Rising above today’s noise requires more than just having an opinion on a topic. Thought leaders need to shape a compelling argument. Here’s how.
In the increasingly competitive and cluttered world of thought leadership marketing, it’s not enough to simply have a point of view on a topic. You need to be able to put that point of view into a compelling argument that resonates with your clients and prospects and helps them align with your way of thinking.
But doing so is a lot easier said than done. Indeed, in our most recent study with Bloom Group of the capabilities required for effective thought leadership marketing, Rattleback found that the skill set for effectively structuring an argument—or shaping a story—is quite uncommon. Firms that have it tend to be leaders in the universe of thought leadership marketing and are known for the quality of both the thinking and the prose they turn out. Those that don’t are often disappointed in the results of their thought leadership endeavors.
So, what do the leaders have in common in this area? Our research suggests that the people who develop the content for these organizations generally aren’t the subject matter experts themselves. Rather, companies leverage content developers who happen to have a healthy knowledge of the subject matter. These content developers also possess the ability to interface well with the subject matter experts to draw a compelling story out of them. In other words, firms that are best at thought leadership marketing recognize that it’s the partnership between expert content developers and subject matter experts that makes the difference. They understand the importance of working with writers who know what questions to ask and how to ask them in order to get to the pertinent information needed to build, shape, and defend a compelling argument—they’re Argument Shapers.
Whether you’re working with a content developer or putting pen to paper yourself, here are four tips that will help you structure your argument, get your point across, and hopefully help you win over some prospects along the way:
- Start with your brand’s point of view
- Think in terms of situation, complication, and resolution
- Future proof your argument
- Prove what you’re saying is true
#1 – Start with your brand’s point of view.
As you’re considering what you want to say about a specific issue—maybe it’s an emerging challenge or trend in your industry or a response to changes in legislation, regulations, or culture that’s impacting your clients—keep your firm’s overarching point of view in mind.
Point of view is one of the three pillars of the Rattleback brand framework. We define it as the unique philosophical belief that separates your brand from your competitors and serves as the roadmap for your specific approach to meeting your client’s needs. It should factor into everything you publish and help shape your point of view on any new issue that arises.
For example, Rattleback client TBM Consulting is adamant about its belief that “Speed Wins Every Time” for the manufacturing and supply chain companies it serves. As the firm addresses new issues in the industry with its thought leadership, it can go back to this mantra as a platform for shaping its argument on the new topic. If speed is the common denominator that grounds the business, then its stance on any issue should always map back to the need to take rapid action and drive results quickly. For instance, as the firm has grown its Private Equity practice, it has emphasized the importance of bringing speed to the due diligence process and bringing speed to CEO assessment.
Aligning your argument on a specific issue with your brand’s overall philosophical belief lends authenticity to your message. And it can often serve as both the introduction and the conclusion to your argument: Because our firm believes this way, this is how we will approach this issue. And because we approach the issue in this way, the results will ultimately drive back to our core belief.
#2 – Think in terms of situation, complication, and resolution.
This model for thought leadership development emerged at one of our annual events and it’s a great way to think through and frame an argument. You start by considering what’s happening in your client’s world right now (the situation). Then you explore what’s complicating the situation—the problem, issue, or topic that you want to write about and how it’s impacting the clients you serve, for better or for worse. The complication may point to a common enemy or opponent—and if it does, you can rally your audience around that enemy to help build consensus for your point of view.
Finally, you explain your unique resolution to the issue—how are you helping clients take advantage of the opportunity or overcome the challenge in a way that’s effective, aligned with your brand’s overall point of view, and designed to get results? This is the step where you can really add some teeth to your argument and set yourself apart from the competition.
One of the best ways to do that is to challenge convention if you can. If things have always been done a certain way in your industry, that may dictate how many in your space will tackle the latest issue. Can you find any flaws with this approach? Do you have a strong belief as to why this common approach is wrong? If so, how is your resolution different or more effective? Keep in mind that going against the grain may repel some in your audience, but it will help attract others—and those will be the clients you will best be able to partner with and serve.
#3 – Future proof your argument.
Once you have the overall structure of your argument in place, it’s worth spending some time thinking through how the situation, complication, and your resolution will play out over the next few months or years. How do you see the issue escalating or resolving? What will change? Maybe, more importantly, what will never change? And how could all this impact your resolution? Showing prospects that you’re thinking ahead will help define you as a true thought leader and solidify the validity of the argument you’re making right now.
#4 – Prove what you’re saying is true.
Backing up your argument with real-world examples is the best way to prove your point and make your content relatable to your audience. However, if you’re truly on the edge of thought leadership and addressing new territory, you might not have a concrete example in your back pocket just yet. That’s okay. Look for data to make your point. Or, consider using a hypothetical example to put your argument into context and illustrate how, based on your expertise, you expect it to generate results or create value for your clients.
Using the above tips to think through your argument will help you assemble all the components of a compelling story that should ideally result in an intriguing, insightful, and impactful piece of thought leadership content. The next step is to weave it all together into a powerful piece of prose. This task can feel daunting. But it’s much easier to do once you’ve done the legwork of laying out and shaping an argument that’s sound, philosophically on-brand, and relatable to the people you want to reach.