Understanding the thought leadership cycle

Several years ago, I was working with a client to refine his ideas for a white paper. We spent four to six weeks developing and shaping a draft; at that point, we agreed that it was ready to be syndicated to an external audience. It was at that point that he asked whether I had any ideas about how to promote it.

There are many times that’s an important and valid question to raise—but after you’ve already invested considerable time and resources in a piece of content is definitely not the right time. And although that may seem an obvious point, many companies are churning out articles, videos, and other content not as part of a well-developed strategy but in an ad hoc way. These companies invariably discover that they are getting far less out of their investment than they had hoped—and that fewer people are consuming their material.

A successful thought leadership effort consists of three components: strategy, content development, and distribution. It can helpful to think of it as a continuous cycle in which each component influences the other two. Therefore, coordinating efforts across these three components is crucial to getting your ideas into your target audience’s hands and head.

Thought leadership cycle

  1. Strategy. As a first step, your strategy should articulate the specific purpose for creating content, such as brand building or business development. Often, a triggering event—a new service offering, survey results, an upcoming conference, or external developments in the industry—can help to make the content more timely and suggest a pertinent angle or set of insights that can form a coherent perspective. Last, the strategy should clearly define the intended audience and most effective method, be it a targeted campaign or broader outreach.
  2. Content development. Once the strategy is set, the challenge is to develop your ideas and weave them into a compelling narrative framework that carries a defined value to the reader. By focusing on developing source material that can serve as the building blocks of content, companies have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate formats—articles, video, infographics, and the like. This approach (what we refer to as lean content creation) can enable companies to create multiple pieces of content from the same source material.
  3. Promotion and distribution. Finally, you need to get finished content into the hands of your target audience. Since companies must work hard to rise above the constant hum of ideas in the marketplace, the right communications channels are the difference between easy-to-find content and a needle in a haystack. While the default goal for many companies is to place their content with external publications, a well-coordinated promotions strategy that includes digital channels and social media can often be more effective because it gives your content multiple chances to be seen by an engaged target audience.

All three components are needed for an effective content marketing effort, and it’s important to understand how each one influences the other two. Without the strategy, the content will lack a strong perspective that can lend it a distinctive voice. Without a well-formed idea of promotion and distribution—where your target audience looks for relevant information—it’s impossible to tailor your content to the right formats. And a lack of high-quality content can undermine even the best strategy. Most important, all of these components must be coordinated so that business leaders who are looking for answers to specific problems can easily find and digest your ideas in the way they’ve become accustomed.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring each of these three components in more detail and featuring expert voices to discuss the benefits of executing a thought leadership cycle effectively.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of LEFF. He’s spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he’s had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of “lean content creation” as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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