Thought leadership presents a challenge to the best and brightest of organisations. It’s hard to generate, and even harder to fully leverage.
Hard to generate, because good content is a rare thing and because organisations tend to rely on their most senior and therefore busiest people to come up with the goods. Harder to leverage, because once a piece of thought leadership content is created, many organisations discover that it’s not creating the impact they were hoping for. An often resource intensive process leads to a modest bang when the content is released and ends with a whimper.
So here are some reasons why nobody reads your thought leadership:
1. Because between thought and leadership, many are thin on both...
Many thought leadership pieces, and white papers are maybe the worst culprits, explore trends that have been identified as important, however, if not carefully edited, that exploration can feel quite meandering. Readers might find it difficult to maintain focus or take away any insights that may motivate them into action. Good content must present focused ideas and clearly state something the reader can identify as new and important. For readers to pay attention choose a careful focus and put forward a committed perspective.
2. Because the content is too busy selling to provide value
Even when a company owns the best solution to the challenge a piece of content describes, if too much time is spent on the specific solution it will feel like the piece is drawing the target around the arrow. Readers' defences are quick to go up when that happens. Is they doubt the sincerity of the content, they might doubt the very importance of the subject at hand and the risk is losing any goodwill we’re trying to build.
3. The content isn’t written with a specific audience in mind
Audiences are already overloaded with content about business-critical issues, even more so on generally important subjects. To choose to spend their scarce attention on a specific piece of content they need to recognise it as specifically relevant to them. Unless it’s written with a specific audience in mind, it’s unlikely to feel more than a general take on a subject. Cutting quickly to what the audience sees as the heart of the matter for their organisation will capture their attention.
4. The content may be great, but the document looks dull and uninspiring
It’s amazing how much work can go into the content and then die on the page because it just looks bad and uninteresting. Audiences today are constantly consuming all singing all dancing multimedia. Investing thought in clear layouts and sharp typography is a good starting point. Taking it to the next level with well-designed infographics and quality imagery makes a big difference. Finally, creating a desirable object through an inventive format can make a publication stand out, stay longer on display and get shared more frequently.
It goes without saying, documents aren’t the only way to go. Sometimes short animations or videos will have a better reach with audiences and make more impact. Digital documents can include all those elements but a tactile object can often be more appealing and easier to skim-read – so choose carefully.
Some managers flinch at the additional expenses this may incur, but think again – the big investment is the time spent creating and refining the content, which often involves multiple senior stakeholders whose time is very expensive. Spend a little more so there’s not risk of jeopardising ay all that investment. Think about yourself as a high-end restaurant serving top-notch food. You have to serve it on great tableware or people will question its quality.
5. Because often even executive summaries are a pain to read
Finding the thought leaders in an organisation and getting them to write is just the start. Many of them may be impressive experts with astute insights into their field and useful recommendations to the readers, but it doesn’t mean they can write well. Writing engaging copy that grabs the readers and makes them keep on reading is an altogether different skillset. Consider using someone else to rewrite and edit the content as necessary. Again – a skilled writer is often a much smaller cost than going back to your expert with edit suggestions and making them spend their expensive time doing them. It’s less stressful too.
6. The full ecosystem wasn’t considered
Thought leadership today exists in more formats than ever before and flows through more channels. To maximise its effective reach you need to both carefully plan your publishing and distribution strategies as well as adapt your content to different channels. Capturing attention on twitter is a different ball game than in a press release; reading on a mobile is different from reading on paper or onscreen. Consider the various shapes your content will take before it’s even written. Social media also demands a higher level of engagement and conversation for your content to propagate through it and not be instantly swallowed by the noisy sea of chatter.
With the importance of thought leadership only increasing and the demands content development makes on your resources, isn’t it worth the extra effort to make sure it works as hard as it should once it’s out there?
Or you could try writing a listicle – I hear those do pretty well.
First published on The Drum, 9 April 2015