Thought Leadership for Tomorrow 2024: Master Thought Leadership with the 4 Rs LEARN MORE

Take Your Thought Leadership to New Heights by Telling the Right Story

Thought Society Storytelling

Ideas become compelling when unique statistics are present, but numbers alone won’t mean your campaign is highly persuasive. The main outcome of thought leadership is to amplify your narrative with data-backed insights, so having dug out revelations from a mountain of information, they need to be framed using storytelling to capture attention.

Having your reader invested in your world is instrumental in building a relationship. It’s where you can turn a prospect into a customer. It takes the right blend of infographics, copy and imagery to sow the seeds of enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to framing pain points, solutions, possibilities and examples in your thought leadership content. Certain industries, such as finance, will have audiences more interested in a ‘long haul’ read, where plenty of copy and detailed statistics are fundamental.

That’s not to say there is a certain formula for each specific sector. It’s important to take into consideration the roles of your target readers, and while long-form articles are okay for some, this can be a turn-off for others.

How do successful thought leaders tell their stories?

At our inaugural Thought Leadership For Tomorrow event, we had some eye-opening tips on constructing a narrative from prolific thought leaders.

“What we’re trying to think about,” said Jeff Potter, the Head of Advisory US Insights at KPMG, “is how do we build stuff that’s going to be used by partners and practitioners and our business constituents, so they’re excited to share the story?”

This tip is a great direction for storytelling and for earlier stages when you’re crafting surveys. Too often, campaigns tend to be built around the organization’s needs, feeling brand focused and like a marketing exercise.

“It’s really important to understand it’s not just about revenue,” explained Shabnam Gangar, our Vice President of Marketing here at iResearch Services. “What’s your purpose, and what’s your goal?”

The guidance here is refreshing to hear from a marketer. In some companies, there can be pressure from the C-Suite to see if thought leadership will immediately bring in revenue. While it can and often does have a positive impact on the bottom line, it’s essential to point out that other goals also need to be considered as part of a long-term business strategy.

You should consider using TROI™, our unique tool to measure where your brand stands against competitors when it comes to thought leadership.

“Thought leadership is at the fulcrum of our research and client impact”, explained Lucia Rahilly, the Global Editorial Director and Deputy Publisher at McKinsey & Company. “It’s the way we not only build awareness, but in fact, we do spur leaders to practical action and change.”

“I think the new approach is, as much as we create great content, it can’t be great unless you’re about to connect it to the stakeholders,” opined Serge Perignon, the Global Head of TCS’s Thought Leadership Institute. “That requires the human side of it. We all are very focused on the mechanics of making great content, but I think it’s time, well it is for me, for stepping back and saying, ‘what’s the human side of it?’ At the end of the day, there is a huge human component, it’s about communication between people and still trying to sell to a person.”

The common theme from the advice here is to ensure your thought leadership campaign is centered on your readership. Draw the reader in and don’t give too much away at the start. Intrigue is the hook to having your audience engaged and joining you on the journey. The pain point should be written in an empathetic style. Bring the reader in by using emotive words, but never go over the top.

Think of your audience and their concerns

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made when creating thought leadership is treating it as an extension of marketing. Sales-oriented staff will push for the ‘big sell’. I’ve seen staff try to rewrite pieces that end up looking like a script for an infomercial. Naturally, this is a huge turn-off that will turn more potential customers away than attract them.

Always think of the end result – informing and entertaining the reader. Thought leadership is the delivery of startling insights and fresh revelations, positioning your brand as an intelligence-led innovator and enhancing your reputation. Ensure your content is truly authentic and conveys trust.

“Authenticity is key, not just for brand awareness, but to produce and publish valuable content for your industries”, says Shabnam Gangar, Vice President Marketing at iResearch Services.

Target audiences need to be defined, which usually comes in at the advisory stage. This step should consider the industry your organization is in and any relevant sectors adjacent to it.

Then you need to think about various angles that may need to be amplified to appeal to your audience’s concerns. This list of topics should give you some inspiration:

  • Sustainability
  • Economic pressures
  • Supply chain issues
  • Customer/client expectations
  • Digital transformation
  • Talent attraction/retention
  • Societal changes
  • Technological risks

Do you have insights that point the way forward in any of the above? Have you come across any trends that show a worrying decline in issues related to these areas? These should be the drivers for your copy. The key is finding something different to say about well-worn and popular topics.

Consider the role of your reader

Thought leadership is widely consumed at C-Suite level, you could reasonably conclude that your typical reader is time-starved and that you should keep things brief and centered around the main points.

Even with an aim for the C-Suite, it pays off to dive deeper into the various roles within – all of whom have different challenges and preferences to address. Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) are concerned about risk. Reputation is, naturally, a key interest of any Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). No prizes for guessing what keeps a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) up at night.

There will also be key decision-makers outside the C-Suite, which means specific considerations on what content and themes most appeal to other popular audiences, such as:

A word of warning; trying to squeeze in as many angles as you can for the broadest appeal could be a recipe for disaster. Careful tailoring is key.

However, you may wish to work on multiple messages, carefully tweaking your content to lean towards priorities valued by certain types of readers. The upside of this strategy of personalization is that your story becomes a lot more effective, resonating with your target reader.

The disadvantage, if you’re proposing to use printed materials and/or video in your campaign, is that it could mean significant time and money producing these extra assets. On purely digital content, the cost/effort barriers tend to be lower, so it’s usually a good route to follow.

Choosing the right medium

With your audience considered, the next step is choosing the type of media. Here’s an inexhaustible list of media options:

Not all these options will be applicable to your campaign, but you will already have a sense of which should gain traction with your target audience. By creating several content types, you have the advantage of engaging multiple channels. Shabnam Gangar has some expert advice on this stage of the storytelling process:

“Consider social channels and how you share content on these channels, as every consumer prefers to digest content in their own ways. Building advocacy and trust – and building relationships – are important on all levels.”

It’s also important to keep content repurposing in mind. This ensures your messaging remains consistent across the channels you choose.

Tap into proven expertise and experience

From conceptualization and data research to activation and impact research, iResearch Services offers a range of thought leadership creation stages as part of its Thought Society™ service, ready to ensure your organization stands out in its sector. Get in touch to discuss how we can supercharge your storytelling.

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