Are Our Hallmarks of Thought Leadership too Hard?

I was asked this month at a training session that I led in San Francisco whether the Bloom Group’s eight criteria for thought-leading content were too strict:

  • Relevance – Addressing a burning issue for your target audience
  • Novelty – having a fundamentally new way to solve a problem
  • Depth – Possessing substantial knowledge about the problem and how to solve it
  • Validity – Proving your solution works through real examples of companies that have solved it your way with measurable benefits
  • Practicality – Demonstrating you have a well-thought-out approach to solving the problem and understand how to overcome the obstacles to adoption
  • Rigor – Having hard-to-dispute logic about the problem and the best way to solve it
  • Clarity – Communicating the point of view in words your target audience understands
  • Coherence – Having frameworks or models that simplify the problem and/or solution

Shouldn’t the criteria be relaxed for short pieces of content like blog posts, one workshop participant asked? Must every piece of content meet all those tests?

Good question, because we all know how hard it is to produce compelling content. After more than a week of thinking about it, here’s my answer: It depends on the extent to which those communiques are a firm’s market mouthpiece, and how much competition for mindshare it has. To compete on the basis of possessing superior expertise – to compete on thought leadership – you must continually show the marketplace your expertise is superior. If the majority of your communications are interesting but baseless opinions (as many blogs are) but only a minority fulfill the eight criteria, I think the market will remember you for the majority of your content.

And if a firm is the only one writing about the issue it cares about, it certainly has more breathing room on our eight criteria. As the 16th century Dutch scholar Erasmus said, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  

But given the world has many more people, much more knowledge, and more ways to tap that knowledge than in Erasmus’ time, it’s hard to find many lands of the blind today. Just do a Google search on the issues your company wants to own in the marketplace. No competition? I doubt it.

We know first-hand how hot topics can quickly become ultra-competitive markets for gaining mind share. Typing "thought leadership" in Google now produces 34 million results of people opining on the topic. (Not so humbly, I can't resist pointing out that our original article on the hallmarks of thought leadership is on the first page of those results.) Yet our content can't stay static in such a competitive market; we need to keep raising the bar of quality on our topic.

So yes – your blog posts (like this one) don’t have to meet all eight tests as long as you’ve published lots of meatier content that meets those tests. And if you don't have competition for mindshare, then opine away.

But your market is far more likely to remember and think more of you when you do meet the criteria. 

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