5 signs your thought leadership content is crap

Allan TanIn this guest post, B2B communications specialist Allan Tan offers fives ways to work out if your thought leadership content might be missing the mark.

Like many terms used in the marketing and PR industry, “thought leadership” has become so badly abused that when clients ask us to create “thought leadership content” they usually mean something else entirely. So to help set the record straight, I thought it might be useful to highlight a few awful examples of “thought leadership” content that should actually be called…

1. A sales pitch

A thought leadership piece is meant to generate new ideas, present an opinion, or to provoke a conversation. A product brochure states a need, offers a solution, and talks up features and benefits. Yet, when we’re asked to create thought leadership content, we are frequently asked to feature products prominently as well, with the justification that any money spent should help to “generate sales leads”.

I’d beg to differ. If your intention is to get it pitched successfully to the media, many of the established publications will scrub all mention of products from your contribution because they don’t want to be seen as your extended marketing arm.

2. An ego piece

An ego polishing exercise is like a bad first date conversation – every time the person says something, it’s really all about “me” and not enough about “you”. Simply count the number of times the words “I” or “We” appear in the article: a rate of once a paragraph should set alarm bells ringing, and almost guarantee that the first date will be the last. So, if you want to get to second base in B2B, keep in mind that good thought leadership content cover topics that are of concern and relevance to the person you’re having a conversation with.

3. All talk no action

When an article offers only conjecture, and offers no statistics nor personal experiences to back up your claims, then you’re wandering into the realm of the puff piece. Business-to-business conversations tend to be more convincing when verifiable facts, actual deployments and case studies are used to justify a line of reasoning. A sustainable thought leadership position is going to be built on what you’re doing, not just what you’re saying.

4. A straw man argument

A straw man argument is invoked when someone puts forth an argument – or distorts a competitive position – in a way that’s either extreme, oversimplified, or easy to discredit. For instance, someone might say (and with good justification), “…businesses need to adopt cloud computing with caution because there are still many security concerns to overcome.” A competitor could set up a straw man by stating that “customers shouldn’t pay money for insecure cloud computing products”, even though that wasn’t the point of the original statement. How do you identify straw man arguments? A big sign is when you find the argument makes you go: “Captain Obvious”.

5. Some random copy

This is my personal favourite: “We’d like a series of thought leadership articles, so can you get the calendar and the first article to us by 4pm tomorrow?” Thought leadership is not measured by how much clever copy you can glob together, or how many blogs you can write in a month. It’s about how people see you in relation to other companies talking about the same things. To be seen as a thought leader, readers have to see you setting the agenda on a consistent basis. So if you’re using only internal measures like “number of blogs”, or “word count”, you are measuring output, not outcomes.

Allan Tan is the managing director of Ying Communications


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