In just the last two years, we’ve been asked the same question by six very large B2B firms (two consulting, two IT services, one financial services and one software company): how to build a thought leadership content machine.
By this, I mean creating a department of people who produce compelling content that demonstrates their firm’s expertise. No easy task, not even for the biggest consulting firms, the sector in which thought leadership marketing has been practiced the longest.
We presume we’ve been asked this question because there are few models to follow. While management consulting firms like McKinsey, Booz, and Bain regularly produce new, supported and engaging insights on an array of topics (although they can miss the mark too), they are exceptions. The content published by most B2B firms – even most consulting firms – isn’t exceptional. And it’s not just our judgment. We’ve heard this in “voice of the customer” research we’ve conducted. We’ve also heard it in our surveys of professional services marketers over the last five years.
So why do few B2B firms have a thought leadership content machine that repeatedly issues strong content? In many cases, it’s not for lack of budget or expertise in the domains in which firms want to be seen as experts. Rather, we believe it’s because they lack five elements:
- The right ambition for thought leadership – not just to develop, capture and market expertise that increases demand but also increases supply (new offerings and new approaches to delivering current offerings)
- Codified and therefore repeatable methods for producing intriguing ideas – a few big ones and many intriguing small ones.
- People with the still-too-rare skills of conducting research that unearths new, important insights on complex matters; drawing out the tacit or not fully formed knowledge of firm subject experts; and explaining that knowledge clearly to the great unwashed.
- Mechanisms for turning these ideas into effective marketing campaigns (to create both internal and external demand) and new or improved services (supply creation)
- Having these activities exist at the right place on the organization chart (i.e., not reporting to a function that will warp the purpose of the firm's thought leadership engine).
In five subsequent blog posts, we’ll provide more detail and examples of these five elements. In the meantime, feel free to comment on these posts about what aspects of creating a thought leadership engine you’d like to know about. We’ll make sure we address them.