A surprising list of companies – think Amazon, Coca-Cola, Apple and Microsoft – are no longer content with becoming recognised publishers, but are now seeking to be full-fledged media companies too. For most large corporates, however, the shift towards brands becoming publishers is still in its relative infancy, and they’re taking their first baby steps towards putting content and thought leadership out into the ether.
In our experience, whether a company has been leading the debate on key issues in their sector for many years, or is only now developing its thought leadership capabilities, the principles for creating a strong content brand are the same. And at the core, there are six key questions that marketers seeking to move down this route must ask themselves.
1. Do you have the necessary commitment?
- Publishing one-off content is one thing, but being a publisher is a whole business in itself. The brands that derive most benefit from thought leadership take a dedicated approach to content, establishing their voice in the sector by delivering fresh, relevant material on a regular basis. If you’re serious about building a content brand, you will need the resources to back this up—in manpower, budget, and executive backing (more on that below).
2. Do you have a defined, consistent audience in mind?
- Many brands fail to define a niche to go after, and end up biting off more than they can chew. They try to become an FT, aimed at a general business audience, instead of focusing on their niche and acting more like a monthly trade journal. This is a mistake. In B2B, not only is it nigh on impossible to serve all audiences, but you won’t stand out for anyone if you do. The most effective thought leadership brands understand their target audience very clearly, and remain highly focused.
3. How much appetite for risk do you have?
- Your thought leadership needs to reflect the wider values of your organisation. For some companies, it is simply about bringing their voice to the table on an important issue within their sector, in order to encourage constructive discussion (and be associated with a key theme). Others are intentionally more proactive in leading a debate down new avenues using more provocative messaging. Those that do usually need to work very closely with their internal stakeholders, and build trust there. As you build your content brand, it is important to determine where your comfort zone is. Ask yourself: are you willing to take controversial views on issues? And will your internal stakeholders back you up on this?
4. Can you transfer your brand marketing experience into content?
- A lot of marketing professionals struggle to translate their broader brand-building experience into content creation. Whether this is due to the distraction of adopting a more editorial mindset, or a lack of experience in delivering editorial consistency, the best way to avoid a disjointed body of content is to perceive it as an extension of the brand and its core values. In practice, this means talking often with your internal stakeholders, and endlessly repeating the core aim and messaging. An internal editorial review board is one possible means of keeping the messaging consistent; others like to hold regular webinars; you will have your own preferences here. Of course, a clearly consistent and recognisable style and look and feel across your content is vital too.
5. Are you building the corporate brand, or the partner brand?
- Thought leadership provides a great opportunity to showcase your senior leaders: putting their voice across strongly within your content will add to the brand value it can generate. It can also personalise a discussion that can sometimes become rather abstract, and make it easier to push messages into the media. But of course there is the trade-off that this can backfire if that individual leaves. Views differ on this (see our discussion in our LinkedIn group for more on this), but you’ll need to make the call.
6. What is your thought leadership trademark?
- There has never been a more competitive time to build and grow a thought leadership content brand – the rise of digital technologies means that almost all large companies are competing for executives’ attention across multiple platforms. To make your brand stand out from the crowd, your content needs a USP of its own. If readers know that your content will always deliver your brand’s definitive view on a given topic, or a set of well-thought-out recommendations, or a provocative and opinionated view to challenge their thinking, they will be far more likely to come back time after time.