Are You a Thought Leader or a Thought Follower?

When it comes to content strategy, playing it safe will do nothing to create differentiation.
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This was the question raised in a recent Forbes articles. And it’s an important one, especially for professional services firms for which “thought leadership is one of the most powerful methodologies for generating new business opportunities.” Talk about ROI! It’s no wonder professional services firms have collectively become content powerhouses.

The Content Conundrum

Unfortunately, the growing popularity of content as a marketing tool has led to one of its challenges: now, everyone is publishing and distributing content. As the Forbes article points out, many professional services firms seem to be falling into a pattern of “thought followship,” in which a large percentage of the content they create is “regurgitations of material already done very well by a competitor.”

When it comes to a firm’s content strategy, playing it safe by following what has worked for others will do nothing to create differentiation or meaningful competitive advantage. Think about it from the B2B buyer’s perspective. There is a plethora of content out there all written by smart, experienced experts and less and less time to consume it. Culling through all that information just to identify what is new and what is repetitive can easily become a major source of frustration.

Moving the Needle

All this means that it’s no longer enough simply to have great content. To stand out, firms need to have a point of view: a brand-driven lens through which all communications – particularly content – is delivered. A point of view informs the story that a firm owns in the marketplace and the type of content it creates. Most importantly, it ensures that a firm’s content strategy aligns to its brand strategy and provides a roadmap for producing content that others aren’t. In short, a point of view can mean the difference between thought leadership and thought followship.

Recently, we partnered with a consulting firm that found itself in this content-marketing conundrum. The firm had developed an impressive content engine, with partners and other senior level consultants producing a significant amount of thought leadership at a relatively high frequency. Needless to say, quantity was not their challenge.

The problem was, all this content was not moving the needle. It had not helped to create a point of differentiation in the marketplace or even to establish stronger connections with prospects and clients. Research revealed the reason why: most of the major players in the space – including our client – were not only publishing more and more content into the marketplace, they were also all creating content focused on the same macro level trends impacting the target verticals they served. For any given vertical, the content was virtually interchangeable from firm to firm. It was no wonder our client wasn’t seeing a real impact on their business.

To help the consulting firm develop a differentiated content strategy, we knew they needed a unique point of view. One useful exercise was thinking about the role the firm wanted their brand to play for clients and prospects. As their content strategies suggested, most competitors were trying to be a source of wisdom and knowledge for clients. Not unusual in an industry based on the experience and intelligence of people. But in going so high level, much of the content had become theoretical and not particularly actionable for busy B2B executives.

There was an opportunity for the consulting firm to have a different kind of conversation with clients, one that was less about navigating macro change and more about actionable ideas for their clients. It wasn’t about how smart the firm’s people were – it was about helping clients achieve real results. Their brand took on a role of empowerment, which led to an entirely new point of view and content strategy.

From Thought Follower to Thought Leader

There are many ways to develop a differentiated content strategy. For professional services firms, or really any B2B firm for which content marketing is a business driver, the key to moving from thought follower to thought leader is finding that content niche that is true to your brand and developing only content that will be most credible and unique coming from you. That is the content that clients and prospects will pay attention to. Finding your unique point of view and letting it serve as a guide to all the content you create is an important first step.

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