ITL #332 - How to approach thought leadership: build for business outcomes, not marketing metrics1 year, 5 months ago
For persuasive, game-changing results, thought leadership content has to deliver a “Return on Objectives”. By Ken Mandelkern.
In this new world of information overload, we love snackable content, and rightfully so. Most of us are hit with enough every day to make shorter attention spans a necessity, not a fault.
But it’s the longer formats (i.e. the 400-word LinkedIn articles and the bylined op-eds), not just the graphics, quips and vignettes, that are delivering meaningful impact.
When the message can really mean something to an audience — when it can help them solve a timely business challenge, for example — they’ll not only read on, they’ll also reach out.
Here are some tips to help make your thought leadership campaigns stand out:
Write for an audience of one
We don’t write for “retailers” who carry our client’s products, or for attorneys interested in “product regulation.” Those are amplification strategies. We write for a lead buyer at Walmart, or for a legislator’s chief of staff. This helps bring an article down from abstract platitudes to the level of a live pitch. The language sharpens, the argument strengthens, and the piece comes into focus.
Lose your thesaurus
We don’t poke around online for the right word, we imagine how the client would say it aloud. Every voice has its own rhythms, intonations, and phrases. Can you honestly imagine your author speaking the words you’re offering? If the goal of a word search is to disguise repetition, you’re probably repeating the same ideas – and that’s an entirely different problem.
Pay attention to symmetry
The shape of the work matters. Is it inviting to the scanning eye? Is it evenly weighted? We like to group things in threes (fives if necessary), because prime numbers imply gravitas. And editing for symmetry tends to have the happy side effect of trimming length overall. Even in long-form writing, brevity counts.
By now you’ve noticed that none of these speak to strategy or process. Both are a big part of the formula.
Even though planning happens before execution, it’s Part 2 here because our most important message is this: while thought leadership is in large part a science, in many ways it’s an artistic exercise — even when you’re writing for a scientist.
With that in mind, here are some best practices when it comes to campaign design:
Remake profiles first
Most LinkedIn profiles are written like resumes, not the communications tools they can be. Recalibrate them to speak directly to the campaign’s audiences before you dig into content. Do the profile’s Headline and Summary speak to the company’s (or department’s) value proposition, and how he or she delivers against it? Does the banner image bring it home? If this is your spokesperson’s first rodeo, chances are good that their channels aren’t aiming at the right targets.
Your spokesperson’s network isn’t a target, it’s a tool. Tap company accounts, their colleagues, strategic partners, and their personal connections to promote the message. We like to do this by arming these networks with dozens of variations introducing the content, and by running amplification programs through the company’s LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter handles.
Plan for a wide and varied response – and engage
People will sometimes disagree with your spokesperson. Regulatory or market conditions may change the whole conversation just days after you launch a piece with weeks of runway behind it. When this happens, don’t take the piece down, and don’t fret over challenging comments. Find themes in the response and consider addressing them en masse. A Twitter thread acknowledging overall sentiment or breaking news might be more effective than one-off sniping, and is certainly more effective than spiking a piece. Shift dollars to the new thread and keep rolling.
Now that we’ve covered design and execution, let’s talk about measurement. How do we define success?
We start with ROA and ROE (Return on Awareness and Return on Engagement). These metrics are forecast by most social advertising platforms and are a fine start to gauging performance. But we like to go a step deeper, and gauge not only ROI (Return on Investment), but ROO: Return on Objective.
ROO happens when your spokesperson gets the response they’re dreaming of. Let’s face it: regardless of the KPI’s we all agree to beforehand, when they click that Post button, it’s in part an emotional investment. They usually have a handful of people in mind – customers, prospects, or board members, who can change the trajectory of their business (and their careers), and validate their voice. When those fish are hooked, that’s ROO – and that’s what we truly aim for.
The Bottom Line? When the strategy, process and work are good, the metrics are great. But when the work is great, the results can be game-changing.
I want to know: how does your organization approach thought leadership?
Ken Mandelkern, Vice President, Y&R PR, is a strategic ace with the creative chops and innate writing ability that drives positive business results. An integral member of the senior leadership team, Ken is at once shaping the voices and platforms of business leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, physicians, scientists, engineers, and marketers.
Ken Mandelkern, Vice President, Y&R PR, is a strategic ace with the creative chops and innate writing ability that drives positive business results. An integral member of the senior leadership team, Ken is at once shaping the voices and platforms of business leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, physicians, scientists, engineers, and marketers.mail the author
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