Having carved a career in the world of B2B marketing for the IT and tech sector, I’ve read more than my fair share of thought leadership content.
When it’s good, it’s REALLY good – full of wonderful words that make you stop and think, perhaps question what you thought to be true, and help you to understand how to move past a particular issue with simple actions.
But when it’s bad…
Urgh, it’s dry, dull, boring, tedious…
And because reading this content is key to my ‘job’, I don’t have the luxury you do – I don’t get to put it down and walk away.
From a purely selfish point of view, I’m tired of reading bad thought leadership content that saps my time and energy. But it also pains me to know that someone invested their time, effort and money into producing an asset that’s never going to deliver them a return.
Don’t be like them.
Invest in making your thought leadership showcase all that you have to offer by avoiding these common mistakes:
1. Being promotional
Thought leadership content, like white papers, guides and reports may be used near the top of the sales funnel to start converting your leads, but is should never be promotional.
Some of the worst ‘white papers’ I’ve read turn out to be 5-10 page advertorials that leave me feeling cheated at the end.
The whole purpose of this content is to educate the reader – it’s not a long-form sales letter. And when you do it well, by sharing your skills, knowledge and experience in how you overcome a particular challenge, or how companies can leverage a particular opportunity, that’s how you ‘sell’ yourself.
2. Saying everything and nothing
At first glance, some thought leadership assets look like they’re full of the good stuff…
But when you finish, you’re left wondering what you’ve just read, and questioning ‘so what?‘
Good thought leadership content needs focus and a clear message. Yes, you might be able to talk about anything and everything to do with cloud migration strategy or digital transformation, but the purpose of thought leadership is to perform a deep dive in one specific area.
To try and cover the whole subject, firstly doesn’t do it justice, doesn’t show your subject matter experts in the best light, could confuse your audience, and ultimately leads to no action.
So before you write a single word, think:
‘What’s the one thing I want someone to take from this content?’
3. Thinking your words are enough
Yes, you are the thought leader. And yes, you probably have something very interesting to say – but who are you? And what qualifies you to share your opinion?
Ok, so that sounds harsh, but they’re the questions the reader is asking as they read your content.
Your opinion and insight may be completely on-point, but to give them credibility, they need to be backed up with research and evidence.
If you’re talking about a methodology, or presenting a theory, it’s not enough. You need to demonstrate it in practice, so think about including some mini case studies.
And if your ideas are challenging the status quo, look for credible sources to back you up. For example, can you share insights from your customers? Has an analyst like Gartner, IDC or Forrester provided commentary on the subject that aligns to your thoughts? Or is there industry research that aligns to what you’re saying?
Your words carry far more weight when they’re substantiated by known, credible sources.
4. Asking the subject matter expert to write it
A controversial one…
The whole purpose of your thought leadership content is to share the skills, knowledge and experience of your subject matter experts, but that doesn’t mean they need to be the ones to put pen to paper.
There’s a little thing called ‘ghostwriting‘, which essentially means your specialists can author the paper without doing any of the hard work.
The process could involve sharing internal documentation, participating in an interview, or providing a lengthily briefing. Your copywriter then creates the content, taking care to write it in the individual’s tone of voice. And then your subject matter expert gets to review and provide feedback on the content before it’s ever published.
Besides relieving the burden on your subject matter experts and cutting down the time taken away from performing their day job, the end result is a much richer piece…
Most subject matter experts are technical, which means they’re naturally focused on the detail and feel most comfortable talking about features and benefits.
A copywriter takes this to the next level, really getting under the skin of the reader – if they don’t feel something, nothing happens because reason leads to conclusions, while emotion leads to action. And that’s not to say your copywriter is about to fluff it up with hearts, clouds and rainbows, it’s about knowing the language and techniques that hook into the brain’s natural bias and gets people to care about what they’re reading.
5. Failing to re-spin it for a wider campaign
Content in isolation doesn’t really do very much.
You write a white paper – so what? No-one woke up this morning instinctively knowing it’s been published on your website.
Perhaps your sales team forwarded it onto a few prospects – so what? It’s a big leap from white paper (which is typically used around the marketing-qualified lead stage of the pipeline) to signing on the dotted line as a client.
Your thought leadership content needs to be produced within a wider marketing campaign. So once you’ve got that big juicy asset, think about how you can repurpose it into other formats, for example:
- Exploring the key themes in a blog series.
- Creating a sequence of emails as part of a nurture flow.
- Sharing snippets on social media.
- Editing a more concise version to share as an article on LinkedIn.
- Twisting it with a promotional spin to create that long-form sales letter.
- Presenting it as a webinar.
- Hosting a roundtable to gain insights from your customers.
- Designing it as an infographic.
The possibilities are endless but the end result is the same – a far richer campaign that builds trust with your audience and is more likely to ensure they convert.
Need some help?
If you want to make sure your thought leadership content is hitting the mark every time and positioning you in the best light, you might be interested in reading “The Little Book of…Thought Leadership Content”, which is full of tips and tricks on how to pitch your content right.
Alternatively, if you want to talk to a copywriter about ghostwriting something on your behalf…