The Way Ahead: Five ways to reach your audiences with your thought leadership

Sean Kearns

Business audiences are looking for insights that help them navigate towards recovery. FT Longitude reveals how leading brands are rethinking their thought leadership to stay ahead in a fast-moving market, and give advice on reaching audiences with your thought leadership. If you want to hear more on the topics covered in this article, register to join our exclusive webinar where our co-founders will be discussing the key findings from The Way Ahead.

In a crisis, it is difficult for any business to take a step back. It is hardly the time for self-reflection when revenues stagnate and resources have to be quickly reassigned.

But one side effect of rapid-response comms is that important questions about audience needs often go unasked. Your business has had to adapt and consolidate, and so have your buyers; many will be unrecognisable. You will need to refresh your mental map of the target audience and your assumptions about their likes and dislikes. Their immediate priorities are not the same as their long-term ambitions, and you cannot afford to get your timing or messaging wrong.

“Marketers have a critical role to play throughout the crisis and into the next normal. Marketing leaders need to lead with authenticity and adjust their strategy to meet customers where they are.”

Jonathan Gordon, Partner and Co-lead of McKinsey’s Global Marketing Practice

Reaching audiences: Five ways to do it effectively

How can you inspire confidence among your audiences? You will have to show them that you’ve listened to them and that you are acting on what you’ve heard. Intelligent content starts and ends with smart questions about the realities facing your clients’ businesses.

1. Rethink your buyer group

Your services may have changed and your approach to servicing your clients is probably different. But so is the buyer group that you are seeking to reach. In many cases, the group will have grown; the dynamics and purchasing behaviours will have changed; the influencer may become the budget-holder, or vice versa. Thought leadership needs to be embedded in client-facing teams so that their knowledge can feed into original story ideas and valuable, timely insights.

2. Understand your audience’s motivations

Thought leadership success comes in many guises. ‘Making your client look good’ has always been a valid, if short-term, objective. But try to understand your clients’ personal goals as well as professional ones.

This means thinking of your audience as individuals with hopes, aspirations and anxieties – not just as buyers. If you are a chief data officer, you might want a piece of content to tell you about new monetisation strategies, but you will also want it to give you the edge among your senior management colleagues or to help you further your career.

3. Habits have changed, but they could change again

We know that the popularity of webinars and podcasts has soared during the crisis, while appetite for visual formats and interactive data – not least to understand the impact of Covid-19 – has been growing steadily. You may think you know which assets perform well with your audiences based on what has done well in the past, but now is a good time to reassess. Digital consumption patterns are continually changing, so find the tools and talent that enable you to monitor which channels are most effective.

4. Think about the individual, not the role

Too often, thought leadership targets a seemingly homogeneous group of C-suite leaders. In reality, what they will have in common is a thirst for powerful, inspirational stories. The reasons to read, share and remember content are similar – whatever the job title of the recipient. The interest in content ‘targeted’ at a generic leadership group is almost non-existent.

“For us it’s about being close to our clients so that we understand exactly where they are in the pandemic cycle, and then creating the insights that they can turn into action.”

Laura Bishop, Managing Director, Marketing & Communications for Financial Services, Accenture

5. Remember sector, function and market nuance

It has never been easy to localise global thought leadership campaigns. Multiple data cuts, for instance, are just numbers without context. The successful campaigns use local expertise to turn global headlines into meaningful local stories, and this is only possible with a deep understanding of political, cultural and economic context. The Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating this because we are experiencing a multi-phase recovery: every country, industry and firm has been affected in different ways, and they will recover at different speeds. So we need a thought leadership model that understands global shifts, but also empowers local and personalised messaging for reaching audiences effectively.

This article draws on the insights from our latest ebook: The Way Ahead.

To find out more about how the crisis is changing the direction of thought leadership, including access to our thought leadership measurement framework and how to apply it within your organisation, download the complete ebook here.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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