The four tiers of content value hierarchy
It’s important for content creators—especially those in the newsletter and podcast spaces—to know what level of content they’re bringing to their audience.
I highly recommend Clint’s newsletter, TL;DR Sec.
In a recent conversation with a creator friend of mine, Clint Gibler, I came up with this 4-tier hierarchy. It breaks content into four levels:
Discovery: You’re just surfacing random, interesting stuff for your audience.
Curation: You’re being extremely conscientious about the quality of what you surface.
Analysis: You don’t just show them content; you’re also telling them why it matters.
Vision: You’re creating original ideas that help them navigate the world.
The context of the conversation was him asking me what part of his most recent newsletter I liked most, and I responded by telling him it was this section.
Top tier newsletters are heavy in levels 3 and 4.
An analysis section of a TL;DR Sec newsletter
When he asked why, I told him it was because it was Analysis, which is the second-highest form of newsletter content—with Vision being the top.
This quoted piece doesn’t just tell us that exploits come out faster than CVEs: it tells us how many exploits, and how much faster, and what percentage were zero-days. That’s valuable!
People are going to start unsubscribing from newsletters that don’t have level 3 or level 4 content.
In my own newsletter, I make this distinction clear with clearly labeled sections—although I don’t have a “Vision” one because that sounds ridiculous.
The Unsupervised Learning Discovery Section
It’s natural to combine Levels 1 & 2 into a single section.
Unsupervised Learning — Security, Tech, and AI in 10 minutes…
Get a weekly breakdown of what's happening in security and tech—and why it matters.
This is a Level 1 and 2 (heads-up this is interesting content!) section, and it’s aptly labeled “Discovery”.
In my IDEAS, TRENDS, & ANALYSIS section, I try to combine Level 3 and Level 4 content by both commenting on what’s happening right there in the section—with a paragraph of commentary—or by linking out to full essays of original content.
Analysis (and hopefully vision) in a single section of UL
Why this matters
I think this is already happening, actually.
You should know where your podcast or newsletter content fits in this hierarchy because as those mediums continue to go mainstream people are going to tire—or become overwhelmed by—too many shows that offer only the first two levels.
Even if you have decent discovery and curation, people only have so much time.
“Prediction is hard, especially about the future.”
My prediction is that people will drop most of their first and second-level content and hold onto content that hits levels three and four.
There has been a massive adoption trend around newsletters and podcasts, with people signing up for tons of them.
Content moves through a value progression of Discovery, Curation, Analysis, and Vision.
As people get overwhelmed with all the content they’ve signed up for, they’re likely to drop most of the newsletters and podcasts at the first and second levels.
The highest chance you have of remaining on someone’s list after they cut 90% of their subscriptions is to provide analysis of what’s going on, and/or vision around what might be coming.
There could be an exception to this rule for self-help oriented content, e.g., James Clear, where he basically tells you how to be a happier or better person in very short little snippets. I think that’s producing impact at a 3-4 level, but on a completely different axis.
Entertainment value is a magnifier of all four levels, so if you only do discovery but you’re super funny while you do it, you could still hold onto an audience that likes your lens for seeing the world.