“Create Us A Thought Leadership Piece” Is The New “Make Us A Viral Video.”
Jun 9, 2016
“…most of the content being produced under the banner of ‘thought leadership’ is really just ‘blogging.’ Worse, it’s blogging for the sake of blogging. It isn’t introducing any new, original thoughts, nor is it establishing the writer as a foremost expert on the subject, and it definitely isn’t revolutionizing the way people think about a particular topic or industry.”
That quote is from a smart piece of work by Omar Akhtar, in which he draws the distinction between “content strategy” and “thought leadership.” Now, the road Mr. Akhtar goes down is an important one – the road that details how much more than “thought leadership” content can, and needs to, accomplish.
The road I’m going to follow is the access road off to the side of that highway. It’s the one that explains why you can’t really achieve “thought leadership” in much the same way that you can’t plan to create a “viral” video. At least not one that’s going to actually connect the right audience to your product or service.
The basis for the comparison is this:
- People associate a viral video with a means to go from “zero recognition” to “breaking through the clutter of a content-laden marketplace in no time flat on a tiny budget.”
- Brands are now thinking thought leadership pieces are the new way to do the same thing – to go from “zero recognition of why they are smarter than competitors, or offer something different” to “marketplace leader.” (Maybe they’re exploring this option because the viral video never came to be.)
Neither of these things will happen.
Here’s a revelation that everyone knows (and, yes, I recognize the irony of that statement): There has never been a truly organic, made-to-promote-a-brand viral video. Ever. There’s been plenty of viral videos. Charlie bit my finger. The sneezing baby panda. Leroy Jenkins. So on. But even the highly-touted “viral” Dollar Shave Club video was kick-started by 50,000 paid views timed with the announcement of a new round of funding.
The idea behind a viral video is to shock people into paying attention. To employ valence, arousal and dominance to spark high interest and a “need” to share.
The idea behind thought leadership is to similarly demand attention and shares through pure genius rather than shock. That usually means manufacturing a point of view that’s so out there and new, it can’t be denied.
Frankly, most brands aren’t having those kind of thoughts. They are having really cool and important incremental thoughts that extend existing thinking into new realms. But those incremental thoughts aren’t the kind that catch on like wildfire on their own.
But don’t worry. This realization is a good thing. And it will help you better set yourself up for success in establishing some form of thought leadership with the right audience! Because now that you realize these things don’t just happen on their own, you’re more likely to start your discussions about thought leadership in a better place: Around a content strategy.
It’ll get you asking the questions: What’s the strategy and course of actions to manufacture potential thought leadership prominence? Will we use a heavy dose of paid media? Traditional or digital paid channels? Will we employ a PR program? An influencer outreach program? What other tactics (social media promotion, SEM, etc?) will we put in place to drive traffic and create the illusion of viral?
If you’re a brand and you want to create a viral video or establish yourself as a thought leader, you now know that you’re going to have to create a lot more content and pay (at least a little bit) to make that happen. You know you’ll need to create a campaign focused on driving people to a singular piece of content. Or a couple of formative pieces.
So ditch the singular, pipe-dream thinking – about a viral video or thought leadership. And start thinking about the marketing strategy and content you’ll need to sustain long-term success.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.