This article describes and provides examples of four emerging types of digital publishing experiences.
Five or six years ago I began writing about how the traditional thought leadership publishing model was not working the way it once was. More than a few consulting firms were coming to us with the same problem. The success of the model they’d always used to build demand for their firm— author a book, publish a handful of HBR articles, and hit the speaking circuit — was in gradual or rapid decline.
The remedy we applied at the time was fairly straightforward. Keep doing the things you’re doing. Just make it more digital. Abandon PDF reports. Make everything search-engine visible. Publish more frequently in live HTML. And gate some of your high value content.
In hindsight our thinking, while helpful, was still too analog. In essence we were saying, “Keep writing. Just do it digitally.” Now, I’ve come to realize that we were bringing a linear, editorial mindset to the first entirely interactive medium. In short, we were advising clients to keep right on producing radio shows while distributing them through television sets.
As we enter a new decade, it’s time to shed our preconceptions. Thought leadership is still an incredibly powerful tool to create demand for a firm’s products and services. In fact, it may be more powerful than ever. But the way we develop and publish thought leadership needs to change. Quickly.
As I see it, there are 4 emerging thought leadership digital experiences:
- Digital Hubs
- Articles 3.0
- Real-Time Videos
#1 – Digital Hubs
Digital hubs use short-form interactive content to pull “readers” into deeper long-form experiences. Essentially, they aggregate a variety of content formats to serve a specific need for the company and the people they’d like to do business with. We’re seeing organizations develop hubs to serve:
- An audience they’d like to have a relationship with — entrepreneurs, CFOs, CIOs, etc.
- A central topic they’d like to own — digital transformation, agility, digital manufacturing, etc.
- Recurring publications — Think economic confidence indicators and “editorial products” like the McKinsey Quarterly Five Fifty and McKinsey’s The Next Normal.
Let’s look at a few examples.
MailChimp Presents is a digital hub that features a wide range of original stories (short series, podcasts and documentary films) about entrepreneurs and their journey. It exists as an educational and entertainment resource for a very clearly defined audience — entrepreneurial leaders:
McKinsey Quarterly Five Fifty
I first wrote about the McKinsey Quarterly Five Fifty shortly after it launched. It is an “editorial product” that uses a recurring format to deliver new thought leadership roughly once each month. Content covers a wide range of topics and comes from all corners of the firm, but they all follow the same structure — a short piece of scannable interactive content that can be easily consumed in less than 5 minutes that leads you into a collection of long-form content assets that will take you 50 minutes or more to read:
The Middle Market Indicator
The Middle Market Indicator is a quarterly economic indicator that surveys the pulse of the U.S. middle market (companies with revenue ranging between $10M – $1B). Each quarter, we partner with the National Center for the Middle Market to publish fresh survey data from 1k middle market leaders to this digital hub. It combines video, a variety of interactive graphics, and a collection of industry-specific and geographic-based downloadable content:
#2 – Articles 3.0
I first profiled the emergence of Article 3.0 in a post in late 2019. This digital experience is simply the next evolution of the thought leadership article. It combines a mix of video, interactive graphics, audio, and written content to deliver a firm’s thinking on a single, discrete topic. Since early 2019, we’ve been producing Articles 3.0 right in the flow of content we might otherwise produce for ourselves and our clients.
Let’s look at a few examples:
At Rattleback, we’ve used a variety of embedded videos and interactive graphics in our blog articles since late 2018. Some videos serve as an alternative means of consumption — read the article or watch it. And others have been used to describe specific nuances of a topic within the article itself.
McKinsey: An Incredible Year for Impossible Foods
In late 2019, McKinsey launched another new “editorial product” called The Next Normal. While the product itself could be classified as a digital hub, many of the articles within function as articles 3.0. This interview with the CFO of Impossible Foods combines a mix of useful content including — a collection of short topical interview videos, a “how it’s made” video showing how the product is actually produced, and written content that binds it all together:
The New York Times: Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father
While not strictly thought leadership, this article 3.0 produced by The New York Times describes a history of President Trump’s real estate holdings and some of the questionable approaches taken to minimize his tax burden. It acts as an aspirational example for thought leadership marketers as it combines a variety of elegant interactive graphics to grab reader attention and animated videos to describe complex concepts that would be very difficult to explain with just words:
#3 – Series
The critical role of thought leadership marketers as story tellers is becoming more on display with the emergence of episode-based series. Series-based thought leadership content has all of the compelling elements of any great series — it has a clear and understandable theme, a recognizable start and finish, and in some cases even protagonists and antagonists. Often, the theme itself is published front-and-center for all to see.
Let’s look at some examples:
Against the Rules
An 8-episode podcast series, Against the Rules, produced by Michael Lewis documents the “decline of the ref in American society.” The series explores this theme at length as it crosses everything from the NYSE to the world of fine art and NBA Basketball.
Electronic Propaganda Society
A 9-episode podcast series, the Electronic Propaganda Society is produced by Matthew Sweezey, a marketer at Salesforce. The premise of the series is that over 99% of all marketing efforts are failing. It explores the root cause of why this is happening and offers thoughts on how to think about a better path forward for all marketers.
Lifecycle of a Business
A 7-episode podcast series, produced by MailChimp Presents, details the stages of an entrepreneurial venture through the eyes of people who’ve lived it. The series looks at each stage of the journey from a business that is little more than a loose idea, to a growing then mature enterprise, to exits and rebirths.
While all these examples feature podcasts, series-based thought leadership can be published in a wide variety of formats including videos, films, and articles.
#4 – Real-Time Videos
While consumers have been shooting and streaming real-time videos from their iPhones for years the practice has started gaining traction in B2B marketing recently as more firms are realizing they can bring near broadcast-quality production to a live-stream on LinkedIn Live (as of the writing of this article, still in beta) or Facebook Live. While the jury’s still out on how this will be used for thought leadership marketing we’re already seeing a variety of interview-based content emerge with subject matter experts.
LinkedIn Editors Live
This real-time video features a LinkedIn Editor interviewing EY manager Michael Quinn on advice for military veterans looking to enter the civilian workforce:
Boston Consulting Group Live at Davos
This rooftop interview between Mai-Britt Poulsen and Alan Thomson streamed live on LinkedIn from Davos featured a discussion on how to approach sustainability in the global energy industry:
As Matthew Sweezey puts it in the Electronic Propaganda Society we’ve entered a world of infinite media. Anyone, anywhere can publish their thinking on any topic under the sun. As we look into the 2020’s, it’s clear that the world isn’t going to wait for you to polish your research findings to a perfect shine. Nor are readers going to tolerate reading dense PDF eBooks on their iPhones anymore. It’s not a question of IF you need to make your publishing strategies more digital. It’s a question of HOW you’re going to do it and WHICH types of digital experiences will make the most sense for your firm — subjects we’ll cover more in the future.