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Why business content is all about vuja de – not déjà vu

Rob Mitchell

We’ve all heard of déjà vu, that strange sensation you get when you’re confronted with something new but it feels very familiar. But what about the opposite, when you see something familiar but have a different perspective or lens on it?

Welcome to vuja de, a concept that has been knocking around the innovation and business circuit for a number of years. The central idea is all about looking at an existing problem with fresh eyes, figuring out new angles on well-trodden topics and rejecting the default way of looking at the world.


Is it time to abandon the quest for white space?

It strikes me that vuja de is an essential skill in the world of B2B content and thought leadership. There’s a tendency among content producers to be on a never-ending hunt for ‘white space’. They spend a lot of time trying to identify and occupy an entirely new topic area, because they think that they are not really doing thought leadership otherwise. They prioritise differentiation over distinctiveness, seeking to say something different from their competitors rather than focusing on what really matters to the audience.

I have always found this approach questionable. For one thing, it is incredibly difficult to come up with a groundbreaking, entirely new insight. It is great when it happens, but it is rare.

But more importantly, this is not really what our audiences want from us most of the time. It may make the content producer feel good that they have come up with something new and clever, but it probably won’t perform the core function of most B2B content: answering the pressing questions that are on the minds of our audience right now.


Using vuja de to your advantage with hot topics

Rather than searching for that elusive white space, it is more practical and useful to look at core business issues and offer a fresh perspective on them. Vuja de, in other words.

At any time, there are always a handful of issues that are top of the business agenda. Today, it is topics such as sustainability and ESG, digital transformation, artificial intelligence and smart cities. These are the challenges that businesses have to address and are filling up agendas in boardrooms around the world.

It is tempting for thought leadership practitioners to avoid these well-trodden topics and try to occupy a different space, but this is usually a mistake. Hot topics are hot for a reason: they are the ones your audience is searching for, engaging with in traditional and social media, signing up to webinars to learn about and taking calls from your account managers to discuss. Yes, they are hotly contested, but that is no reason to avoid them.


Find a fresh perspective on a popular topic

You may be covering similar topics to your competition, but that does not mean you have to cover the same ground. In fact, you should avoid that ground: me-too content that is hard to distinguish from everything else will have little traction and will merely wash over the audience without them noticing.

Instead, look at these themes with a genuinely fresh perspective. Challenge existing assumptions, look beyond the obvious for angles that are lurking in the background, refuse to accept the default view and ask the right questions. This is the approach that will help you to uncover genuinely fresh insights that help your audience, without straying too far from the issues that matter.

So next time you are in a thought leadership planning meeting, remember the concept of vuja de. It will help you look differently at the world and achieve that tricky balance of meeting the needs of your audience while still having a fresh point of view.

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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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