Perhaps the biggest challenge for B2B content marketers today is creating strong content, quickly and consistently (see chart). The standard is continually rising for both the quantity of great ideas and how compelling they must be to stand out in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.
But as Jeff Pundyk, former publisher of McKinsey Quarterly, once remarked to me: “Producing anything good is hard.” Producing strong, original content is never easy, and producing it in quantity is many times harder.
One factor makes it harder than it has to be: for many firms, producing thought leading content is a separate exercise from everything else they do, such as serving clients and developing new services. In its isolated silo, thought leadership often looks like a cost; it is difficult to get the time of the practicing professionals who should contribute their thinking; and the result can be disconnected from the firm’s service offerings. Even if it does address the right topic, other professionals may not engage with it once it’s published.
Here is a suggestion for a better way, although I have rarely seen it done: combine knowledge sharing, service development and content development into one process. For Chris Parsons, CEO of Knowledge Architecture (a firm that provides knowledge management solutions to architecture firms), these are three dimensions of the same thing.
How can a firm do this? Most have offsite meetings during the year to discuss what has been learned on projects, to share learnings across practices, or to develop their services, for instance. Content development should be part of this mix. Have someone in the room who knows how to develop thought leadership material. This skilled content developer will not only spot the ideas and throwaway comments that can be the kernel of great stories, but also can encourage consultants to fill the gaps until those ideas are complete. Tom Stewart, chief marketing and knowledge officer at Booz & Co., puts it this way: “Our extraordinarily brilliant work force is – forgive the cliché – at the coal face. They are impatient to get back to it and are not concerned with the opportunity to take the coal and compress it into diamonds. And yet, the tools they use to drill at the coal face have diamond bits. So that’s where we get to play—helping them recognize when they have a piece of coal that can become a diamond and be used again and again and again.”
Combining content development this way does more than produce material at the leading edge of the firm’s thinking. It also spurs more thinking -- and, in turn, more innovation in developing the corresponding services. Lara Lee put processes of this sort in place at the design and innovation consultancy Continuum, where she was chief innovation and operating officer. Ad hoc teams and chartered research and development “communities” brought together observations from the world at large, insights gained through project work, and client feedback on emerging business needs. They used this information to incubate new service offerings. These teams collaborated with marketing and business development teams to create blogs, articles, media pitches and talking papers – linking Continuum’s services to current issues for the media and prospective clients.
The right way to do this depends of course on the company. But the key is to combine content development with capturing the firm’s experience and developing its offerings too. Then it looks less like a burden and more like help.