Does Your Content Lead to Service Innovation or a Veneer of Expertise?

Companies with savvy marketers spend lots of time determining how to market a piece of compelling “thought leadership” content, especially one based on deep primary research. What blog posts can we create, and what bloggers should we contact? What about a webinar series? What opinion articles can we craft, and which publications should we target?  Is there a worthy Harvard Business Review or Sloan Management Review submission here? Perhaps even the basis for a book?

But I rarely see companies spending a similar amount of time determining how to use that content in their services. 

Is there a full-fledged consulting service behind the groundbreaking HBR article?  If not, that leads to this: The firm can't widely practice what it's preaching.

Consulting firms, for example, should ask themselves whether they could develop some new consulting tools based on their best-practice research – effectively, formalizing the informal processes of leading companies that they discovered in their case study research. They should also be asking themselves whether they could bring a whole new consulting service to bring to market.

In helping consulting and other professional services firms with thought leadership for 23 years, I’ve noticed that the research they conduct to establish themselves as experts on some market issue falls into four categories:

  • Wanting a veneer of expertise – In these instances, a company wants to appear knowledgeable about some issue even though it has few people with deep expertise on it and no desire to go deeper. I’ve found these firms typically are selling a software product or IT service that is a commodity. They want to use thought leadership to show they know something about the industries and business functions they’re selling to – even if it’s not much.  These companies can conduct or commission deep research on the issue. But they only use it to get a conversation with a prospect, where the subject quickly changes to the firm’s software product or IT maintenance service. Consulting firms that do this are often floating a trial balloon – let’s create some compelling, research-based content and see if clients call us. If they don’t, we stop there. We don’t really have deep expertise, just the appearance of it. If they do, we rush like hell to create a project approach.
  • Packaging existing expertise – These professional firms simply capture the methods their professionals are already using with clients. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact most professional firms don’t do enough of this: identifying the projects in which their professionals are delivering the strongest results for clients and then codifying their approaches so that other professionals in the firm can learn them too.
  • Creating new methods for existing services – Here professional firms conduct best-practice studies by actually going out to companies they don’t have relationships with to learn from the marketplace. These professional firms, in effect, are trying to renew aging practices and replace obsolete delivery tools and methods. If your firm is doing supply chain design or employee retention strategies the same way you did it 10 years ago, could your methods be out of date?   (They are, for sure, if you still do marketing strategy the way you did it a decade ago. The Internet and social media have changed a few things.)
  • Creating whole new services – Here a firm conducts thought leadership R&D with the very intent of generating a whole new service offering. Reengineering was such an offering at consulting firm Index in 1990 (the firm had consulted to CIOs till that time on how to manage the IT function). Bain’s customer relationship management concept in the early 1990s is another example.

What percentage of the thought leadership content does your company produce in these four categories?  

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