Now that’s real thought leadership


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Everyone wants to give you highfalutin advice about thought leadership for brand activation. Well, not every white paper is going to reinvent your company, but - as in this real-life story - it had damn well better make you stop and think.

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Now that’s real thought leadership

  1. 1. By Mike Azzara, Chief Content Strategist, Stein + Partners Brand ActivationNow That’s Real Thought Leadership!I came across a blog post yesterday about whether your content is really supporting yourthought leadership–in other words, is it really activating your brand? It talked about theneed 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 needsof your target audience at the center of all your work. And you have to say that, everytime, when you talk about content marketing and thought leadership. But I digress.The blog post reminded me of the second-most-impressive thought-leadership projectI’ve ever worked on–and trust me, target audience, you need to hear this story, eventhough 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 formany years. In mid-2010, the company realized there was a fundamental changeoccurring in one of the most important industries it served, and it needed to produce athought-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’sthe thing: Even though the firm knew this fundamental change was about to sweep 1
  2. 2. through and transform everything, no one had ever done that before–methodicallyquestion the short list of internal experts to try to really understand these winds ofchange.The 56-page synthesis we produced by combining insights from those internal interviewswith reams of third-party research included an overview and nine separate sectionsexploring the impact of the coming revolutionary changes on pricing, business models,supply chain, security, the role of government regulators, and international tax andaccounting. Each section was also offered as a standalone paper. And we deliveredinternal and client-facing sales decks and webinars.And when we were done . . . the practice leader dumped the whole package in the deepfreeze for a full year.Turns out the firm’s experts were smarter than they thought. Our synthesis of theirinsights led senior execs to identify strategies and tactics that their organization was notyet prepared to pursue. They planned, re-engineered, and went to market almost a yearlater.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, ithas to be provocative or insightful enough to make you stop and think. Read through thispost again and think about the level of effort and commitment that requires.Read more: 2