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Not another thought leadership article… sorting the wheat from the chaff

By Rob Barlow

Rob Barlow

As an avid LinkedIn user, it brought a wry smile to my face as I read the findings of Edelman’s latest Thought Leadership Impact Study earlier this month. The report confirmed a long-held suspicion of mine that much, if not the majority, of the thought leadership content currently out there is, frankly, just not that interesting…

Indeed, chief among the findings, which surveyed 3,600 management-level professionals, was that as a result of the pandemic a wave of low-quality, yawn-inducing content has swept across our screens. But why is this? And more importantly for us as comms professionals, what can we do about it?

Having a quick scan through LinkedIn, the first issue becomes clear. There is simply too much content to consume. In the study, nearly 40% of respondents agreed, so surely we should take that as a mandate that quantity no longer trumps quality.

For the healthcare industry especially, the pandemic has thrust our world into the spotlight, so it is hard to resist capitalising on this newfound interest and attention. However, when we fight the urge to satisfy the constant thirst for content, we’ll surely have something more meaningful to say. Less is more, I say.

A staggering 81% of professionals in the survey also said that they wanted to see provocative ideas that challenged their thinking. In healthcare specifically, this presents a powerful opportunity to help inform and change people’s views for the better. After all, many of the most polarising topics of the day link back to healthcare in some way, shape or form thanks to COVID-19. Of course, there is a fine line between being provocative for the sake of it and having something genuinely compelling to say, and it’s equally as important to strike the right balance.

So, armed with a compelling topic and a viewpoint that can stretch a readers’ thinking, what else should be included in the recipe for success? For me, authenticity is paramount. At best it’s disingenuous to pretend to be something or someone you are not, and for the most part readers can see through this immediately. Even if you are not writing for a lay audience, you should still try to reflect your own personal style even if it feels less ‘formal’ than you feel might be appropriate for the topic.

In the Impact Study, 87% stated they thought content could be both intellectually rigorous and fun at the same time. And at the end of the day, real, genuine and human stories or anecdotes are the best way to bring a heavy or complex topic to life. Think Winnie Byanyima (Executive Director, UNAIDS) with her highly personal approach to demanding action on health inequity or Dr David Nabarro (Special Envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization) and his easily accessible updates during the pandemic.

If this all sounds difficult to manage, let me take a moment to focus on why this matters. Despite the recent tsunami of mediocre ‘opinion’ content online, decision-makers are actually consuming more content than ever before. Research shows that over half of C-Suite level executives are reading more thought leadership than they were 18 months ago, with 48% saying they spend over an hour a week doing so.

If you can cut through the noise, you have a real opportunity to separate your content from the dross, make an impact and crucially drive business outcomes. Studies have shown that decision-makers are more likely to award and increase the amount of business given, commission new projects or purchase a new product/service after engaging with a useful piece of content. Encouragingly, the Impact Study saw no change to this in the most recent findings this year so there remains huge incentive to get this right.

Establishing and maintaining thought leadership on owned channels provides an incredibly powerful platform from which to engage and influence your audiences. If you can keep their needs front and centre, put forward a valuable, often surprising or challenging perspective, and remain true to yourself before committing cursor to screen, you’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd and avoid contributing to the content landfill.

To borrow a much-used mantra from the BBC: ‘If you fail to either inform, educate or entertain you are wasting both your and the reader’s time.’ It takes work to get it right but when you do, the benefits are well worth the time spent.

Rob Barlow is an Associate Director, Health at Edelman London

Rob Barlow is an Associate Director, Health at Edelman London

11th November 2021

From: Marketing

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