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Top 10 biggest mistakes when building thought leadership campaigns

by | Nov 8, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

When you are taking your marketing and PR content up a level by infusing it with strong opinions and insights, underpinned by rock solid evidence of technical or market expertise, there’s a lot that can go wrong. So here are my ‘Top 10 biggest mistakes’ to avoid when building thought leadership campaigns.

1. Not involving your most senior executives

This level of content demands the input of your most senior people ideally all the way from your product owners up to the CEO. Ultimately, the nature of many campaigns aimed at building your thought leadership positioning needs to go all the way to the top. Indeed, the best Thought Leadership campaigns are sponsored by the CEO him or herself.

Your leadership team will understand instinctively what type of content is likely to cut through and engage those key decision-makers inside your key accounts and most valued prospects. They know when the perception of the business needs to be kicked up a gear. So, get them involved in shaping the story.

2. Failing to communicate beyond product or service features

My most valued business mentor over the pandemic, Simon Sinek, has one key mantra ‘Get to the Why!’. All too often technology providers get stuck in elegant descriptions of the features of a product, what it does and perhaps how it achieves what it does. That’s not enough to get your business’ offering to stand out in today’s content-intensive digital age.

Your comms needs to rapidly help answer the inevitable question: ‘Why should I buy this product from this company, what are their credential and what’s the ethos of this company?’ You need to communicate the benefits of working with you. That should ideally include conveying the culture and expertise of your organisation—your approach to doing business.

3. Only producing written content

We now live in a world in which communicating something valuable just once or twice in a written format, perhaps via email or an e-newsletter no longer cuts it. It hasn’t got the reach. You need to create multiple opportunities to see. You’ll need to present content in different forms designed to capture the attention of the three different types of learners out there. You know them all I’m sure: they are the kinaesthetic, visual, and auditory learners.

Auditory learners might gravitate towards your monthly podcast on the topics that showcase your knowledge and expertise.

Kinaesthetic learners are natural doers. They learn best while doing something physically active or physically engaging. They might respond well to workshops or user group meetings.

And then there are visual learners. They like to see diagrams and videos to understand ideas and concepts. Think about using charts, offering vlogs (video blogs) to supplement the blog posts and eBooks you are creating as part of your campaigns. Interestingly, a 3-minute vlog can cover the content of a 1,000-word article if it works hard, even including some highly visual illustrations and branding. It’s highly efficient in a time poor world.

4. Operating in internal isolation

When drawing up a content marketing plan, failing to think about all your internal clients is a common mistake, whether they be in marketing, sales, business development, research, HR, or investor relations. Consult as many of these constituent groups as possible. Ideally your plan should be working directly from the organisation’s central business plan. Never lose sight of what you need to communicate to help the business as a whole move forward.

5. Creating single pieces of content rather than campaigns

A great many of the sorts of comms campaigns I run for clients today have six- to eight-month time lines. They often start with some in-depth external market research designed to deliver a rich seam of new market insights—either around a specific consumer group’s buying behaviour or some market-specific findings linked perhaps to upcoming regulation or technology adoption trend.

Whatever insights you decide to ‘mine’, you need to be able to uncover findings which reveal something new to your prospect decision-makers. These insights offer levers to deeper engagement. At the very least, they must add to your authority to speak about a specific market development which you’ve hopefully understood better than any of your competitors and presented more clearly and more visually.

6. Failing to address your target audiences’ real concerns

Even if your marketing budget does not allow big budgets for external market research, it’s always possible to ask them in closed forums what they are preparing for right now. People are often only too pleased to unburden themselves if you can create the mechanism for them doing just that.

This is more difficult when you are breaking into new markets. So, like a good salesperson, you will have to build up your repertoire of knowledge and insights by stages if that blockbuster market research cannot be signed off or you don’t think you’ve got the knowledge to ask the right questions right off the bat.

If in doubt, start with lots of reading around the market and work from there to calling up someone you know working in that industry to give you some first-hand insight. And then, when you have a little more knowledge, you can start to ask the more penetrating questions which deliver valued insight.

7. Ignoring your audience’s medium of choice

The most recent webinar I hosted revealed that one of the biggest concerns of leaders of businesses and senior sales and marketing managers inside SMBs attending, was making sure their content is reaching and being read by their key audiences.

Think about going to where your target audience congregates and ask to speak or sponsor these industry events. Make sure you are present in the publications your target audiences are reading. Reach out to them via LinkedIn, ideally through personally connecting with them from a relevant individual in your organisation.

Make sure your content is being fed out via your key LinkedIn personal profiles (as well as your LI Company profile). Stimulate them to join your mailing list and run a regular (at least monthly) e-newsletter which has a mixture of content in it—perhaps your latest thought piece, latest news story as well as product launches, software updates, patches etc.

Consider adding a ‘Business Challenge of the Month’ slot to get those top-level directors engaged as well. Some of this is about making sure you are offering different types of content to suit different levels of the organisation.

8. Failing to measure engagement levels

Marketers need to be ready to be challenged in terms of engagement metrics. You cannot just say, ‘we know that we’re getting more traction with this new campaign’. You need to prove it. Thankfully, the digital marketers have numerous key performance indicators (KPIs) which can be pressed into service.

For engagement with content published on your website you can track visitors’ Time on Site, numbers of unique and return visits, which pages were most visited, ‘dwell times’ on key content and ‘hero content’ download numbers.

If you want to go fully digital you are going to need to set up dedicated landing pages specific to each campaign so you can see how many people clicked through from which locations to your landing pages and from there ideally onto a sign-up page of some sort.

This might be for downloading a new report, white paper, extended case study, research report, corporate video, webinar, or some other premium content which I like to call ‘Hero Content’.

9. Giving up on trying to secure media coverage

Many people I meet who run their own business tend to think it’s too tough to secure media coverage. But be in no doubt that if you present your latest breakthrough or launch in a well written news release, setting it in the context of what is happening in the market, and target it at a well-researched, finely-targeted media list, and you don’t try to shoe horn in a direct sell of your product or service, you can nearly always secure valuable media coverage.

And if you marry your story with evidence of some market research which reveals that you are responding to an emerging consumer trend or business need, then you add a dimension to the story which suddenly makes it compelling to a wider audience.

Always try to package your stories as something more than you simply blowing your own trumpet. Add context to the story. Never underestimate the power of media coverage. It extends the reach of your content and adds additional authority, quite apart from the SEO benefits it can bring.

10. Thinking you must create everything on your own

The art of fast growth these days is building strong partnerships and milking them to look bigger—broadening your offering, creating new channels to market and building credibility faster.

Never underestimate the power of collaboration with others on campaigns, especially if you are tackling big industry themes where both parties can benefit from building up more knowledge and sharing the resulting knowledge.

So why not work with one of your key customers or partners to share the cost of a big piece of consumer market research and work together on the outreach to the media? Or alternatively, work with a partner to create a conversational podcast series with the two of you sitting together and discussing themes of wider interest? Very often these sorts of collaborations achieve far more than 1+1 = 2.

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Miles Clayton
Miles Clayton is Founder of UK-based Agility PR.

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