Why quality control can make or break thought leadership

Gareth Lofthouse

The world of content marketing is becoming more saturated by the hour. It is becoming harder and harder for companies to get their voices heard and to ensure their content is noticed.

One part of the solution is to implement a more tailored strategy to push content out, using the right channels and outputs to attract the attention of a specific audience. But more fundamentally, underpinning thought leadership with robust research – and gaining recognition in the market for your commitment to research quality – is perhaps the most reliable way to grow the traction of your content.

It is no coincidence that firms such as IBM – which has a dedicated global team of consultants conducting its research and analysis – are top performers in thought leadership rankings. When busy executives are weighing up whether to spend time reading a firm’s material, its reputation for quality will be a decisive factor.

Clearly, not all companies have the luxury of a dedicated research unit, but at FT Longitude, we have created processes and safeguards that ensure all firms can attain the highest standards of quality in their research. We touch upon some of these below.

Set hypotheses – and envisage outcomes

    The intricacies of the survey process are often not well understood by marketing leaders, who are unlikely to have had much experience in this area. But the importance of implementing tight controls on how and where data is captured cannot be overstated when it comes to obtaining robust results. Many companies are not doing this well, however. Too many apply a “fishing expedition” approach to surveys – asking a broad range of questions in the hope that something interesting will emerge. Setting hypotheses for the research – and ensuring that survey questionnaires map closely back to those hypotheses – is an important way to ensure that any pre-conceptions are thoroughly tested, as well as targeting results that will spark discussion within the context of your overall corporate messaging.

The interview process

    It’s a great feeling when survey results support the research hypotheses that were established at the outset of a project, but results should always be corroborated through an in-depth interview process incorporating broad expertise from across the subject area.

    Care must be taken to align the qualitative with the quantitative research, so that these two strands are complementary and reinforce each other. Interviews are important to add depth, colour and anecdotal evidence to the findings from surveys. They also help to personalise research and make it more accessible. Readers react to stories, and can engage with them much more readily than they can with thought leadership that is just a succession of survey stats.

    A carefully constructed interview guide is essential to make the qualitative research process effective. But this should only ever be a framework for the interview. No interviewee wants to go through a set of questions mechanically. Interviews need to be conversational and, where necessary, go off on relevant tangents if that will add to the quality and insightfulness of the final content outcomes.

Desk research

    Secondary research is always an important source to draw upon in order to help validate and explain findings in your own primary research. References to other reports and research materials add rigour to thought leadership reports, while also providing interested readers with further material on which to strengthen their own understanding of a research topic.

    It is important, however, to ask the right questions and apply careful tests to secondary research materials. For instance, who are the sources of the information? What are their motives in publishing it? Have the facts been verified by qualified academics and journalists? Was there a robust methodology behind the research? How timely is the information? Now that anyone can effectively act as a publisher, being able to distinguish between trustworthy and unreliable sources is paramount.

As the thought leadership space becomes increasingly crowded, we are certain that a brand’s reputation for producing robust, engaging research will determine its influence with the executive audience. Producing content that truly deserves the term “thought leadership” takes time and effort – and a commitment to quality in every aspect of the process.

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About the author: Gareth Lofthouse

Gareth manages FT Longitude’s growing commercial team as they continue to advise some of the biggest B2B companies in the world on their thought leadership strategy. He works with clients to design thought leadership that delivers maximum commercial impact, both in terms of building client relationships and improving brand visibility.

Before joining FT Longitude, he spent nine years as editorial director for EMEA at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Gareth was instrumental in building the EIU’s thought leadership and survey business, and he has overseen hundreds of custom projects for the Economist’s clients across a range of industries and subject areas. Before that, Gareth led an editorial and creative team for a PR and marketing agency. He has also held several senior editorial positions in business and technology publishing.

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