Kenny MacIver
Business and Technology Editor



Why thought-leadership strategies fail… and how to fix them

Why thought-leadership strategies fail… and how to fix them

Kenny MacIver
Business and Technology Editor

Every B2B company says they want to create genuine thought-leadership content. But almost all fall well short of the mark in delivering that. Kenny Maciver explores six of the common pitfalls of thought-leadership content marketing – and ways they can be avoided.

Thought-leadership content has become as a central pillar of most B2B marketing strategies. By surfacing an informed perspective on an important topic (whether in a Q&A, op-ed, podcast, video interview, or elsewhere), companies seek to achieve a number of goals. 

They want their organisation, its executives and experts to be perceived as shaping the direction and agenda of their industry, and to be seen as leading the conversation. They want to use thought-leadership content to develop the company’s reputation and sphere of influence. And they want to air points of view that enhance company and personal brands. 

But in most cases, what is served up is rarely thought leadership. Thought leadership needs to have a unique viewpoint, drawn from deep experience and insider knowledge, that offers genuine value to its intended audience. Essentially, it’s a value exchange of genuine insight for the limited time the reader/viewer has to engage with business content.  

And that audience is not restricted to existing and prospective customers; it also includes industry peers, investors, employees, potential recruits, analysts, press, and influencers (all of whom can extend the reach of any content through social channels). 

A 7C3, we work with some of the world’s leading B2B companies to craft and execute effective thought-leadership strategies. In any given week that might involve interviewing the CxO of a major tech company on whether AI helps or harms diversity. Or we could be capturing the perspective of a banking executive on why cash needs to continue to co-exist with digital payments. Or we’ll be working with a management consultancy to show what public companies can learn from the value creation methods of private equity firms. 

As part of that process, however, we also observe the misconceptions of what constitutes effective thought-leadership content and where it can go wrong. Here are just a few of the more common pitfalls: 

1. Poor stakeholder buy-in 
There is still a widely held belief that thought leadership is not real marketing – often because the messaging is subtle, and the content isn’t designed to directly plug a company’s products or corporate virtues. When that view prevails, a 1,000 words of well-argued thought leadership can be wrecked by the insistence that the article must segue into something like: “And the solution to all of the challenges I’ve highlighted comes in the form of our state-of-the-art innovation…” Thought leadership is not a sales pitch but a chance to impress with knowledge and insight.  

2. Lack of an original point of view 
Having a senior executive or company expert talking about a strategic topic is not thought leadership in itself. Thought leadership content needs to go beyond the obvious. A lot of what is produced re-hashes existing ideas. So, unless the content expresses originality of thought, gravitas and a real passion for the subject, the result is unlikely to gain traction with the audience. Worse, the absence of any genuine value for the reader can be seen as a waste of their time, thereby undermining business credibility rather than enhancing it. 

3. Thought leadership without the thought leader 

To have credibility, thought leadership content needs to come across as an individual’s perspective. The temptation to create such opinion-led content without a real voice simply results in content that appears preachy and patronising. Even if the argument is backed by quotes from different people rather than a single voice, there needs to be personal rather than corporate expression.  

4. Death by SEO  

Even when a thought leader has a well-articulated, interesting and original perspective to share, there is one sure-fire way to destroy it: stuffing the output with buzzwords, tropes and clichés. Today that manifests itself in the extreme as ‘keyword stuffing’, driven by the goal of optimising a piece of content’s search engine ranking. We have seen cases where awkward search terms and phrases have been shoehorned into every paragraph of a thought-leadership article, making the thought leader sound like a malfunctioning robot.  

5. Hiding the product 

Simply discussing a key topic but without mentioning your products doesn’t constitute thought leadership. Thought leadership needs to contribute valuable insights, new ideas and well-informed opinions that have value to the audience. If the content lacks substance, then sidestepping any mention of the product doesn’t solve the problem. 

6. Diluted focus 

When considering thought leadership, companies have to decide on the areas they want to own – and to focus on those. One issue we encounter is a desire to be the thought leader in the subject of the hour, to jump on different bandwagons as they come along (think generative AI, crypto, the metaverse, quantum, …). You simply can’t be recognised as the agenda-setting expert in everything. 

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