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Beware the content shock

Rob Mitchell

In an influential blog in 2014, the social media and marketing consultant Mark Schaefer raised the alarm for content producers.

The supply of content is increasing at an exponential rate. Depending on which study you read, the amount of free content online is doubling every 9 to 24 months. And while the supply of content is virtually infinite, the demand is finite: there’s only so much an audience can consume. At some point, supply and demand will decouple.

Schaefer calls this the “content shock”. And he says producers will have to compete harder than ever – by producing better content and/or paying for better marketing – to get audiences’ attention.

He was commenting on broader content marketing, but Schaefer’s idea of content shock is particularly relevant to thought leadership. There are two key reasons for this:

  1. Producers of thought leadership don’t have the luxury of aiming content at a broad sweep of consumers; they are targeting a relatively small number of senior executives and members of the C-suite.
  2. Thought leadership typically seems to cluster around the same topics. Today, it’s themes such as artificial intelligence, digital transformation and cyber risk.

This combination of a tiny audience and a small number of topics makes it extremely difficult to get content noticed.

How should producers of thought leadership navigate Schaefer’s content shock?

Apply your own lens to every topic

It’s true that many companies want to write about the same topics, and there are sound commercial reasons to want to associate your brand with the biggest business themes of the day. But that doesn’t mean you have to say the same thing as everyone else.

Every business has its unique identity, capabilities and strategic goals. This identity should form the lens through which you refract your subject matter. A law firm writing about cyber risk, for instance, should have a very different perspective from a tech consultancy. But beyond your discipline, your business will also have specific characteristics and capabilities that you can apply to ensure that your content is distinctive.

Add to the conversation

By definition, thought leadership says something new and adds to the debate. Repeating what others have said or jumping on content bandwagons will put you at the bottom of the pile on a C-suite executive’s desk or inbox.

Sharing genuinely new insight, gained from original research, helps your content to stand out. A provocative or counterintuitive point of view also helps.

Understand your audience

Most companies have a reasonably good idea of what keeps their client base up at night, but fewer have a strong understanding of how and where they access content, and what formats they want to consume.

In addition, most companies have multiple target audiences for their thought leadership, and these segments may have different preferences and channels from one another. In-depth research into where your audience hangs out and how they like to consume content is vital if your thought leadership is going to be noticed. It also ensures that investment in activation can be properly targeted, rather than scattergun.

Get the activation right

It doesn’t matter how insightful or original your thought leadership is: if you don’t get the activation right, then your project will fail.

Good content doesn’t rise to the top on its own. It needs targeted activation and distribution that uses the right channels and the right formats. We often see companies investing 90% in research and content creation and 10% in activation. This simply won’t work: there needs to be a more even balance between these crucial components of a campaign.

Maintain the momentum

Thought leadership can never be a one-off exercise. It builds over time, and sustained success relies on an ongoing conversation with the audience.

All too often, thought leadership is thought of in terms of projects, with a defined beginning and end. But our view is that this approach loses momentum at the end of the project, which then takes time, effort and money to build up again at the start of the next.

Instead, thought leadership should be seen as an ongoing campaign, with no real beginning and end. Get out of the project-based mindset, and you’ll see greater efficiency and results – the kind of results that will help you come out on top when the content shock hits.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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