At consulting firms and other B2B companies, disagreements often arise over what matters most to customers in thought leadership articles. Since no one has infinite time to devote to these articles, you must separate what is vital to customers, and what is merely nice to have.
Surely, it's worth hearing directly from your customers on what matters to them, and the latest Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF) study on thought leadership content and marketing provides some enlightening data points.
We've previously shared with you four key traits shared by the leading companies in this survey group -- those that have generated the most business leads from thought leadership content. For instance, successful companies choose a few subject areas to own and they go deep on them, instead of tackling a large number of topics in a relatively shallow way.
Now, let's delve deeper into the information that your customers shared about what they value.
Overall, customers cite three must-haves in thought leadership content:
1. High relevance to the customer's situation (65%)
2. A demonstration of deep knowledge about both a problem and its solution (60%)
3. Case studies showing show the solution was applied at named companies (59%).
Hopefully, none of these factors will surprise thought leaders or content experts.
However, the customer responses related to five detail-oriented questions that firms often debate may surprise you.
1. Do we really need to share a subject matter expert's personal email address -- not just the firm's -- at the end of an article?
Yes, you do. After reading thought leadership articles, a notable 29% of respondents said they sent the author an email to set up a phone call. And 26% invited the authors to present at their office. If they can't reach the expert easily. . . your firm misses a solid sales opportunity.
2. Should we focus content efforts on our website or on third-party publications?
Both matter, but third-party publications matter more. Customers looking for thought leadership start with The Wall Street Journal's online edition (60%). Then they go to Harvard Business Review/HBR.org (54%,), followed by Forbes.com (48%). Industry-specific trade magazines were cited by 43% of respondents. Just 24% of buyers cited content from firm websites, and 21% said LinkedIn's Influencer columns. So while it takes more work to get into top third party publications and trade publications than to self-publish, it's time well spent. That's where your customers are. (See my related blog, Why You Should Go Beyond Self-Publishing.) Remember: Most people will come to your website after reading an article in a third-party publication. So you want to impress them when they do get there. Which leads us to...
3. Must we link related content to articles on our website?
You should. When customers were asked to rank thought leadership article qualities, 88% said articles that link to relevant case studies were important, and 74% said they look for additional linked content when they read articles. Therefore, if you want to give your customers what they want, you need to package content. That means you need a CMS that simplifies content tagging and packaging. The customer data speaks for itself; if getting a better CMS requires an internal battle, it's one worth fighting, and you can point to the AMCF survey.
4. Should we ask people to register before accessing our content?
Yes, but not all the time. In return for access to an article, less than half of customers will give you a fully completed form to mine for potential leads. In the survey, 40% of respondents said they would fill out only the required fields to access content; 6% said they would fill out most if not all fields. However, 41% said registering is a turn-off and they would simply leave the site. Worse, 13% said they'd share false information to access the content. In other words, requiring visitors fill out a form will drive away over half your potential customers. Still, 52% of the leading consulting companies in our survey say they selectively gate content, compared to 38% of the less successful companies.
The key word here is "selectively": Rattleback's Jason Mlicki recommends gating only the highest quality content, and no more than 5% of your total content. This way most of your content is visible to search engines, but you can still generate leads using your best content pieces.
5. Should we personalize content presentation upon return visits?
Yes. Call it the Amazon effect. Due to everyday exposure to the highly personalized Amazon ecommerce platform (and similar sites, like Netflix), people expect a personalized experience on your site. About 56% of survey respondents said they expect consulting firm websites to "remember what articles they've read previously and recommend other content that might be useful to them." That means personalization is worth the work it requires. If someone read your supply chain strategy piece last time he or she visited, you want to deliver more (and different) supply chain expertise when he or she returns to the site. You should also identify relevant related topics. (A good CMS helps tremendously.)
I know you were hoping that what your customers wanted wouldn't cost you much time or money -- and some of these customer preferences require you spend one or both. But we hope this data gives you more ammunition when your firm next discusses these matters. After all, customer satisfaction starts with listening to the customer.