The Way Ahead: Six ways to develop a powerful content engine

Gareth Lofthouse

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 produce powerful content. The findings below are detailed in our latest ebook and webinar, The Way Ahead.

This year may represent the biggest shift in two decades in the way content is produced.

As the crisis has unfolded, B2B marketers have come under pressure to change tack and support new business priorities. In a recent poll conducted by the Thought Leadership Network, every single marketing executive said they needed to revise their content strategy to adapt to the new environment created by Covid-19.

New challenges have emerged on a weekly basis: what does furloughing mean for the business? Will lockdowns wipe out whole industries? How can a reeling economy prepare for a second wave? What does a shifting pandemic do to a global supply chain?

Have the objectives and expectations for your thought leadership changed during the crisis? Our experts are here to help advise on how to ensure your content programmes get results.

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Run to keep up

So brands discovered very quickly that the traditional thought leadership model was not fit for purpose. It was too monolithic, too slow, too complex – the content would be outdated as soon as it was launched. To stay relevant, marketers had to deliver new insights and stories in days; there would be no time for the months of planning and production associated with a classic thought leadership project.

Some companies were not agile enough to adapt and are still trying to figure out how to deliver a compelling message. But others have burnished their reputations over the course of the crisis, partly thanks to their ability to produce genuinely valuable insights at pace. Look, for example, at how Accenture has radically transformed its approach to insight generation.

Interestingly, the brands that shifted the most during the crisis are also the ones who think these changes will last. They argue that the crisis has been the catalyst to address more fundamental shifts in customer demand. As a result, they have built a thought leadership content engine that can quickly yet consistently produce powerful and timely ideas in a complex and fast-changing environment.

Six ways to develop a powerful content engine

Throughout the crisis we’ve been talking to prominent B2B marketers and thought leadership practitioners about how they have changed their approaches. This is what they told us:

1. Build an agile team

The crisis has forced companies to introduce elements of agile methodology into their content models. Content has been produced in shorter, faster sprints, with bigger themes explored iteratively over time. Subject matter experts have made themselves available ‘on tap’ to support fast-track thought leadership projects like never before.

It has worked so well that many businesses are now determined to retain a more agile model as part of their longer-term thought leadership strategy and content engine.

2. Create a prediction framework

Thought-leading companies do more than react to events at speed – they can also anticipate where the next pressing issue will emerge. Their thought leadership teams include individuals who are responsible for tracking emerging business trends and formulating the company’s thinking on those issues. At the beginning of the crisis, forward-thinking brands were able to predict areas where their clients would need insight and support. This foresight has enabled them to map their messaging and ideas against different phases of the recovery.

3. Streamline decision-making

Thought leadership projects get bogged down when decisions are made by large committees of stakeholders. Approval cycles drag on for weeks but do nothing to improve the content, and by the time of publication, content is often past its sell-by date. The crisis has empowered companies to sweep some of their more bureaucratic processes aside, and some have set up ‘war committees’, where top business executives make themselves available to decide on messaging and to fast-track approvals.

4. Accelerate insight generation

Pre-crisis, a lot of brands were already moving away from large-scale surveys that took as long as six months to design and execute. Then the crisis brought fresh urgency to the search for faster ways to generate insight. The easy answer might be to fall back on more opinion pieces, but opinion on its own is rarely as persuasive as analysis based on concrete evidence. The brands that have really impressed have found ways to come up with data-led analysis at speed, and new techniques have included agile survey methodologies and B2B applications for sentiment analysis.

5. Compress production cycles

At some companies, it used to take two months or longer to get draft content and pass it through production and design. As with the approvals process, that kind of delay kills topicality and ensures that those brands will always bring up the rear in the race to get noticed. Leading companies, on the other hand, are benefiting from their investments in better content engine systems. But they have also created frameworks and templates that allow them to create content that is on brand, consistent in its tone and approach and ready-made for rapid publication.

6. Adopt a multi-speed model

Companies need to develop an ambidextrous approach to their content marketing. The chart in our ebook shows how companies can establish a multi-speed content model that combines a continuous flow of short-form commentary and points of view with more strategic thought leadership investments. Those strategic pieces might be more challenging to plan now, but brands that invest now to develop longer-term thought leadership will be well positioned to help their clients navigate recovery and their return to growth.

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: 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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