Jenna Peaty and I were lucky enough to facilitate a roundtable event last week in association with the Professional Services Marketing Group. Chaired by Matt Baldwin (Founder, Coast Communications) and Jonathan Litterick (Consultant, Meridian West), the 90 minute discussion looked at Trends in Thought Leadership covering three key areas - personalisation, structure and outputs. 

Matt kicked things off by mentioning that 'thought leadership' is a term which is oft abused and encompasses a whole swathe of different things, but at its core it involves "a company facilitating better and more meaningful conversations with their clients and prospects" in whatever format is most suitable. 

These can be roundtable events, through surveys, glossy white papers, podcasts, videos, short blog posts etc. etc. The whole point is to facilitate, more meaningful conversations.


1. Personalisation

Whilst this seems obvious, we are quite bad at doing this because we often think we know what the client wants but this might not be the case. Whilst attending the LMA Annual Conference last week, one of the things which stuck with me was a talk on 'service metamorphosis', a concept created by Brenda Plowman (CMO, Fasken) & Deborah McMurray (Founder, Content Pilot). See my post here, but at its core, it involves putting your client front & centre - asking them 'how do you want us to work with you?' and there are huge similarities in creating any form of thought leadership content. It is a completely futile process unless the end-user - your clients! - get something out of it. As such, it needs to be personalised and relevant. A few ways of doing this are:

  • Ask them! As Brenda & Deborah stated, asking your clients, how can we align ourselves with your processes rather than the other way around,  changes the relationship entirely. Better understanding will come off the back of this as will more thoughtful and targeted thought leadership. 
  • Personalisation through voluntary surveys, benchmarking etc. can be a useful entry point to segment your customers. However, we noted caution in doing this: Firstly, make sure the concept you are trying to prove isn't a bit "wooly" so that you're not proving something inconsequential. Secondly, make sure your customers can see the benefits in them partaking. i.e the point is not so you can sell them more stuff, but actually to improve their overall customer experience.
  • Know Your Customer (KYC) - Know what you customer wants from you! Everything should be created with them in mind. Matt Baldwin suggested that co-creation of content with the customer was a great way of achieving this; they get to contribute to something which is directly relevant to them and then are directly implicated in its success. 


2. Structure

  • Form: one-off campaigns or long-term projects? Match your content to the different stage of the buyer-journey: e.g. 'top of the funnel' content when you are trying to attract someone's probably shouldn't be exhaustively long. Matt advocated a "quick and dirty" approach - getting your viewpoint out there in a timely manner and being forefront of mind, then you can use other, possibly more detailed, content types to engage the customer at a later stage.
  • Frequency? Jonathan chatted about "quick & dirty" content being a high-impact, low investment strategy which is really resonating in professional services, especially when instigated by the partners themselves. 
  • Co-creation, commissioned or outsourced? We all agreed that fundamentally, nobody knows as much as the partners themselves who are client-facing and see the customer day-in, day-out. If they are involved, it should be pertinent regardless. 
  • Long-form or short insights? Matt cited a report commissioned with Deloitte's own corporate clients which stated that 73% of clients preferred short-form content (300 words or less), whilst the second most popular was long-form content. In short, clients like both! The least valued of all content forms were infographics. Only 23% truly valued videos or microsites, this was largely down to the poor execution of both rather than a lack of potential. 


3. Outputs & Results?

  • Ensure that content isn't just a 'one-hit wonder' and there is a programme to reuse and augment the content over time. Think 'how can I continue to make this relevant over time?' (We use the below diagram to sum up this whole process to our clients. If everything starts with the client you are probably going to be in quite a good spot.) E.g. if you do a big report, see how it can be used not only as a brand building exercise but one which facilitates meaningful face-to-face meetings. 
  • Business development in law firms are "rubbish at marketing internally" - let your colleagues know what you can and can't do. Then the partners can come to you with proposals rather than expecting
  • Use new content types and don't be afraid to change it up! Use podcasts, videos, breakfast briefings, roundtables etc. to diversify the way you share knowledge with clients.
  • Measure and feedback the success of the report using all tools available, but don't underestimate the effect of anecdotal feedback as well.