Psst. Your Thought Leadership Content Sucks.

A lot of us who work in tech like to think of ourselves as cutting-edge, innovators or early adopters of technology at the very least. If you look at the adoption cycle, which is more of a bell curve, there just aren’t that many innovators and early adopters. As much as I hate to admit it, I probably fall into the early or late majority camps. My classification changes depending on the technology and the value I place on its applications.

I don’t see the need to spend a 1,000% premium to show you how cool I am. Co-workers mocked me at the National Retail Federation show in the late-2000s because my Motorola slide phone was not as cool as their iPhones. At the time, AT&T was the sole provider of service to all those iPhone hipsters, and none of those cats could make a call from the Javits Center or anywhere in New York City. Meanwhile I could make and receive calls and texts with impunity.

While I probably won’t own a Tesla until Elon Musk has established a colony on Mars, I have been banging the drum on the value of high-quality, thought-leadership content like John Nash extolling the virtues of some mathematic epiphany while in full-blown flight from reality.

When working at S1 Corporation from 2009–2011 we were on a pilgrimage to transform B2B FinTech marketing through white-glove content and marketing automation. The target market for the payments business was incredibly small yet filled with heavy weight executives and decision makers. We focused on quality over quantity because so much was riding on every interaction. We made significant strides until the CEO cut marketing and other staff to lighten the books for M&A positioning. The company was the target of a hostile takeover bid won by ACI Worldwide, but I digress.

Yes, I realize the concept of high-quality content is not a masterstroke of genius on my part, but high-profile marketing evangelists keep telling us what we should already know — content is, um, really important. (If I say the “K” word, I’ll have to kick my own ass.) Are you yelling, “preach on” from the back pew with me?

We know a lot of talented people who are all-in on this concept, but the latest research from Edelman and LinkedIn shows that we’re not delivering what our target markets want. If the oldest business truism is to give your customers what they want, why can’t we do that?

Some key points from the research, based on a survey of 3,275 global business decision-makers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, India and the United Kingdom, include:

  • Thought leadership, which doesn’t pitch a company’s product, influences sales more than we knew. Decision makers spent more time reading thought leadership content over last year by almost 8 points.
  • Almost 70 percent agree thought leadership is one of the best ways to gauge the caliber of a company’s thinking and value they can deliver.
  • Sixty-one percent of high-value decision makers are more willing to pay a premium to companies that articulate a clear vision.

Here’s the thing. These people say we suck at delivering excellent or very good thought leadership content, because:

  • only 18 percent of content is rated excellent or very good;
  • 53 percent is good; and
  • that leaves almost a third of the content to live in the town of Sucksville.

Almost 90 percent of decision makers say high-quality thought leadership content increases trust in a supplier, which in turn enhances a brand’s reputation. The flip side is that bad content can damage a company’s reputation.

What do we get wrong about thought leadership?

  • Narcissistic stories. Do we buckle to pressure to talk only about speeds and feeds instead of how technologies solve a specific problem or add value for a customer?
  • Do we really embrace personas? If we do internalize customer personas and walk a mile in their shoes, are we consistent?
  • Technobabble, gobbledygook and jargon: Do we lean on the crutch of jargon? Have you worked in an industry where people can’t agree on a simple definition of a term? Some might argue there’s an advantage in defining the market when we define terms (like standards.) There is no trust, value or commerce when we cannot communicate with prospects and customers, which includes listening and not just talking.
  • Are we measured on volume vs value? Ouch.
  • Are we telling an interesting story? Let’s be honest. Sometimes there is not enough time and space to be really creative.

Is the solution simply to do the opposite of the bad, bulleted behavior? It’s a start to be aware of the problem, understand the opportunity to drive real value for a business with thought leadership and take action to do something different. Just as we can’t turn around bad diet and lack of exercise in one, intense visit to the gym, we can implement small changes in our thinking and process to make incremental progress. From there, anything is possible. If we give customers what they want, the data shows they will reward us handsomely.



Writer. Musician. Marketer. Grow brands for technologists, developers, engineers and companies with thought leadership content, digital engagement & tech.

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David Fontaine

Writer. Musician. Marketer. Grow brands for technologists, developers, engineers and companies with thought leadership content, digital engagement & tech.