Setting expectations for those who don’t go with the flow


There are times when I’m more than happy to go with the flow—I’ll cheerfully stop for a chat when I bump into a friend, am happy to lose track of time when I’m engrossed in a good book, and enjoy exploring new places without a detailed itinerary. However, when it comes to my professional life, I’m rather more demanding: I want to see objectives and agendas, to know why I’m being asked to read a 30-page document, and to understand your expectations for that project you’ve just handed to me.

When it comes to thought leadership, creators and promoters of such content seem, too often, to be targeting the go-with-the-flow audience, rather than the busy professional. Too often, it’s unclear who exactly a piece of content is aimed at, what it will deliver, how much time it will require, and where exactly to find specific elements. For those who don’t see you as an old friend for whom they’re willing to put other things on hold, or who don’t find your content as engrossing as a good novel, we recommend:

  1. Making it very clear—through the title, subtitle, and opening sentences—who you are targeting and what you are delivering. Yes, you may put off some who aren’t in your target audience but far better to do this than fail to attract those who are.
  2. Creating a clear structructure and, importantly, signposting that structure through easy-to-spot and easy-to-understand headings. And while contents pages seem less popular than they once were, we encourage their use—they are a useful tool, helping readers to understand what the report is about and where to find elements of interest.
  3. Telling your audience how long they should expect to spend on a piece of content—whether it’s an article, downloadable report, or video. This approach is particularly effective when users have a choice of formats for accessing a specific piece of research.


If you’ve got something useful on offer, ensure your audience knows it—and knows what is being asked of them in return.



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