Being Credible: The Second Standard of High-Quality Thought Leadership Content
According to a survey by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), content marketing’s effectiveness is on the rise. And one of the key factors behind this rise, respondents say, is that they’re producing better-quality content.
The primacy of quality content is something Alterra Group has preached for years. In our work with myriad consulting firms and other B2B companies, we’ve seen time and again that the quality of thought leadership content is demonstrably correlated with market impact.
What defines quality content? While quality can be somewhat subjective, we’ve identified certain standards—seven of them—by which companies can evaluate their thought leadership content (see figure). As we discussed in a previous white paper, by adhering to these standards companies can ensure their white papers, research studies, articles, books, and the like effectively position them as voices of authority in their respective markets; demonstrate their ability to solve clients’ or customers’ most pressing business problems; and—most importantly—generate demand for their offerings.
In this second in a series of blogs exploring each of these standards in more detail, we take a deeper look at the second one: credibility.
Being Credible: Avoiding outlandish, unsupported claims and backing up assertions with proof
In the consulting arena, white papers, research reports, and journals from such influential firms as McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group set the standard for how to use high-quality thought leadership content to engage current and prospective clients. A number of technology giants, as well—including SAP, Cisco, Oracle, and GE—are prolific publishers of leading-edge thinking that accompanies their products and tools. Many factors set these companies’ content apart from others, but one of the biggest is that their content is highly credible. When you read a McKinsey Quarterly article or a research study from Cisco, you believe what they say is true.
Why their content is credible isn’t a secret. These companies know that when you use thought leadership content to advance a particular approach to solving a business problem, you have to provide strong evidence of how the solution works and where it has been used. If you can’t, then what you’re proposing is just an interesting theory that likely won’t make much of an impression on executives.
Yet too often, this fact gets lost on other companies. They get caught up in writing a white paper on their approach to solving a particular business problem but forget the proof points. And that can undermine the credibility of their content, even if what they’re saying may be intriguing.
The fact is, in any thought leadership piece, every claim or assertion must be backed up by proof to be credible. That’s especially true if you’re proposing an approach to solving a business problem. You’d better have data and examples from clients or customers that show the positive impact your approach and insights have had.
Do Your Research
How do you get that data? One of the best ways is through your own research. For example, via a survey of executives, you could ask participants to quantify the benefits they’ve experienced by adopting your approach, practice, or tool. In some cases, participants may be able to provide exact figures; in others, they may only be able to give you a range. But either way, this kind of data is important to building a case that your solution “works” and to what extent.
Surveys are also great ways to provide evidence of the existence or prevalence of a business problem, and that traditional approaches to solving it have failed. It’s one thing to simply assert, for instance, that “many companies struggle to hire the right talent,” and another to state, “Seventy-five percent of human resource heads said they have skills gaps in key roles across their organization.” Similarly, which is more credible: “Most companies’ mergers or acquisitions aren’t successful” or “Fifty-eight percent of M&A deals executed in the past year actually destroyed value”?
A firm could also take the qualitative route, conducting in-depth case study interviews with a focused set of executives at a smaller group of representative companies to get behind the numbers. Case studies rise above the inherent time and space limitations of surveys. They enable you to probe a topic far more deeply to not only find out what happened—e.g., your approach reduced companies’ operating costs by 10 percent—but also to understand why and how it happened, which helps illuminate the reasons the approach was successful. Case studies also can generate quotes from executives that, beyond providing “color” in a white paper or research report, essentially make the credibility case for you.
Tap Your Customers
Your own clients or customers are one of the best sources of credibility-bolstering data. Many companies track key performance metrics from projects—such as a consulting engagement or a software implementation—to understand and quantify the projects’ impact on those businesses. This is powerful data—more powerful than that generated by broader surveys because it directly ties your approach or product to specific benefits. Even if you can’t name the companies, this data is infinitely better than vague statements of results, such as the ever-popular “significant improvement in performance” or “substantial cost reduction.”
For just one example, check out this ebook from GE, which is chock full of tangible benefits the company’s digital solutions have generated for customers across the electricity value chain. It’s tough to read through these customer stories and not come away believing GE’s products do what the company says they do.
Without data and examples, thought leadership content ends up being little more than opinion pieces rather than the credibility-enhancing tools they could (and should) be. And that’s critical to target buyers. After all, no executive is going to place a major bet on a multi-million-dollar consulting project or large-scale system without proof that it will solve his business problem.