I am not a thought leader.
I will not pretend to be one.
What you are about to read is not thought leadership. It’s just something worth thinking about.
My current role gives me access to some of the most interesting, influential, technology in the B2B space. More importantly, it puts me in touch with the marketing professionals and media agencies that sit at the forefront of the promotion of these wonderful solutions. Having had the chance to meet so many brilliant people I consider myself blessed. I am continually amazed by the tactics, strategies and little “tricks” employed by individuals and firms alike as they go about their business of building brand, pipeline and awareness for their respective companies.
My firm is often called into an organization in an advisory capacity to help groups understand a myriad of market complexities faced by tech firm executives; market share, vertical trends, new market entry strategy, channel ecosystem challenges are just a few of the areas where we attempt impart insight and actionable advice.
I have noticed that the aspirational goal of nearly every marketing professional I speak with is to position their firm as a “thought leader”. Almost with out exception the meetings I have with my clients, irrespective of the solution being covered, will meander into familiar territory: a chat about how to ensure their firm is seen as the“thought leader” in the [insert any tech solution here] space. Whether it’s OpenStack, smart cities, Software Defined Networks, mobile devices, printer ink, or cat toys everyone is zealously certain their message (and by extension firm, people and solutions) should, nay MUST, carry within it the holy seed of true THOUGHT LEADERINESS ( hmmmmmmm #ThoughtLeaderiness??? ).
In fairness, some do accomplish this goal, but most do not. Just like good and evil, smart and dumb, beautiful and ugly, Bert and Ernie, normal me and me being terse are mutually exclusive, yet co-dependent opposites, so too is though leadership content and the mundane. In each case one must exist in order to define the other.
So how do tech (actually you could replace tech with ANY) companies establish this coveted pre-eminence in the market’s collective brain? Why through effective content marketing of course! Thought leadership doesn’t simply descend from heaven in the form of an omnipotent alpha-Geek imparting the one, true path to CIOs by doling out wisdom via a series of arcane, magical gestures and select speaking engagements. If only it were that simple and TED talks that productive.
We’ve all heard that content is king. I disagree.
“Content” is this gigantic, nebulous, unchained beast to which all marketers have all become addicted.
Ladies and gentlemen, all you fans of irony in general, I give you the Ouroboros of marketing! King Content is king because we are told it’s king!
Content is not a monarchy, it is a meritocracy where only the best shall rule. Sadly content creation is out of control.
Don’t believe me? As far back as 2010 Eric Schmidt estimated humans created, every two days, as much content (information) as we had from the dawn of civilization until 2003. That was five years ago! Granted this is all content for allpurposes, but you get the point. And since the tech landscape hasn’t gotten simpler, and the range of personas buying solutions continues to expand outside of the CIO’s office, you can bet tech marketers haven’t slowed down in their Sisyphean attempt to keep prospective buyers abreast of the best [insert tech solution here]in the market. On a personal level, one of my clients told me their firm generated over 3,000 pieces of unique content last quarter alone. When I asked why I was told (verbatim): “We want to be the thought leaders in this space.”
So if you want a super-stressed, time and attention span deficient, self-educating, hyper-connected, socially plugged-in customer to actually read and react to your message, you’d best chain this beast. He’s not reading 3,000 pieces. You’re lucky if he reads three. Ask yourself: what am I releasing into the market and for what purpose? Is it worth the time, money and effort to get CONTENT X into the mainstream (and track it’s effectiveness)?
Here’s a handy little chart to help evaluate content types. I call it the Jason’s-Self-Evident-Quadrant-for-Content-Analysis, or the slightly more sexy version for the content cognoscenti the JSEQfCA . It just rolls off the tongue.
NOISE: Do you produce a lot of content filled with jargon, buzzwords, aphorisms and techno-speak? Are your corporate videos super slick, produced by an agency rep that’s trying to channel his or her inner Fellini? Congratulations, you have produced Noise. Of all 4 types, this adds the least value to the market. It is neither informative nor interesting. No one intentionally creates Noise just like I don’t intentionally try and annoy my partner. It just happens. You start out trying to get a compelling message to the market and the next minute you’re being rather aggressively told to stop watching reruns of Escape to River Cottage and take the dog down (NOW) to go pee. This type of content is often created with the assumption that what is being released into the market builds brand. It usually doesn’t.
YOUR ACTION: Lazy marketing. Stop making this all together. How can you tell it’s noise? If you redact logos and any reference to your company in it and a 3rd party has no idea who the content refers to or what action he or she is meant to take after consuming it, then you have Noise.
FACT SHEET: Do you dig tech specs? Is feature/functionality your particular area of strength? Enjoy commissioning 20 page white papers on why your solution performs better than your competitors in a test environment? You’ve got Fact Sheet content! Please note that while this is quite useful to many IT decision makers, and can be quite important in the short-listing process, it does very little to engage the reader. It’s the content equivalent of eating a Clif Bar. Oh sure it has nutrients and keeps you going, but no one ever uttered the phrase “Damn, that was a delicious Clif Bar”. Fact Sheet content educates on specs, but does little to provide the reader with context vis-a-vis the problem your solution addresses. For some reason tech marketers love handing this type of content out at industry events.
YOUR ACTION: Important stuff but use it sparingly and never in lead gen or brand building campaigns. This content is best supplied as an “upon request” item. How do you recognize Fact Sheet content? If you hand it to someone not in your industry and they come away utterly dazed and confused, but when presented to an expert they say something like “oh X is .05 nanoseconds faster than Y? Neat!” you have Fact Sheet content.
FAST FOOD: We’ve all eaten McDonalds. Admit it. You have. Once in a while it’s the meal of choice because it’s cheap, easily procured, comes with a toy in some cases, and quickly consumed. It’s (possibly) a little tastier than a Clif Bar but you won’t ever fondly look back on “the best McDonalds ever” that inspired you to eat all the items on the menu because it’s just so forgettable. “Snackable” content such as infographics, “gamified” content, Tweets, this article I’m writing, and the like fall into this category. It will keep the consumer engaged for a short period of time, is great for building awareness, and is excellent for driving potential clients to more “dense” content. Unfortunately it lacks gravitas and usually won’t get people thinking of you as the guru in any field.
YOUR ACTION: This stuff is easy to crank out, easy to burn through, is great if you need to go wide and want your message shared socially. Understand that it does very little to affect a purchasing decision the further down the funnel you go, but it does grab attention. And just like McD’s builds item after item repurposing the same basic materials – really how different is a Big Mac from a Quarter Pounder with Cheese- crafting this content using source material from, for example, Fact Sheet content is a great way to “compound”, improve ROMI and create message cohesion. It works best in social media and ad campaigns. How do you know if you have Fast Food on your hands? If you read it and your response is “Ok cool… So?”
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: You don’t tell the market you’re a thought leader, it tells you. In a recent study my firm completed comprising of nearly 300 CIOs in AP, we found that outside of security and compliance, a whopping 69% of respondents viewed the driving of profitable revenue via innovation as their chief responsibility. For your content and firm to be viewed as “thought leader worthy”, you must speak to this mind-set. Great content doesn’t talk tech or product or market leadership, it speaks about enabling possibilities. It fearlessly sees around corners and inspires new perspectives. People want to buy from thought leaders. They want to work for thought leaders. They want to partner with thought leaders.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing content form factor with respect to “types” but Thought Leader content can come in all shapes and sizes so there is no formulaic approach. What you say is more important than how you say it.
YOUR ACTION: This is tough. You can’t simply will this stuff into being any more than I could convince the students at my high school that I was cool back in the day. Stupid Northwood HS class of ’89… I digress. This is where you need to fundamentally begin applying the less-is-more approach to your broader content strategy. Focus and refine. Here’s a little trick: try having someone NOT in your industry interact with your content. See how they react. The ability to inspire the uninitiated is often a good litmus test.
So in closing I wish you all good luck in your pursuit of creating amazing content! #ThoughtLeaderiness!