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  • Writer's pictureRick Kenney

Thought Leadership Thorns

Content marketing has elbowed its way out of the kids table and now strokes through its own swim lane in the marketing calendar.


But a villainous vessel is lurking - waiting to be the thorn in your content program’s side, stifling credibility. Yet, these thorns continue branching, suffocating the life out of well-intentioned, yet poorly executed marketing strategies, and infesting long-form PDFs, slide decks, and social cards.


This thorn is the thought leadership survey.


This is not a hit piece on great researchers. Those that can develop a set of thoughtful claims, uncover evidence to support (or oppose), and build a narrative that helps the audience understand and grow; they are worth their weight in MQLs.


No – I’m taking aim at the ugly survey questions that provide shapeless, contradicting, and misguided responses… and awful headlines.


You’ll find their thorn-prints across your screen, masquerading as tasty donut (charts), alongside an attractive model carrying a shopping bag in one hand and smiling at their black mirror in the other.


Do not eat these donuts. They are not the real thing and provide no nutritional value to your program.


Each of these is a real headline, though paraphrased and de-quantified to protect the un-intentioned.

  1. ‘Shifting consumer expectations is the most important topic for executives.’ The collective sigh from an audience exposed to this headline would knock over a screen. Are you telling me that ‘change is hard?’ What kind of shift? Which consumers? There’s little value to take from this.

  2. ‘Most users *say they decide* to delete an app within the first two weeks.’ Don’t tell me what they *say* they will do. Tell me what they are doing. *Saying* is a worse substitute for ‘doing’ than cauliflower for rice. Ack. With the absolute wealth of REAL ACTIVITY data available these days, go get the ‘doing’ data.

  3. ‘Two-thirds of buyers say they will become repeat buyers after a great experience.’ The catch-all that encompasses everything, though nothing at all. Experience is a filler word. Is a customer service interaction the defining experience? Is product usage? Both? Does it impact me differently across industries and verticals? Michelin star restaurant v. McDonald’s, Ritz Carlton v. Ramada, Shein v. Chanel. Any mention of experience requires at least some modification to provide any real insight. NB: the original wording here was 'personalized' experience. Personalized, too, requires more detail -- what is the object of the personalization: a product page, a promotion, a note from your stylist? Random acts of personalization v. personalization as a core principle can yield very different customer engagements, and results.

Don’t throw bad content at your audience. It’s easy to snuff out the good from the bad. These thought leadership thorns have a few things in common:

  • Too broad: a headline that applies to everyone, really applies to no one.

  • Poor substitutes: using survey data as a replacement for activity data is lazy (when the data is available) and often wildly inaccurate

  • Buzzy: the terrible trio these days is: experience | personalization | expectations. If you find yourself using any of these without heavily modifying, you’re likely filling someone’s bingo card and eroding your program's credibility.

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