Thought leadership stories, well told, are a rare form of marketing magic. In the digital age, thought leadership – delivering forward-looking perspectives into topics affecting your clients’ prosperity – can have powerful results. Sparking interest across social and traditional media, raising brand awareness and breeding trust, it’s a catalyst for conversations with potential clients.
Judging by the number of reviews of web content and strategy going on, the financial services sector recognises thought leadership’s potential. Banks, asset managers, wealth managers and private equity managers are all looking at how they can leverage insightful white papers, comment, case studies and surveys.
But they’re on a steep learning curve and the quality of their content varies enormously. Broadly speaking, in the United States, the home of content marketing, some financial organisations are using thought leadership to great effect. Through regularly publishing content that educates and interests their customers, they’re attracting a lot of sticky traffic to their web sites.
Elsewhere in the world, the experience is mixed. Financial services companies are posting lots of content, but some of it serves little purpose, is unlikely to interest clients and is poorly written.
Quality comes first
As the internet and social media evolve at speed, all financial services organisations need strong thought leadership content to populate their web sites and compete for web-savvy clients. Who would have believed a few years ago that more than 1 million people would view an economics video on YouTube featuring a US hedge fund manager (and based on his written white paper)? Yet How the Economic Machine Works, by Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, has definitely gone viral.
We have been writing thought leadership for financial services and professional services firms for 15 years. Our thought leadership and white papers have earned clients large blog followings, coverage in the Financial Times, spots on CNBC and conference invitations. On some occasions, clients have credited our work directly with sizeable new business wins.
But if the potential power of thought-leadership magic is getting greater, the task of producing great content isn’t getting any easier. Poor-quality content masquerading as thought leadership is proliferating. So it’s more important than ever not to compromise on quality.
Six golden rules
In our view, there are six golden rules for great thought leadership. These are:
1. Identify a great story
Thought leadership must give genuinely fresh insights. How is the world changing for your clients? What are the trends and uncertainties you can give insight into that will help them to manage their businesses or wealth?
2. Match it to your organisation’s strengths
Make sure that you focus on subjects where your organisation has specific expertise. Otherwise you’re not adding value.
3. Illustrate your story with facts, quotes and anecdotes
A veteran editor once told me that facts, quotes and anecdotes are what bring a story to life. Use them in your thought leadership.
4. Write well, in your organisation’s tone of voice
Badly written articles and white papers don’t get read. Your content must be well written, in a style that’s easy to read and reflects your organisation’s tone of voice or brand.
5. Craft compelling headlines
Headlines are important. They attract readers, telling them why they should read your content.
6. Don’t talk about yourself
While thought leadership is a form of marketing, it’s not an excuse to tell the world how great your organisation is. Research shows that readers aren’t drawn to research that simply describes your organisation’s strengths.
Nose for a story; eye for creativity
In conclusion, thought leadership’s results are potentially magical. There are lots of examples of companies that have used strong thought leadership content, delivered on a regular basis, to gain clients’ trust and to build sales.
But these results aren’t achieved by accident. Achieving them takes intelligent planning and skilled execution – with a journalist’s nose for a story and a copywriter’s eye for creativity.
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