A few weeks ago, I attended the Association of Management Consulting Firm’s Marketing Forum in Chicago. The topic was “Powering Up Your Digital and Content Marketing Functions.” The highlight was Fiona Czerniawska’s talk on how executives find, use and remember thought leadership based on her team’s in-depth research on the topic.
This post shares some highlights of her and Bill Shander’s talks and offers some suggested action items for consulting firm marketers.
Some Background on Fiona’s Research
Earlier this year, Fiona and her team individually surveyed 200 executives who both consume at least one piece of thought leadership per month AND could recall a specific piece from some point in the last 6 months. The Objective was to understand how executives find thought leadership, what they do with it, and why they remember one piece over another.
The entire research report, The Impact of Thought Leadership, is available for purchase from her firm’s website. For this reason, I’ve purposely excluded much of the data she shared
The #1 Way Executives Find Thought Leadership is Email
Some marketing software companies would have you believe that all “traditional marketing” is dead. Forget those “push strategies” you’ve used for years; no one responds to those anymore. Put all your energy into “pull strategies” — focus exclusively on inbound (search and social).
While there’s little doubt that some outbound strategies are becoming less effective (think telephone-based lead generation), our intuition and, as it turns out, Fiona’s research tells a bit of a different story. In fact, 38% of the 200 executives surveyed said email was how they found thought leadership.
Now, Fiona specifically pointed out that this 38% comprised both email newsletters (corporate marketing) and personal emails (sent via the firm’s consultants or another colleague). But, no matter how you slice it, even if the inbox is getting cluttered it’s still probably a much more effective tool to distribute thought leadership to a corporate executive than is social media.
What Executives Actually Do With Thought Leadership
This was one of the more interesting aspects of Fiona’s talk. Sometimes, as content marketers, I think we get so focused on producing high quality content that we lose sight of how the content is actually used by a potential client. In this case, Fiona’s research provided some interesting insights on this topic. The Source survey asked executives what they did with that 1 piece of memorable thought leadership, and these were the responses:
A One-In-Four Chance of Getting Hired
25% of respondents actually hired the firm that produced the piece of thought leadership they remembered. This is a powerful statistic. You will win some work if you can produce a high quality piece of content that:
- Drives to the heart of a client’s important business challenge.
- Provides useful insight into solving that challenge in a new or better way.
- Backs that insight with fact-based research demonstrating that your remedy has been applied successfully previously.
- Packages that insight in a way that can be remembered.
- Delivers it to the right person — one of the 71% of C-suite executives that consume at least 1 piece of thought leadership per month.
A Few Ways to Make Thought Leadership More Memorable
The landscape of consulting firm thought leadership has gotten exponentially more competitive over the last 5-10 years. The fact that Source can add almost 5k pieces of new thought leadership to its index, White Space, each year pretty much says it all. So, how do you cut through the noise? Even if you do have high-quality, research-based thought leadership what can you do to increase the chance that after reading it, an executive will actually remember it?
First, Make It Visual
Content with imagery has a 60% retention rate. By contrast, only 6% of content without imagery is retained. If we want an executive to retain our thought leadership we need to commit the resources, energy and thought to properly and effectively visualize the story.
Usually, this doesn’t just mean adding a stock image of some type. It means looking deeply at the story we hope to tell with the data and identifying ways to visualize it that simplifies and enhances the product that is our content.
“Thought leadership with large tables of text without visualization is a waste of time.”
— Bill Shander, Data Visualization Expert, Beehive Media
“People only remember something if they act on it somehow.”
— Fiona Czerniawska, Source for Consulting
Second, Make It Actionable
Educators have known for years that one of the most effective ways to learn something is to be forced to teach it to someone. We retain ideas and concepts when we attempt to apply them.
Possibly the best way to make thought leadership memorable is to create ways to get clients to take action or apply the concepts, even in a limited way:
- Complete a list of learnings.
- Provide a discussion guide.
- Provide a list of immediate action items.
- Provide an agenda for an internal working session.
Suggested Next Steps — An Email Marketing Review
In the interest of trying to make this post more memorable, here is a short list of suggested actions for you to take in the next 3-4 weeks. Since email is the best way to get your thought leadership into the hands of an executive, we’ll focus there.
1. Email Strategy
Take 2-3 hours to review your strategy in a couple of critical areas:
- Website — To get your thought leadership into someone’s email, you first have to get them into your list. Do you have effective calls-to-action on your website? Can a visitor easily sign up for your newsletter? Do they know what they’re getting and when they’ll get it?
- Cadence — Have you identified a consistent structure for when and how you’ll deliver email? Ideally, you should deliver your email at the same day and time — every Tuesday or the first Thursday of the month. After a while, your clients will start to expect that email, and if your content is good, look for it.
- Communications — Have you established an internal process for communicating the release of thought leadership to your consultants so they know what’s coming and can share it with their contacts. Have you given them training and advice for how to share new content when it becomes available (especially on social media)?
2. Email Tactics and Performance
Pull out your editorial calendar and compare it with your last 3 months of email marketing activity and marketing data. Spend 1-2 hours and take a look at:
- Performance — Are your open rates and click-through-rates pretty much where they’ve been historically? Identify your 5 highest performing emails this year. Are there any commonalities between them — specific topics, subject lines — that you could use to improve performance in future emails? Here are a few more tips on improving email performance.
- Bounce Rates — Are your bounce rates similar to what you’ve seen in the past? If your bounce rates are climbing, your email may not be reaching the inbox. Check out this post and this post from Newfangled for help.
- Delivery — Are all your emails being delivered by an individual in your firm? Generic email addresses like info@YourFirm.com are much more likely not to make the inbox than emails from a person. If you’re using an automation platform, you could be delivering emails from each of your individual consultants to their respective contacts. If you don’t know how to do that, contact your agency or your automation provider.