Summary 3/5


Executives continue to be reliant on credible, fact-based content; in fact, they are consuming more of it, but from fewer sources. For marketers, the challenge will be to reverse the trend of “more is better” in favor of doing less, but more concise and impactful, work – while still appearing relevant and timely.

“It’s important for all companies to have a clear idea of their brand internally before they go ahead and talk about how that manifests itself externally.”
Hamish Rickman, Virgin Atlantic

This is easier said than done. Marketers overwhelmingly say they plan to increase their output even though they acknowledge that most of what they put out is not being read, viewed or otherwise engaged with.. ..

Why? As traditional marketing tactics continue to be rejected by consumers and more brands create more, high-profile content programmes, marketers are feeling competitive pressure to produce a continuous stream of content to keep up. As John Rudaizky, Brand & Marketing Leader, Partner at EY said, “The challenge for B2B content is that
it competes in a huge array of media fighting for time against other always- on entertainment. This means that the format and impact are as important as the value of the insights.”

But the pressure to create more content works counter to the characteristics global executives value – content that is original, fact based and forward looking. And as executives rely on a smaller number of trusted sources, breaking through the noise rather than adding to it becomes more difficult. The problem is compounded by technology that has made it easy to produce, target and distribute, leaving marketers often torn between the need to continue to publish and the knowledge that much of their work is not actually being engaged with.

Our research highlighted two responses toward more effective thought leadership. First is a return to the fundamentals, an acknowledgement that true thought leadership is not a volume game. As our advisory board noted, quality can be a leveller, elevating the brand on the strength of credible research. And clearly, the executives in our survey are willing to put their trust in brands that provide them with challenging and factbased perspectives.

Second is the realisation that the world is moving too fast to rely entirely on the traditional, time-intensive idea of thought leadership. Marketers must think as much about visual vocabulary, content formats and platforms as they do about the content itself in order to be discovered. The fundamentals may be the ante to being considered a trusted source, but innovative distribution, format and cadence, as well as time to market, is critical.

And, of course, those who focus only on the fundamentals will be lost in the noise and those who mistake the ease of publishing for permission to publish only add to the glut of content that is creating the problem. Rather, it is the balance of the two that creates effective modern thought leadership. As Andy Weitz, SVP, Global Marketing & Communications, Aon, an Advisory Board member noted: “Substance is key, but format and presentation are also vital if you are going to stand out and convince the audience to spend time with your thought leadership.”

The study and the related discussions with our Advisory Board point to a new lens on thought leadership, one that builds on the tradition of substance but acknowledges the reality that knowledge development is iterative and dynamic, and not owned by any single brand or organisation. A creative soundbite rooted in substance can be as powerful as the study that produced it, and both are part of a larger and continuous community of thought.

The data and subsequent discussion with our Advisory Board also underscore the importance of rooting content development closely to a strategic imperative, whether a company’s brand values, purpose or aspirant legacy, as well as its areas of strategic strength. Authenticity is a precursor to credibility – and increasingly cynical readers can easily see when a company is reaching beyond where it is believable or acting in a self-serving manner.

To succeed, marketers will need to be even more disciplined to be true to themselves and to their readers. They will need to recognize that the old model of handing down “thought leadership” from on high is dead. Rather, successful content marketers are part of a larger, ongoing conversation. Today’s thought leaders are not thought leaders at all – they do not claim to have all the answers – they are thought partners, drawing on insight or experience from within the company, convening outside perspectives and living their values.