield writes. “Big mistake.”

The most important thing to do first is to find an audience.  It may be that building a product is an integral part of growing your audience, but you’re not ready to build a product or grow your audience until you’ve found the right audience to start with.

Audience strategy, anyone?

I haven’t heard the term “audience strategy” bandied about much in the higher ed or marketing circles. But maybe someone should latch on to that idea and run with it.

Maybe it’s because we take our audiences for granted in higher ed. We’re not the entrepreneurs Bob Warfield is talking to. And while we do roll out new products from time to time (new degrees or certificate programs) or new services (online options, blended learning), we probably don’t look at our roles the same way an entrepreneur would.

Most of us work in established organizations. We probably don’t worry too much about finding the right audiences for our content. We have scores of them, and many of these audiences (alumni, current students, members of the community where our schools reside) already have a connection with our institutions.

But we should be thinking more strategically about who these people are.

I recently read about one approach that connects both audience and content in a pretty nifty way. It’s called audience-centric content strategy. It begins with the audience first.

Whether we call it “audience-centric” or by some other name, the important thing is to keep our audience in mind as we design our content strategy. Then maybe the most relevant aspects of our plentiful storehouses of content (the supply) will better connect with what our audience is looking for (demand).


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

9 thoughts on “Content strategy is fine, but…”

  1. Love! This all comes back to what I say ad nauseum and sometimes in an entirely b$%^&#y way: no matter how much technology changes the way we communicate, the key skill required to do ‘content strategy’, ‘social media marketing’, ‘community management’ and all other buzzwords well, is a strong foundation in communication and marketing techniques. Preferably, integrated marketing communication. That means REAL marketing, not salesy marketing. It means research and strategy and tactics and measurement and agility to change all of this mid stride if its not working. I worry that we focus too much on the newest way to call communication and neglect the framework necessary to hear and discuss with our communities. More than ever, true social marketing – applying techniques to change behavior, for the betterment of a community – applies.

  2. I agree. Another facet of the same diamond is that companies today don’t seem to care what the customers want or think.
    These days too often, a software upgrade makes a product unusable, a contractor is grossly incompetent and continues to stay in business.
    More and more, companies don’t need their customers anymore.
    I don’t know how it works.

  3. Everything I’ve learned about “content strategy” so far tells me that we absolutely cannot have a successful strategy without first considering our audience. Yes!

  4. Great post! As I’ve heard others say (and told my clients), no one goes online looking for content, they want information.

  5. Great thoughts, Andy. Is this the same as content segmentation? That idea started rolling around back in 2011 and was popular for a while and then I didn’t hear as much about it anymore. The discussion kind of morphed into tiered calls to action and went that way.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, folks! To be fair, I do think that most of the people who focus on content strategy do mean well and are meeting a need. But I do worry about the dangers of focusing only on that part of the equation.

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