This challenge applies to all types of content, but it is magnified for thought leadership content because of the higher standards that effective thought leadership content must meet.
Numerous studies have identified the characteristics that make thought leadership content persuasive. While the descriptions used in these studies vary somewhat, the research consistently shows that three attributes define real thought leadership and distinguish it from other types of marketing content.
Relevant - Real thought leadership content addresses topics and provides insights that are highly relevant for the target audience. Of course, all good marketing content will be relevant for its audience, but what sets real thought leadership apart is that it addresses issues that can have a major impact on the business or professional success of the target audience.
Novel - Real thought leadership content provides information and insights that are genuinely novel. Therefore, to qualify as real thought leadership, a content resource must provide information or insights that add something new to the body of knowledge about a topic. In other words, real thought leadership provides the audience something they cannot find elsewhere.
Authoritative - All types of marketing content must be credible, but thought leadership content needs to be particularly authoritative. Because thought leadership content introduces new and novel ideas, it's essential for content developers to support those ideas with sound evidence.
These higher standards make it more difficult for marketers to find topics that can be used for thought leadership content. They must identify issues that are having or will have a significant impact on their target buyers. They must find topics about which they can offer new information or insights. And, they must be able to develop sound evidence to support their new insights.
Four Sources of Thought Leadership Topics
To address these challenges, marketers need to take a broad view of the topics or categories of topics that can be appropriate for thought leadership. From a subject matter perspective, there are four basic types of content (shown in the following diagram).
Product/Service Content - This is just what it sounds like - content that describes the capabilities, features and functionality of a product or group of related products. For a service, it would describe the nature and features of the service.
Having good product/service content is essential for marketing success, but this category is not usually a fertile source of thought leadership content.
Category Content - This type of content discusses issues or needs that a type of product or service can address. When a provider of account-based marketing software creates content that explains why ABM is a more effective approach to marketing or describes the capabilities prospective buyers should look for in an ABM solution, that's category content. Good category content doesn't promote a specific company's product or service, but it often will "evangelize" the product/service category.
Most of the thought leadership content created by B2B companies is category-based content, and this is the content category that most B2B marketers will focus on first. This is a valid approach, but category content will provide only a finite number of appropriate topics for thought leadership content.
There are, however, two additional types of content that can be good sources of topics for thought leadership content.
Job Function Content - This content category includes topics that address issues relating to the job responsibilities of the individuals who will make or influence the decision to buy a company's product or service - i.e. the members of the buying group.
For example, if the buying group for your company's product or service includes senior marketing and sales leaders working for companies that manufacture industrial equipment, your thought leadership content could address topics such as:
- The communication preferences and buying behaviors of industrial buyers
- The growth of online third-party marketplaces for industrial equipment
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