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Brand Activator/ Branding & Communications

Now That’s Real Thought Leadership!


by Mike Azzara
Chief Content Strategist
Stein IAS (Americas)

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I came across a blog post yesterday about whether your content is really supporting your thought leadership–in other words, is it really activating your brand? It talked about the need to present bold, new ideas, take a stand with a clear point of view, reflect high-quality research, and look to the future. All good advice.

But I won’t link to it because the author didn’t ever bother to mention putting the needs of your target audience at the center of all your work. And you have to say that, every time, when you talk about content marketing and thought leadership. But I digress.

The blog post reminded me of the second-most-impressive thought-leadership project I’ve ever worked on–and trust me, target audience, you need to hear this story, even though I can’t name the client or the topic (or they would have to kill me).

It was for a household-name professional services firm I’d worked for off and on for many years. In mid-2010, the company realized there was a fundamental change occurring in one of the most important industries it served, and it needed to produce a thought-leadership piece that would take it from the middle of the pack among its peers (at best) to the lead. Your humble author drew the assignment.

Working with an internal partner, we interviewed roughly two dozen–no kidding–subject-matter experts from across the firm, all identified by the practice leader. Here’s the thing: Even though the firm knew this fundamental change was about to sweep through and transform everything, no one had ever done that before–methodically question the short list of internal experts to try to really understand these winds of change.

The 56-page synthesis we produced by combining insights from those internal interviews with reams of third-party research included an overview and nine separate sections exploring the impact of the coming revolutionary changes on pricing, business models, supply chain, security, the role of government regulators, and international tax and accounting. Each section was also offered as a standalone paper. And we delivered internal and client-facing sales decks and webinars.

And when we were done . . . the practice leader dumped the whole package in the deep freeze for a full year.

Turns out the firm’s experts were smarter than they thought. Our synthesis of their insights led senior execs to identify strategies and tactics that their organization was not yet prepared to pursue. They planned, re-engineered, and went to market almost a year later.

Not every white paper is going to reinvent your company. But if you want thought-leadership content capable of intriguing your target audience and activating your brand, it has to be provocative or insightful enough to make you stop and think. Read through this post again and think about the level of effort and commitment that requires.

About Mike Azzara

The authors of the Brand Activator blog are from Stein IAS (Americas), New York, BtoB Magazine 2013 Agency of the Year.