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For the last few weeks, the Source thought leadership team has been busy rating a huge amount of consulting firm content to input to our Quality Ratings Report covering the whole of 2020. And while the challenges of 2020 have changed certain elements of what we’re seeing, there are some key characteristics of firms’ output that we see year after year. A good example of this is a widespread issue with the prompting action element of our scoring matrix, which for many publishers is the score that brings down their overall rating.

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The events of 2020 have undoubtedly shaken things up in the world of consulting firm content production. From our unique position looking across the whole thought leadership landscape, we believe there are some key trends that will help to shape 2021. Here are our top three: 

1.  A more agile mindset 

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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.

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OK, maybe not quite one. Producing great thought leadership is an expensive and time-consuming business, after all, so it makes sense to ensure that as many clients and prospects as possible engage with it, in order to help deliver the ROI that is needed to justify the effort involved. But, paradoxically, it’s almost impossible to achieve these high levels of engagement if you try to produce content that appeals equally to every potential reader.

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We’re often asked about what makes good thought leadership, and while we’ve got a well-established view on that, we’re not the intended audience. It sometimes makes sense to deflect the question towards the people who are, to see what they say.

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Many of the conversations we’ve been having with professional services firms over the course of the last few months have ended up focusing on the issue of propositions. In a changed market—in a changed world—offering clients the same thing you offered them before the COVID crisis struck seems increasingly unwise. Your underlying capabilities might be every bit as relevant as they ever were, as might your values and your purpose.

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The next time you stop for a coffee, go and look at the home pages of the world’s leading consulting firms. What do you see? Thought leadership. Right up there, above all else. The first thing the firm wants to show you. What is it about? COVID-19. Everywhere, virtually everything is about the crisis. What does it offer? Supply chain solutions. Ideas about workforce planning. Ideas about how you can reimagine your business in the post-COVID era. Descriptions of the new normal. Opinions from business leaders. Surveys. Data. More surveys. More data.

Hope. It offers hope.

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Spend any time analysing the marketing messages landing in your inbox right now and you might notice that they tend to fall into one of three categories:

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Analysis of our thought leadership ratings over the course of the last decade reveals a narrowing of the gap between the lowest- and highest-ranking firm. The good news is that the worst is getting better. The bad news is that the best hasn’t changed much at all.

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Every year we conduct a big survey of clients (senior end users of consulting services) in which we ask them a wide range of questions relating to their interaction with consulting firms and their use of consulting services. We use the results across many parts of our business; it informs our Market Trends programme and the Global Data Model that underpins it, it’s central to our Client & Brand Insight work, and it’s one of the strands of research on which our Emerging Trends programme is based.