At the summit of thought leadership: EI Advisory and Forbes

Thought leadership is a term that has become so widely used by marketing professionals that it has lost equity and connection to the idea it describes. To explore why, build a useful definition and address the key pitfalls and misconceptions surrounding thought leadership, Forbes hosted their first ‘Thought Leadership Content Creators’ panel discussion at The Shard on May 9th.

Against the stunning backdrop of London’s skyline, Tony Jarvis, Managing Director at EI Advisory, Áine Bryn, Global FS Marketing Director at PwC and Brian Bannister, Global Head of Communications at KPMG, began by outlining how to contextualise thought leadership and how this context would inform a definition.

Thought leadership is Darwinian

If a piece of content persists in the narrative years later, it can certainly be qualified as a success. One of the misconceptions addressed early in the panel discussion was the idea that thought leadership content should be viral. True thought leadership is a ‘slow burn’, that takes a period of months to have a measurable impact. So, whilst it should challenge conventional insight, it should be considered separate from ‘thought provoking’ content, which focuses on creating an immediate, largely hypothetical conversation. True thought leadership will create a longer discussion, about genuine pain-points and issues.

It cannot be considered thought leadership, unless it is generating a following

As is often the case in B2B marketing, content will be directed at a relatively small group of highly qualified professionals. With such narrow target audiences, expecting to measure the performance of a piece through conventional metrics (such as clicks, views and dwell time) is an unrealistic expectation. Instead, marketers must look to qualify the success of thought leadership content through other means.

Are your sales teams using it at meetings? Are your clients distributing it internally? Is the target audience waiting for updates? If your thought leadership has made an impact, it should be measurable through your client’s interest in the piece and the amount of information they are willing to exchange for additional material.

Thought leadership is like a romantic dance. It’s something you do with someone, not at them

To improve the chances of engagement from a small target group, involving the end user throughout the journey is essential. Ensuring that the rest of the business appreciates where the value of a thought leadership piece lies before the process begins is fundamental to its success. This requires divorcing it from pipeline objectives ensure that content is being developed with your stakeholders, meaning that they have skin in the game, and fewer reservations about engaging with the product.

 Delegates discussing thought leadership after the event. Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Kiss

Delegates discussing thought leadership after the event. Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Kiss

What does this mean for marketers?

1) Clearly outlining what success looks like to business stakeholders is crucial. Unless the wider business is looking to make a statement on brand position, this approach may not deliver on key goals.
2) Secondly, the utility of the piece must constantly be questioned. Who exactly you are targeting, and how you intend the piece to be of use are again, are fundamental to ensuring a well-received end-result. Taking steps back from the content generation process to ensure that these points are being considered is an important aspect of the process.
3) Finally, and perhaps crucially, Brian Bannister emphasized the point of following through with the commitment.

Target your audience – idea and execution

 Tony Jarvis, EI Advisory. Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Kiss

Tony Jarvis, EI Advisory. Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Kiss

90% of marketing firepower is weighted to the idea, but not enough is weighted to guiding the execution of that idea – and that’s something that needs to change if marketers are to make real use of thought leadership.

Creating content that retains its utility takes time, and it may take multiple iterations before a final product that changes your organisation’s perceptions is created.