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Why balance is key in thought leadership success

Rob Mitchell

The longer I’ve spent in business, the more I’m convinced that pretty much everything we do in management is about striking a balance.

We need to innovate and expand into new areas, but we must also optimise the products and processes we already have. We must do absolutely everything we can to delight the customer, but we need to ensure that our engagements are profitable. In our personal lives, we must strike a balance between the demands of work and careers, and the need to spend time with family and on activities outside work.

On a recent business trip, I chaired two events on measuring the effectiveness of thought leadership, and the concept of balance came up again and again. So, not only is this a key theme at the macro level, it also comes into the daily decisions that marketers make in their content and thought leadership. The message I kept hearing is that the balancing act is never easy, and that everyone needs to make constant adjustments to maintain equilibrium.

Here are five “balancing acts” that I see regularly among our clients and marketing professionals – and that I heard come up at least once in the past week.

Reach or relevance?

B2B marketing is very different from B2C, where the scales would usually tip in favour of reach. In B2B, reach is still important because there is always the need to replenish the funnel, build awareness among future buyers and attract new audiences. But relevance is also key to success. Most marketers know that audiences expect (and will receive from their competitors) highly targeted and personalised content. And, in sectors with long sales cycles (i.e. most of them these days), relevance and personalised thought leadership are ways of building trusted relationships that will form the foundations for future sales and loyalty.

Short-term sales or long-term brand?

For many years now, commentators have pointed out that the balance between short-term and long-term marketing is getting out of kilter. Leadership teams expect quick results from marketing and often don’t really understand the long-term value of brand-building. Digital marketing has exacerbated the problem with its ready availability of easily quantifiable data. In thought leadership, it sometimes feels like we are the last bastion holding out against the constant drive to short-termism. But we can’t just build awareness and brands and be a pure “top of the funnel” operator either, otherwise we risk creating a dead-end in the customer journey. Investing in brands over the long term is almost always seen as an essential route to long-term profitability and pricing power, but it needs to be supplemented with shorter-term tactics that will generate more immediate commercial returns.

Creativity or efficiency?

There is always a tension between these opposing forces. Focus on creativity and ignore efficiency, and your work will be amazing but enormously expensive to produce and may never even see the light of day. Focus on efficiency and ignore creativity and your finance team will be happy but your content will fail to engage its audience. Marketers need to be able to convince their finance colleagues that investment in creativity is worth it, even if ROI is difficult to measure (although see my recent blog on Return on Quality for some thoughts on how to do this). At the same time, they must seek efficiencies and ensure their spending is appropriate to the goals at hand.

Responsive or thoughtful?

Good thought leadership takes time. It requires phases for planning, gathering evidence, developing insightful messaging and building engaging content. Yet, at the same time, audiences crave fresh insight and fresh perspectives on current topics. We’ve been saying for a while that the answer to this is to develop a “two-speed” thought leadership model, with considered, innovative content being produced alongside more agile, fast-to-market perspectives. The former will have longevity and, usually, the more original insight, while the latter will ensure that you maintain share of voice and keep up the content drumbeat.

Macro or micro?

There is sometimes a misconception that thought leadership is all about high-level, macro megatrends that are abstracted from day-to-day business. Equally, we often hear a view that content that is more closely aligned to a company’s products and services is not really “thought leadership” at all. The reality is that both can be done badly, and both can be done well. And, for most companies, you need a mixture of the two: macro topics that show your thinking about the future; and micro themes that demonstrate you understand the pain points that your customers are experiencing today.

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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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