5 pitfalls to avoid with your thought leadership content

Alice Hollis

Having carved a career in the world of B2B IT and tech, I’ve read more than my fair share of thought leadership content. 

When it’s good, it’s REALLY good – full of wonderful words that make you stop and think, perhaps question what you thought to be true, and help you to understand how to move past a particular issue with simple actions.  

But when it’s bad – urgh, it’s dry, dull, boring, and tedious. But because reading this content is key to my job, I don’t have the luxury you do. I don’t get to put it down and walk away. 

From a purely selfish point of view, I’m tired of reading bad thought leadership content because it makes me sad. But it also pains me to know someone invested their time, effort, and money to produce an asset that’s never going to deliver a return. 

Don’t be that person. Showcase all you have to offer in your thought leadership content by avoiding these common mistakes: 

Being promotional 

Thought leadership content, like white papers, guides and reports, may be used near the top of the sales funnel to start converting your leads, but is should never be promotional. Some of the worst ‘white papers’ I’ve read turn out to be 5-10 page advertorials that leave me feeling cheated at the end.  

The whole purpose of this content is to educate the reader. It is not a long-form sales letter. When you do it well you ‘sell’ yourself because you’re showing how your skills, knowledge and experience helped overcome a particular challenge or took advantage of a new opportunity. 

Saying everything and nothing 

At first glance, some thought leadership assets look like they’re full of the good stuff. But when you finish reading, you’re left wondering, ‘So what? 

Good thought leadership content needs focus and a clear message. Yes, you might be able to talk about anything and everything to do with cloud migration strategy or digital transformation, but the purpose of thought leadership is to perform a deep-dive in one specific area.  

To try and cover the whole subject, doesn’t do it justice, doesn’t show your subject matter experts in the best light, could confuse your audience, and ultimately leads to no action.  

Before you write a single word, think: 

‘What’s the one thing I want someone to take from this content?’ 

Make that your key message and delete everything that doesn’t support the message. 

Thinking your words are enough 

Yes, you are the thought leader and yes, you probably have something very interesting to say. But who are you? And what qualifies you to share your opinion? 

Ok, that sounds harsh, but they’re the questions the audience is asking as they read your content.  

Your opinion may be completely on-point, but to give it credibility you need evidence. 

  • If you’re talking about a methodology or presenting a theory look for case studies that demonstrate your work in practice. 
  • If you’re challenging the status quo, look for research or analyst commentary, which aligns to your ideas. 
  • If you’re making a point about being ‘the best’, use data to quantify the impact you or your technology has, and benchmark it. 

Your words carry far more weight when they’re substantiated by credible sources. 

Asking the subject matter expert to write it 

(A controversial one!) The whole purpose of your thought leadership content is to share the skills, knowledge and experience of your subject matter experts – but that doesn’t mean they need to be the ones to put pen to paper. 

There’s a little thing called ‘ghostwriting’, which allows your specialists to author your content without doing any of the hard work. 

The process could involve sharing internal documentation, participating in an interview, or providing a briefing. Your writer takes this information to create content, taking care to write it in the individual’s tone of voice. All your subject matter expert needs to do is review before it’s published. 

It relieves the burden on your subject matter experts, reduces the time they need to spend away from their job, and creates a richer piece. Most subject matter experts are technical, which means they’re naturally focused on the detail and feel most comfortable talking about features and benefits. A writer takes the content to a different level to get under the skin of the reader – because if they don’t feel something, nothing happens (remember: reason leads to conclusions, while emotion leads to action). 

That does not mean your writer will fluff up your content with hearts, clouds and rainbows. It means the know the language and techniques needed to hook into the brain’s natural bias, which get the audience to care about what they’re reading. 

Failing to re-spin it for a wider campaign 

Content in isolation doesn’t do very much. 

For example, you write a white paper. So what? No-one woke up this morning instinctively knowing it’s been published on your website. Or perhaps your sales team forwarded it onto a few prospects. So what? It’s a big leap from white paper (which is typically used around the marketing-qualified lead stage of the pipeline) to signing on the dotted line as a client.  

Your thought leadership content needs to be produced within a wider marketing campaign. So once you’ve got that big juicy asset, think about how you can repurpose it into other formats, for example: 

  • Exploring the key themes in a blog series. 
  • Creating a sequence of emails as part of a nurture flow. 
  • Sharing snippets on social media. 
  • Editing a more concise version to share as an article on LinkedIn. 
  • Twisting it with a promotional spin to create that long-form sales letter. 
  • Presenting it as a webinar. 
  • Hosting a roundtable to gain insights from your customers. 
  • Designing it as an infographic. 

The possibilities are endless but the end result is the same – a far richer campaign that builds trust with your audience and is more likely to ensure they convert. 

Alice Hollis

B2B tech marketer turned content writer and ghostwriter, with a specialism in thought leadership content.