Follow the Leader

Herman MillerWe’ve looked a bit more closely this week at thought leadership marketing in the office furniture sector. I already mentioned that Herman Miller publishes lots on its site covering ergonomics and workplace productivity. Well so do its competitors. Several have research sections of their websites with white papers and reports covering similar topics. This is interesting, because there are other B2B sectors—contract manufacturing for instance—where it’s pretty hard to find thought leadership material at all, so outside of professional services it’s not a prerequisite of doing business.

I’m guessing that Herman Miller’s leadership has led its competitors to believe that they must follow. Unfortunately, they don’t compare for quality.

There are three especially important criteria that published intellectual capital should meet if they are to have an impact in the marketplace; novelty (saying something new), practicality (telling people what they should do) and validity (demonstrate that people who follow the advice derive benefits).

Comparing samples of all three companies’ materials, Herman Miller hits all the criteria in the overwhelming majority of its papers. The others don’t. The most common mistakes are to simply compile material that is already well known (e.g. into a Reference Guide); to describe an issue without giving any practical guidance what to do about it, or to fail to give any examples of companies that have benefited from the recommendations they make. As a result, most of this material has no compelling reason to be read.

Herman Miller’s competitors have apparently regarded their white papers as primarily exercises in writing rather than in point-of-view development—in one of the rare cases an author is identified, she is a career writer and editor.

They have missed the point.

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