Home » Thought leadership blog » Hearts and minds: Why your thought leadership needs a creative edge

Hearts and minds: Why your thought leadership needs a creative edge

Gareth Lofthouse

Have you ever watched an executive glaze over at the prospect of reading your latest thought leadership report?

Let’s be honest, a lot of the content that brands produce hardly looks enticing. Thought leadership should be a powerful tool to captivate clients and stimulate conversations at a senior level. The reality often boils down to a dull microsite with a few articles and a white paper download. It’s as if companies are so keen to show off their corporate IQs that they forget to sell the story.

This is a mistake. Board executives are human beings, not hyper-rational robots. They want intelligent insight, but it needs to be presented in an appealing package. As with all marketing, thought leadership needs to earn the audience’s attention, and that task is getting harder as more and more brands churn out content.

It all points to a bigger problem in B2B marketing. Brands are becoming more sophisticated in their use of research and insight to build a message, but they don’t always bring that work to life in a way that engages the audience’s imagination.

The best B2B marketers, however, are already adapting cutting-edge, creative ideas from the consumer space to make their campaigns more impactful. So how can you give your own thought leadership a creative boost?

1. Give your campaign a memorable identity

The most interesting campaigns marry creative branding with traditional thought leadership insight. For example, here’s how Accenture turned our research into one of the more visually pleasing microsites we’ve seen recently. We expect clients to start focusing more on creative execution as they seek better ROI from their campaigns.

2. Storyboard your research

If you research an important and weighty topic, you’re bound to produce an interesting story, right? Well no, actually. To turn your research into good stories, try working backwards from your desired headlines and hypotheses – well before the research goes into field.

3. Keep the hook simple

The most impressive thought leadership communicates complex ideas simply and powerfully. Think about your angle, and consider which of your topics and research questions are likely to produce powerful ‘hooks’ that will draw your audience in. Perhaps there’s something controversial or newsworthy, or especially relevant to your target audience.

4. Think about information design

You’ve done the research and you’ve got a ton of great data to work with. The last thing you should do with it, is turn it into an endless succession of bar charts – that’s an immediate turn-off. Instead, use smart information design and data visualisation to bring the story to life. Remember, however, that data visualisation means finding clever ways to make your point; it doesn’t mean producing a toy-town ‘infographic’ that’s light on the info.

5. Entertain as well as enlighten

The issues are important. The data is valuable. But this doesn’t mean that the message has to be imparted in bland corporate-speak. A bit of wit, humour and creativity can entice a jaded audience to give you their precious time. Aim for bright ideas backed by colourful examples, and you’ll be well on the way to creating a more engaging campaign.

For an example of how these ideas can work together, here’s an interesting creative campaign we developed with creative design partner AML for Simmons and Simmons.

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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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