This post shares a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek Special Issue as an example of what not to do when promoting your firm’s research and thought leadership.
Today’s executives are more pressed for time than ever, and they’re increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of content coming at them. If we hope to get their attention on our research or point-of-view on an important business topic, we need more than just great thought leadership. We also have to be thoughtful about how we present our ideas so we can draw people into a dialogue with them. We can’t just drop a 50-page research report in their laps and hope they read it. Nor, should we just assume that “no one reads anything anymore” and give them nothing more than some bite-sized headlines in a 150 word blog post.
As a professional services marketer, it’s your job to entice clients to consume longer forms of content. It’s your job to get them highly engaged with your firm’s thought leadership. It’s your job to nurture them to a point where they’ll spend hours or even days with your firm’s ideas. This is how you impact the buying process. This is how you shape the opportunity before it becomes an opportunity.
A few weeks ago I shared the tool we use to help firms take their research and ideas to market — the Content Marketing Wheel. We use it to break a firm’s ideas down into a variety of content lengths and formats. Each content type is designed to stair-step a client slowly up to higher levels of engagement.
It works like this — you get a client’s attention with micro content. A good email subject line and lead-in gets them to the table. The first article presents the high-level findings of the research in 1-2 minutes. It ties together everything you’ve learned about the topic and your unique point-of-view on what it means. From there, you build threads down into deeper topical content that supports your contentions. This deeper content could be a downloadable research report or it could be a collection of subsequent articles that are organized together to tell your story. Either way, this deeper dive is going to require much more of the client — potentially hours or days. And, that’s a good thing. The more time a client is giving to your ideas the more you’re impacting the buying process and the more likely they are to reach out and open the door to let you into a conversation.
A Look at “One Nation Divisible”
Last week, Bloomberg BusinessWeek released a Special Issue entitled “One Nation Divisible: The American Electorate.” The email arrived in my inbox late Thursday afternoon and I was excited to read it. In my experience, Bloomberg has a long history of great storytelling coupled with strong interactive experiences. In fact, I frequently reference Bloomberg as an example of HOW to develop great interactive content — this article on the pace of social change is one I share frequently. Unfortunately, while this particular Special Issue had some great stories, it struggled to deliver a compelling interactive experience. Let’s take a look:
This is a snapshot of the email that arrived in my inbox. “Damn. What an ugly election.” I’m hooked right away. Reading further: ”Data…the picture we pieced together shows just how divided we’ve become—and helps explain why.” So, this sounds awesome. They’ve sliced the electorate along 5 divisions and sub-sliced it 242 different ways. They’re going to take the data underlying all that and tell me how it all fits together — awesome; can’t wait.
So, I jump to the Special Issue Landing Page. Ignoring the distractions of the Times Square-esque rolling billboard for a moment, I jump past the big images and clever text to find the article summary. The first section reiterates the email. Okay, that makes sense. Sliding down a bit further past some more images I come to this section:
Okay, this appears to be the meat. Looks pretty good. Shows me how they’re slicing the electorate and what stories they have to share. It sounds like they’ve done a ton of work here and I’m excited to learn more. Is there a high-level summary that could help me understand what they learned from all this work? Well, not really. Okay, is there evidence of a structure that could help me know where to begin? Not on the surface, but they want me to start with Ohio so I’ll go there.
So, the Ohio article is a pretty interesting story of the diverse electorates in our state. It’s 2,800 words. Takes me about 6-7 minutes to read and comprehend. I get to the end, but still am not really sure how this article fits into the greater picture of the Special Issue. And, I just gave it a pretty large chunk of my time. I use the “Index” link in the top right to go back to the Special Issue Landing Page. I scroll down a bit further and find this feature on “People Who Love Their Jobs”:
I’m happy for them, but I’m not quickly seeing how this is going to explain “why we’ve become a nation divided.” I scroll a bit further and find an interview with Mark Cuban, in which he endorses Hillary Clinton. I give it a quick read. Shorter than the last, this one includes the same call-to-action at the bottom of it as the Ohio Article — Read this next:
Not sure who he is so I’ll check it out. For whatever reason, this article just doesn’t grab my attention so I go to click the “Index” but it’s gone. I look again. Where did it go? So, I scroll a bit down and it magically appears again — clever interactive design, but disorienting to me as the user:
I click back to the Special Issue Landing Page and make my way back to the middle section that seems to carry the meat of the story:
This section uses all kinds of color and iconography to present what it has to say. I notice in passing that some of the colors are clickable, some aren’t. The icons expand when you rollover them, but when you click them they just turn them into words — nothing altogether useful. I click the Index button one more time and try one more article; it’s innocuously labeled “Old People.” The result is a surprisingly short page featuring a couple of interviews with older working Americans. I click through a few more pages using the Index button including this one on American Frights. This page is just some weird background music coupled with some roll-overs that tell you what Americans are apparently “afraid” or “very afraid” of:
In one last attempt I return to the Special Issue Landing Page. Did I miss something? Some of these stories are interesting, but I have no idea what holds them together beyond just being peaks into segments of our society. While that was one part of the email, the Special Issue was supposed to also make the case for an America divided and help explain why. While the answers to those questions may be inside this collection of stories somewhere I simply can’t find them. After 30 minutes of effort I walk away none the wiser and even a bit frustrated.
What Went Right — What We Can Learn
So, this post probably looks a lot like a beatdown of Bloomberg. That wasn’t really my intention. There are a number of things that they get, of course, quite right that your firm can learn from when it presents its next research study:
- Lead with a compelling email. The Micro Content used to introduce the series was fabulous. It was intriguing. It appeared to be a new slant on the election cycle, and it sounded really interesting.
- Tell good individual stories. Many of the articles themselves, as you would expect, were great pieces of stand-alone content. They’re good pieces of journalism. In fact, I would argue that most firms need to look at how they can bring more editorial interest to their thought leadership in general. So, looking at the business media for learnings here is quite valuable.
What Went Wrong — What We Should Unlearn
I was probably a bit over-detailed in taking you through my mindset and web actions, but what I was trying to highlight what I saw as a broken user flow. The reasons are many, but here are some of the mistakes I see on the surface that your firm will avoid the next time you release a large research study you’ve put a lot of effort into. This Bloomberg Special Issue:
- Oversold itself. The Micro Content made some big proclamations of what the content was going to deliver, but in the end it was little more than a collection of articles loosely packaged together through a topical landing page.
- Lacked high-level connections. The landing page should have presented how all these stories fit together and what they mean. Clearly this was more a qualitative effort than a quantitative one, but regardless a good landing page needs to function as the Short Content that provides threads down to all the Flagship Content and other Short Content below it. This one feels like an endless news feed.
- Delivered inconsistent content. The links in the index came in all shapes and sizes. Some were 2,800 word articles. Others were 200 word interviews or interactive charts. This diversity was disorienting.
- Delivered inconsistent navigation. The button to access the index came and went as you interacted with the page. The index itself didn’t seem to be organized in any logical manner. Simultaneously, the in-line navigation tools (Read Next) didn’t follow the sequential structure of the navigation at all. And, finally, the landing page itself was inconsistent in how it used color to designate in-line hyperlinks.
- Focused too much on keeping you on-site. Like any good publisher, Bloomberg is intensely focused on keeping you on their site. But, in this case, they did it more like a casino than a valuable news publication. Working to keep people on your site is smart, but not if your solution to do it is to disorient them.
The next time your firm plans to release a large research study, I would implore you to do these 3 things:
- Break it down. You need content that describes the study in 1-2 seconds, 1-2 minutes, 30-40 minutes and beyond. Map everything — your content, your topical microsite, your call-to-actions, and your content promotion strategies along that arc.
- Roll it back up. Make sure you understand the 2-3 implications of your work and can present it in 1-2 minutes. You have to be able to connect the dots between granular research and fact-finding with big, broad ideas that will make it relevant to your audience.
- Aggregate it. Make sure the topical landing page that’s going to carry the research findings has a logical navigation and structure that orients users to what they’re reading.
The screenshots in this post show sections of images and articles that are the Copyright property of Bloomberg BusinessWeek. While we did not specifically seek permission for their use, our intentions were not to redistribute them or repurpose them in order to profit from the source material itself. Rather, the screenshots were used as examples to help educate on the nuances of website user interface and user experience.