You should be able to explain your thought leadership strategy in 1-2 slides. Here’s how.
A few weeks ago, in his post on developing a thought leadership strategy, Jason Mlicki outlined a process for building a comprehensive strategy for your firm’s editorial content. In this post, I want to take a closer look at the desired output of that process – what an effective content strategy actually looks like. In our experience, the five critical components of a content strategy should include:
- Central theme
- Definition of your ideal client
- Topics to own
- Executional tactics and vehicles
- A way to measure progress
1. Central theme statement
Like Love, Family, or the American Dream, the central theme for your content strategy should be the big, overarching topic that is central to your brand identity and what you really want to be known for as a consulting or professional services firm. You’ll get to your nuanced point of view on the theme later. But for now, you want something with universal understanding that you can state in just a few words. It needs to be narrow enough to be relevant to your potential clients, yet broad enough to serve as the backbone for all of the content your firm will create. For example, operations consulting firm, TBM Consulting, focuses on speed and operational excellence. At Rattleback, organic growth is the central theme for most everything we publish.
2. Definition of your specific audience
A good theme will likely have broad appeal and applicability and should be something everyone can relate to on one level or another (your point-of-view on that theme however will be more polarizing). As reference, I’ll come back to Rattleback’s theme of organic growth. This obviously matters to every company in every industry. But we aren’t interested in working with everyone; we’re interested in guiding mid-sized professional services and consulting firms on their path to grow revenue and enterprise value. Further, we are interested in providing guidance to managing partners and marketing leaders within those firms. Knowing, in detail, who you want to engage around your central theme will help you break things down into more manageable topics that will really resonate with the clients you hope to do business with.
One of the great things about a broad central theme is that it offers a lot of space and fodder for building out a robust content program. In other words, you won’t run out of things to talk about. However, choosing topics or categories that matter to your clients and that help solve the specific pain points they are experiencing is the key to ensuring you’re talking about the right things in the content you develop.
In his content strategy post, Jason suggested developing a list of 15-20 of these pertinent topics. At Rattleback, because we believe the path to organic growth for professional services firms is through quality thought leadership content and digital lead generation programs, our content topics include things like developing a content strategy, building a compelling point of view, conducting original primary research, SEO, lead generation, website best practices, and digital marketing. Each of these topics ladder back to the overarching theme of organic growth. They are specific areas of interest for the people we work with and want to reach, and there is plenty of room within each one of them to develop multiple articles and other types of content to fully explore the idea and present our unique thinking on the issues.
4. Executional tactics and vehicles
With your list of topics handy, now it’s time to decide where, when, and how to talk about them. While a specific content calendar, complete with authors and deadlines, will come latter, this is the time to think about how, and how often, your audience wants to consume information on these issues. Will they read blogs? Watch videos? Listen to podcasts? Attend webinars or live events? And at what cadence? All of these platforms are great ways to share your perspective on your theme and topics, and you should plan to publish regularly in a variety of formats.
At Rattleback, we aim to post several articles a month on our various topics. We also co-produce the growth-focused B2B marketing podcast, Rattle & Pedal, which publishes new episodes weekly. And we co-host an annual thought leadership marketing event, Profiting from Thought Leadership, that brings together the world’s leading B2B marketing and editorial leaders to discuss their thought leadership and digital marketing strategies and how they generate growth for their organizations.
5. A way to measure progress
If you are going to put significant time and effort into regularly creating content around a theme and specific topics, and if you’re going to ask your staff to be involved in contributing, you want to make sure what you’re doing is moving the needle. Measuring success is a way to validate that the theme and topics you are talking about really do touch on the key issues your clients are facing and that the way you are talking about them is effective.
When it comes to measurement, we generally encourage our clients to think big picture and focus on progression over time. An effective thought leadership strategy can be designed to create growth in a variety of ways. Here are some example questions you might look to answer with your measurement model:
- Are web traffic and content subscribers growing over time?
- Are we getting found more frequently for the topics we want to own?
- Are recognized business journals receptive to our thinking on these topics? Better yet, are we getting invited by those same journals to publish our thinking?
- When clients reach out to talk with us, is our point-of-view coming back (i.e. are they referencing our thinking in the inquiry?)
- Are we generating more quality leads on a monthly or quarterly basis?
- Can we attribute revenue to specific thought leadership programs or specific content?
- Are deals moving through our pipeline more quickly?
- Is average client or deal size growing?
- Is revenue growing at a practice-level? At an industry-level? At a firm-level? Is that growth in alignment with how we’ve allocated our editorial resources?
At Rattleback, while our topics have evolved over time, we’ve been executing our content strategy against the theme of organic growth for professional service firms for a decade. And half of our revenue today is a direct result of these thought leadership investments. So, if you’re wondering if thought leadership is worth the work you put into it, we can say, definitively, that it is. And whatever overarching content theme you choose to own, publishing compelling content that maps back to it can help pave the way to the growth your firm desires.