Four Thought Leadership Fails

You’ll find many guides on our site for evaluating thought leading content. One we use every day is described in “The Seven Hallmarks of Compelling Intellectual Capital” which (among other things) says that thought leadership has to be novel, focused, validated, and differentiating.

All true. But if you are a marketer helping people develop thought-leading content, it may be a bit tedious to apply that filter to every article that comes across your desk. To help you screen ideas more quickly, here are four categories of submission that won’t ever qualify.  

  1. The legislative change: Every time there is a legislative change that affects businesses – say  Brazil introduces a new law governing foreign investment, or tweaks an old one – hundreds of accounting and consulting firms will write articles on the implications for their clients. They have to. Their clients expect it as it saves them the trouble of puzzling out the consequences themselves. But these articles are not differentiating; they are table stakes for advisory firms in the field. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be written, but perhaps you don’t have to write them. They certainly don’t constitute thought leadership.
  2. The methodology: Every sizeable consulting firm, and many smaller ones, have a library of proprietary methodologies. One may be for managing supply chain risk, for instance, and although it differs in detail from other companies’ methodologies, in principle they are all the same: they provide a framework to ensure that activities, processes, and procedures are followed the same way, every time. It may be thorough; it may solve a problem, and it may be well-proven. But of itself, it will not be thought leadership and it will make for dull reading.
  3. The country or industry overview: You may be presented with an article entitled, “The Political Landscape in Iran Today.” These are the kinds of country overviews you can find in publications such as the Economist or the FT, and these submissions rarely say anything those publications have not oriented already. Neither do they generally advise companies what they should do about the situations they describe, and that disqualifies them. No actionable solution, no thought leadership.
  4. The news story: It may seem like a good idea to have your cyber-crime expert write a piece on something that just happened – yesterday’s data breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, for instance. After all, its’ big news; everybody’s talking about it, and new revelations are coming thick and fast. And that’s the problem with breaking news. It’s breaking. Something may (and probably will) happen tomorrow that will make your expert look ill-informed. Thought-leading content makes recommendations that people can rely on; it should have a shelf life. Our advice is to give news stories a pass.

Although none of the categories constitute a good basis for a thought-leading article, any one of them might contain the inspiration for one. If the keeper of the supply chain methodology has developed a new way of managing risk, based on her field experience, and endorsed by clients who’ve benefitted from it, there might be a great article waiting to be written about her better approach. But you and she will have to do a lot more than enumerate the steps in her framework. You will have to explain what problems they fix, how, why, and then prove it.

That’s going to be hard, complicated work.

Of course, if it were simple, it’s unlikely it would be differentiating, and it wouldn’t be. . . you know, thought leadership.


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