It’s the Content, Stupid

It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hysteria and believe everything you learned about marketing is obsolete.  We heard a similar line a decade ago, when e-commerce and e-everything were going to Amazon every bricks-and-mortar business out of business.  I think Wal-Mart is still in business, last time I checked.  And Barnes & Noble.  And CBS, Disney and HBO. And many other old-school "dinosaurs" that "just don't get it."

While we believe the practice of marketing is fundamentally changing because of the Internet, we know some practices will never change because they are at the core of what motivates a buyer to buy.  And one of them is the need for a compelling reason, clearly communicated.

What does this have to do with thought leadership marketing?  Everything.  We see all sorts of soothsayers urging professional services firms to start tweeting, blogging, Facebooking and LinkingIn. But we don’t see any talking about having something substantive to say.

So we’ll say it.  If you don’t have a point of view that is new and substantiated with examples (something executives refer to as “proof”), you can tweet about it all you want but buyers will ignore you.  As they should.  Creating great content – powerful points of view backed by irrefutable evidence – is far more important than being adroit with Facebook.

It’s great to see professional firms that get it.  Recent research from ITSMA, whose followers hail from the IT services sector, shows IT services firms now see the value of great content.  They said “thought leadership development” was more important to their marketing strategy than any other tactic this year.  In fact, they rated it more important than online video, social networks, and online communities. 

What puzzles me is why so many overlook the need for great content, which we talked about in a recent article.  Is it that marketing is a more interesting topic than content development?  That style trumps substance in marketing circles? (Don't take that harshly.)

I'd love to hear some good rationales.



Submitted by Visitor on

Bob, from my experience I think there are fundamentally three reasons why some companies aren't good at developing thought leading content.

1) They aren't thought leaders, never will be and are happy to continue using the traditional marketing channels to sell their product

2) They want to be thought leaders but are either fearful of a) sticking their heads above the parapets with something different, or b) they don't want to share their content because it's seen as giving away the game to their competitors

3) There are some companies that are good at packaging and generating lots of content but it doesn't necessarily mean that it is thought leadership material.

Finally, developing one's position as a thought leader in the market takes time.  More often than not this doesn't deliver immediate ROI and with marketing directors constantly being pushed on showing ROI it is sometimes easier to focus on the tried and trusted camapaigns that are immediately measurable and that immediately impact on sales.

The irony is that the companies that do build preeminence through thought leadership build tremendous trust with their publics which result in far more loyaly customers down the track. 


Craig Badings




Submitted by Bob Buday on

 Hi Craig,

Good points all.  They all resonate with my experience. 

On your reason No. 1:  Many companies don’t need to be seen as experts on some issue.  They believe their product or service speaks for itself, and they may be right.  I don’t need to read a white paper from Exxon or Shell before I put gas in my car!  So thought leadership is clearly not needed by every company, although one can get the impression that everyone needs it.

On reason No. 2: I’ve seen that as well, both worries about thinking differently and not wanting to give ideas away. I tell consultants that if they worry about giving too much away, then they don’t have a defensible consulting service; if clients just have to read a book to learn how to do something, why is a consultant needed?

No. 3 as well: companies that focus on the packaging or quantity of content but not on quality.  It’s hard to judge quality but not quantity, which may be one reason this happens.

The time issue:  I totally agree that many companies are put off by the time it takes to generate compelling content.  At the same time, having a powerful point of view on an issue creates a competitive barrier for competitors – they can’t easily top it. 

My sense is that thought leadership marketing is new to a lot of marketers (outside of professional services perhaps), and that there is lots for traditional marketers to learn.   

Thanks for the comments!




Add new comment