‘Me-too’ thought leadership is clearly an oxymoron. Thought leadership is an innovative idea that shapes a topic or throws new light on a well-trodden subject. Me-too is a recycled idea – a tired echo of what others are saying.
Yet, many business-to-business organisations are prepared to admit – at least in private – that they struggle with the curse of me-too thought leadership. They simply find it difficult to identify and then articulate genuinely new ideas.
In a number of B2B sectors – such as professional services – an unfortunate herd mentality exists. One of the starkest instances was the lead up to the year 2000 and the ‘Millennium Bug’. Every consulting firm on the planet seemed to congregate around this topic, like animals in a feeding frenzy, with little differentiation on what they were all saying. The world was in more danger from the sheer weight of repetitive reports emanating from the consulting profession than it was from any system meltdown.
This is a problem across the B2B segment and it is a costly problem. If thought leadership is me-too it will fail. It will fail to do what it is supposed to do – shape a debate and position you as the smartest people in the room. The money and resources you have expended will have gone to waste. At worst, your me-too thought leadership will damage your brand. It will affect your value perception, dragging down your reputation in the eyes of clients, commentators and new recruits.
Fortunately – for companies and their fatigued readers – there are ways to avoid me-too thought leadership.
Find the white space. You can start with a ‘white space’ review before you put pen to paper. When you are considering writing on a topic – whether it’s cloud computing, omni-channel in retail or the role of the CMO – take a look at what your competitors are saying. What angles are they covering and is there a dimension you can cover that is currently neglected? You don’t always have to find virgin territory. You should also consider the quality of what your competitors are saying. If they have said something – but it is poorly conceived, argued and researched – then you have space to produce something better.
Source new data and new data angles. In some B2B sectors, thought leadership is too reliant on desk research or even pure opinion. Commissioning quantitative research can unearth new perspectives or counter-intuitive findings. Perception data is one interesting area. Don’t just ask the CMO what they think. Ask the CEO what they think of the CMO. If you are competing in a sector where original research forms the bulk of thought leadership, then sweat your data harder. Be meticulous in questionnaire design so you don’t get data that simply tells you what you already know. New research, done properly, can solve the me-too problem.
Be a newspaper editor. A keen editorial sense is a rare skill, but we can all at least try and think like journalists. Newspaper editors hate carrying stories that have already been broken by a rival. Newspapers are champions of the art of finding a new angle on a well-trodden subject. Sometimes this can be done through a stylistic conceit. For example, try writing about the ’10 myths’ of a subject. You are trying to knock down common misconceptions, which forces you to avoid tired old shibboleths.
In the B2B marketplace, if your brand has nothing to say, it often means being absent from the race. But there is a significant difference between real thought leadership and poorly planned, unoriginal content that can diminish a brand’s reputation. Plato summed up the dilemma perfectly when he said: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
The message for marketers is clear: think hard before you speak. What do you have to say that is different? How can you find a new angle or source new data? Asking hard questions at the outset can help spare a fatigued business community from yet more tired thought leadership and will ensure that the content you do publish elevates your brand in the eyes of your target audience.