How to create quality thought leadership content

by Darren Clare

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As we learned in the previous post, investing in quality thought leadership content can strengthen your brand’s reputation and build trust. These can improve customer retention and even allow you to command a premium for the services you offer.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential benefits of thought leadership content, we’re going to explore how you can create great content for your audience. To be genuinely relevant to your audience, thought leadership content should be useful, insightful, well-researched, and thought-provoking.

Research from the 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn Thought leadership study found that decision-makers considered only 15% of the content they read as ‘Excellent or Very Good’, meaning that the remaining 85% was just OK or mediocre. To make an impact through your content, it must cut through the noise and rise above the fray.

Set out your long-term strategy and key messages

Before you plan any thought leadership content, you’ll need to (re)establish your audience profiles and/or customer personas. You and your team might have done this already as part of your broader marketing strategy, but it can be a good idea to refresh these if they were created some time ago and sense check that they are still on point. Audience insight should be your north star when creating content. If you’re not specifically targeting and solving an important pain point or sharing helpful information they didn’t have before, it’s unlikely that your content will be valuable to your audience.

Thought leadership is a long game, so you should take a long-term view when creating your key messages. Although there’s a place for reactive content it’s not usually what people come back to time and again as a valuable resource. It loses relevance as soon as the situation it deals with passes. Genuine thought leadership content can have much more longevity, driving traffic and attracting views for many years. So it’s worth investing in to get it right.

Brainstorm topically relevant content ideas

A good starting point is reading widely so that you’re up to date on trends within your industry—keep an eye on competitors and industry influencers to get an idea of what others are saying in this space. This can help you identify an area of expertise to stake out as your own. For example, if there are five good whitepapers on one topic, it’s unlikely that adding a sixth is going to get you noticed. But you may be able to spot an area of interest that nobody else has covered in-depth and focus your efforts on filling the gap.

It’s essential to have a unique perspective on your industry or sector. Rather than rehashing the trends impacting your industry,  you should centre your thought leadership content around your expertise and understanding. Using examples from your own experience is a great way to show, not tell, why people should work with you. It also helps avoid regurgitating the same insights as your competitors.

Make your focus deep rather than wide. Once you have identified a compelling topic for your audience you can develop these into “evergreen” content pieces that rank highly for organic SEO. Because you took the time to get your messaging right, you can continue to refer to, repurpose, and build on this content for some time to come.

Do your research

The 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn study highlights that one key attribute of high value thought leadership content is its practical insights and actionable competitive intelligence. Including and exploring relevant data in your content can help bring your ideas to life and evidence your arguments.

If you don’t have the resources or time to complete independent research or analyse your data in-house, consider outsourcing these tasks to reputable third parties. Remember to fact-check any data that you use, so you don’t inadvertently damage your reputation with inaccurate information.

Write for impact

75% of decision-makers surveyed in the same study thought that the most compelling examples of thought leadership content were brief and easy to understand. So, avoid fluff by writing in plain English and being concise—just say no to jargon!

Practice crafting good headlines to invite your readers to engage—and to tell them what to expect—but don’t be tempted to use “clickbait” techniques as these will reduce your credibility.

To keep your content engaging, use storytelling techniques. By building a narrative, you can take your audience with you on the journey.

As well as integrating your research into your content, think about linking to other relevant work that you’ve created. This will help you build your authority by reinforcing your insights on a particular topic.

Finally, it’s important to remember that your thought leadership content isn’t the place for overt selling. Your aim here is to gain your readers’ trust and position your brand as an authoritative source of valuable insight and expertise —your audience hasn’t forgotten that you offer a paid service.

Using content to create better business outcomes

Producing quality thought leadership content takes an investment of time and skilled resources; however, the return on investment makes these efforts extremely worthwhile when done correctly. Targeted, high-quality content will help you stand out in a landscape of “same old, same old” and potentially keep performing for years to come.

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