Comprehensive thought leadership consulting for B2B & professional services firms

Thought Leadership Success Factor No. 3: Extreme Focus

Focus means a company’s ability to invest its content development and marketing resources in fewer points of view rather than more.  Many fewer, in fact.

Last month I explained the second of five factors behind companies that excel at thought leadership marketing: patience for the time it takes to develop a compelling point of view and attract an audience to it. (The first factor was a huge desire to distinguish one’s offering on the basis of possessing unique expertise.)

I find the third success factor rarer than the first two: focus.  By this I mean a company’s ability to invest its content development and marketing resources in fewer points of view rather than more.  Many fewer, in fact.

Businesses selling complex offerings such as consulting services or enterprise software to sophisticated executives face a very high bar. To impress those buyers with knowledge of their business problem and how to solve it, these companies must tell them something they don’t already know, something profound.  Creating a truly new and insightful point of view on any business issue requires a firm to develop a rigorous argument (especially novel prescriptions), backed by indisputable facts – i.e., companies that have benefitted handsomely by following the recommended approach to solving the issue.

If you don’t have real-life case studies to back your point of view, you must collect them. That takes time and skills, especially people who know how to collect stories from companies (i.e., case researchers). Creating the point of view based on such research – i.e., deciding exactly what you’re telling executives to do differently – takes more time (certainly more than one workshop meeting).  Capturing your point of view in clear, fun-to-read prose takes even more time.

And then you must market your content. It can take months to get prospective customers to read your articles, create a special website on your point of view, place op-eds in leading publications, book your experts as speakers at prominent conferences, and roll out other pieces of the thought leadership marketing mix.

All of it takes time and money.  If you have $1 million to spend on thought leadership marketing, you’re much better off developing and marketing two or three points of view – maybe even just one – than you are allocating it across 10 or 20 points of view (or more, as we’ve typically seen).

It can be done.  We applaud an old client – corporate training and consulting firm Forum Corp. — for focusing most of its thought leadership investments on just one idea, called “strategic speed.”  (See more here.) Forum used to place its bets on numerous points of view.

But we know that convincing the rest of your organization to focus thought leadership investments can be as difficult as getting sufficient budget for thought leadership marketing in the first place.  Practices and product lines fight for corporate marketing budget.  Focusing on one or two or three ideas can seem very risky.

Yet focusing your thought leadership investments is less risky — if your points of view are well-developed (i.e., based on extensive primary research) and well-marketed.  Great content is rare.  Shallow content is the norm. Shallow content is shunned by the marketplace. Great content and great marketing go much, much farther.

Have you had the same experience I have had on this issue?  I welcome your thoughts.

Originally published 07/27/2010

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