Earlier this year, The Economist Group and Hill+Knowlton Strategies published a report regarding the development, use, and effectiveness of thought leadership content. The report was based on a 2016 survey of 1,644 global marketers and business executives.
The survey found that most business executives consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and 63% of surveyed executives said they have increased their content consumption over the past 12 months. But the survey also found that, on average, executives only engage with about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.
The Economist Group attributed this low level of engagement to several factors.
- The pressure on marketers to produce a “continuous stream” of content makes it more difficult to create the kind of content that executives really value – content that is innovative, credible, and transformative.
- The proliferation of content has caused business executives to become more selective about the content they consume.
The report also argues that internal disconnects make it harder for marketers to develop effective thought leadership content. For example, most marketers (82% in the survey) recognize that to create compelling thought leadership, content needs to center on the interest and needs of the audience. Yet, when marketers were asked to identify their three more important objectives for creating thought leadership content, four of the five most popular objectives focused on benefits to the brand, rather than benefits to the audience, as the following table shows:
This dichotomy permeates most aspects of marketing, not just content marketing. Senior business leaders are demanding that marketers demonstrate the value of marketing to the business, and marketers are responding by linking their activities to important business outcomes – things like revenue and market share growth. But the reality is, these business outcomes are not directly caused by marketing activities and programs. Instead, they result from how customers and potential customers respond to our marketing efforts.
This means that our ability to achieve our marketing goals depends on whether we are successful at winning the right responses from our customers and prospects. So therefore, the key to marketing success is to make our marketing activities, programs, and content truly useful and valuable to our customers and prospects, and thereby earn the responses that drive our desired business outcomes.
Some thought leaders describe this approach as “putting your customers interests above your own,” but I don’t agree with this characterization. It’s not about subordinating your company’s interests to those of your customers and prospects. It’s about recognizing that your business objectives are only achievable by making yourself useful and valuable to your customers and prospects.
This post may sound a bit like Marketing 101. I suspect that most readers will agree with what I’ve just written. But this principle is easy to accept conceptually, and hard to consistently apply in practice, especially when the pressure is on to produce results quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with having business outcomes as strategic marketing objectives, but it’s essential to remember that these goals are best pursued indirectly.