When thought leadership content is done right it is a uniquely powerful tool. It challenges. It differentiates. It starts relationships and enhances existing ones. And it drives sales with high-value customers like no other.
Here’s why: Customers, particularly those in the B2B space seeking premium services like PR, are increasingly demanding education and advice as part of the sales experience. They see through the bright and shiny marketing speak. They want proof.
Real thought leadership is that proof. And when it’s done right, thought leadership monetizes that proof with content that converts prospects into paying clients.
Thought leadership content should be as enjoyable and compelling as a fairy tale. “Little Red Riding Hood” taught us not to talk to strangers. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” taught us to tell the truth. And “Rapunzel” taught us to think outside the box. There were morals to these stories, life lessons to be instilled, but getting there was fun.
Finding your own thought leadership story starts with the moral. What is the story that will best demonstrate your credibility, experience and divergent thinking? Tell that one.
Don’t write a story that will appeal to everyone. Write only for your very specific target audience, which may shift from piece to piece. Personify the person you are trying to reach, and then think about the top questions that person would ask about the topic you’re writing. Try as best you can to use your thought leadership content to answer those questions.
The form that story takes (it could be a 30-page white paper or a 30-second video) is less important than the elements it contains. With the moral at the core, five elements, borrowed from classic storytelling techniques, are absolutes for truly powerful thought leadership content.
1) The Protagonist: Give the reader someone to root for. Humanize them, even if “them” is a corporate entity. The protagonist depends on the story you’re telling. It could be the client you saved, the product you launched or the agency you work for. Choose the protagonist that your target audience is most likely to relate to.
The protagonist needs to stand for something. They must possess and act from a unique point of view. If your protagonist doesn’t have one, consider using your thought leadership content as the framework from which your points of view can be developed and honed.
2) The Villain: Find your big bad wolf. In PR it could be a competing client’s product or service, a product recall, consumer backlash or even time (or lack thereof).
3) The Crisis: Put your protagonist to work. Create a colorful, engaging narrative to describe the moment of crisis. Finding your most compelling crisis point is easy. At what point do your clients seek your help? What is the common turning point? That, described with flair, is the kind of thought leadership crisis that converts.
4) The Backstory: Give it context. What are the external market or cultural forces exacerbating the crisis? An isolated retail product recall is ho-hum. A retail product recall three days before Black Friday on the heels of a multi-million-dollar global ad campaign is a page turner.
In addition to being compelling, the backstory gives thought leadership content greater dimension than a one-off case study. It allows a thought leader to contribute to a larger conversation, giving the content legs to be leveraged with multiple audiences, everyone from current and potential customers to media outlets.
5) The Resolution: Prove it. Balance hard data and real testimonials with emotion and transparency. Describe challenges, explain the process and demonstrate your humanity. This is your opportunity to outline your worth as a professional and a partner. Use journalistic rigor throughout. Proper attribution and thorough research prove your worth honestly and with integrity.
In an increasingly challenging earned media landscape, authentic and compelling thought leadership content is about as close as we can get to a guaranteed fairy-tale ending. Find the moral to your story and put it at the center of a narrative that will move the people you really want to reach. That narrative, framed around a protagonist, villain, crisis, backstory and resolution, will produce thought leadership content that wins business and media real estate.
And in PR, that’s better than Prince Charming on a white horse could ever be.
Kelda Rericha is a senior content strategist at A.wordsmith, a boutique public relations firm specializing in thought leadership and brand storytelling for leading business-to-business and consumer organizations.