As we approach the end of a year in which the COVID pandemic has swung a wrecking ball through normal life as we knew it, I’ve been reflecting on some of the thought leadership-related changes we’ve witnessed as a result of that. One thing’s for sure: The crisis has made thought leadership more important than ever. That’s borne out by a recent survey we conducted, and reinforced by the conversations we’ve been having with clients throughout the year.
It’s hardly surprising that this should be the case. We’ve all struggled to make sense of what the pandemic means for us; and business leaders are no exception. Many of them have turned to content produced by consulting firms (as well as content put out by other providers) to provide some guidance and clarity in these unprecedented times.
It’s also true that thought leadership that hits the mark can have a huge effect on clients. A striking finding from our research is that almost all the people we surveyed said that consulting firms’ content had transformed the way they think about their business.
That’s one humdinger of an impact—and proof, in any were needed, that there is a receptive audience for the content firms are putting out into the market. However, not all thought leadership is guaranteed to resonate with that audience. So, what do firms need to do to make sure that their flagship pieces fulfil their true potential? Here are a few ideas:
Be relevant: Certain themes have risen in importance this year, with the clients we surveyed putting workforce planning, digitisation, and cybersecurity at or near the top of their agendas. Consulting firms have to ensure that they’re catering for those current interests—but they also need to anticipate and keep pace with the next wave of hot topics, rather than try to push their own static, internal agendas.
Be flexible in terms of format: Clients have increased their consumption of all different types of content, with long reports seeing the biggest uptick in client interest. But for every client who heads straight for your latest flagship white paper, there is another that prefers podcasts, infographics, or a whole list of other options. Consider how you can use different format types to complement each other and to ensure that your content output is relevant to the widest possible audience.
Be action-focused: Perhaps more than ever before, clients are looking for consulting firms’ thought leadership to provide them with practical advice. Often, the content we see falls short of being truly helpful because instead of offering action points and a next step guide, it describes a high-level roadmap, or the need to develop a “strategic vision”. It could be worth examining your thought leadership with a critical eye—would your recommendations help a client know where and how to start making changes within their organisation?
I’m sure everyone reading this is excited to put 2020 behind them. But the new year will bring with it new challenges for clients. As governments start to roll out their vaccination programmes, businesses will have to decide how to manage their transition back to normal—and, indeed, what normal should even look like. Thought leadership will have a vital role to play in helping them answer those questions, so it’s imperative that firms do whatever they can to make their content stand out from the crowd.