The rise of the digital-first report

Gareth Lofthouse

The days when thought leadership was primarily a print product with a PDF posted online as an afterthought are numbered. Companies are increasingly scaling back their print budgets and requiring thought leadership to be delivered first and foremost as online content. So, how should companies approach this trend? At FT Longitude, we believe that there are a number of key considerations that they need to bear in mind:

Adopt a non-linear approach

    Until recently, companies created thought leadership reports on the assumption that audiences would read them in a linear fashion – starting from the beginning and working through to the end as though they were reading a book. But this is not how audiences consume this form of content. Instead, they typically dip in and out, following links and browsing across websites to find what they need.

Create “snackable” content

    A time-poor audience may only spend a minute or two viewing a company’s thought leadership. This highlights the importance of a modular approach, in which content is broken up into smaller, bite-size chunks. Multiple, smaller pieces of content will be much more effective in a digital environment than a single, long-form report.

Co-develop with the web team

    In the old model of thought leadership, a marketing team would create a print-ready PDF report, and then hand it over to the web team for online distribution. More often than not, this simply meant linking to a PDF on the website. This approach is no longer fit for purpose, however. Instead, companies should involve the web team at a much earlier stage in the process so that they can input into the content creation, and ensure that the final content is optimized for an online environment. Web developers can describe what’s possible – and, importantly, what’s not possible – in the existing template – and help to steer the content in a way that will make it as effective as possible online.

Make content navigable

    Online readers typically scan, rather than read, content. They focus on headlines and stand-firsts and look for devices that provide an easy “entry point” for the content. When briefing writers for digital first thought leadership, companies need to emphasise the need for simple navigation. They should also ask for lists, bullet points and box-outs to be used liberally. Long, linear paragraphs do not work in a digital-first world.

Keep it short and concise

    The shift to a digital first approach highlights more than ever the need to keep content short and concise. Online audiences simply do not read reports consisting of many thousands of words – so it is important to strip back content to what really matters. Equally, an “academic” approach to thought leadership is unlikely to be effective. Sentences need to be short and clear, and concepts easy to grasp.

Make content searchable

    Search engines remain the dominant means by which most web users come across digital thought leadership content. And yet, many companies do not build the need for SEO into their content at the outset. Careful use of keywords, links and other SEO-friendly approaches helps to boost visibility, while use of tools such as Google Analytics helps companies to monitor progress and track what is working.

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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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