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Thought Leadership Is Not Insight

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Written by: Eric Quanstrom | Kitedesk

8.25 seconds. That’s how long I’ve got to hook you… Down from 12 seconds in 2000. Not nearly enough time for a big setup.

But if you’re in marketing or sales, read on… As content is some of your currency these days.

Underlying all good business content is an infrastructure of data, insights, and perhaps even thought leadership. But thought leadership and insights are not the same. In fact, they exist in separate spheres that don’t overlap much. Thought leadership is amorphous. It’s about a future that’s on the horizon, but not necessarily in clear view yet. Insight content is more practical. It’s about, “Here’s what you’re doing, what you may be doing wrong, and how to do it right.” Both thought leadership content and insight content are necessary if you want to position yourself as a valued authority that helps clients solve problems.

But only one really sells.

Do you know which one? It’s insight content, by a country mile.

Last year, the amount of content produced rose 34%, but engagement decreased 17% — what some call the content marketing paradox. Despite the deluge, there’s not nearly enough insight content in the world today. Why? Because true insight content will force me to challenge my assumptions. It’s actionable. It’s about change. And at the end of the day, sales is all about initiating change.

What Is Thought Leadership?

A “thought leader” is someone who is widely regarded by peers and colleagues as a trustworthy authority on a given subject or in a given industry. The term has gained somewhat of a reputation for being just another annoying business buzzword, but there’s honesty behind the nomenclature. After all, there are credible industry experts who are worth listening to.

But thought leadership can be wrong.

“640K of memory should be enough for anybody.” -Bill Gates

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.” -Albert Einstein

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” -H.M. Warner

Thought leadership is about contributing to conversations that are occurring today while speculating in an informed way on what is likely to happen tomorrow. Thought leaders don’t know every topic, but, within their realm of influence, they set a pace with reasoned opinions. Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei were dissenting voices in an era when thought leadership was largely the province of the Catholic Church. The scientists’ theories of heliocentrism (that the earth and planets revolve around the sun) contradicted the thought leadership of the time, though the theories were later confirmed to be true.

A thought leader not only has future-oriented ideas but also the ability to inspire and influence. Plenty of brilliant people have great ideas or predictions, but it’s the thought leaders who express those ideas and publish them for consideration. A person doesn’t become a thought leader through one technical paper, blog post, or networking event. It takes time, hard work, and just legitimate experience to develop into a thought leader. Read another way, becoming a thought leader is hard, long, and involved.

Actions inspired by a thought leader are often small steps forward, like adapting a technology for a new use. In other words, they help people look at existing topics and concepts in new ways and motivate people to respond. Social media has proved to be a tool for dissemination of thought leadership. Being wrong is the badge of the thought leader, worn carefully.

What Is Commercial Insight Content?

Commercial insight content isn’t thought leadership content, but the two can complement one another. With commercial content, you’re also helping customers see things in a new light, but on a more immediate and actionable scale. Commercial insight content is often about pointing out things that customers haven’t considered or things they’re going about the wrong way in their business.

Commercial insight content isn’t just about saying to your customers, “You are doing so many things wrong,” because ultimately that gets discouraging. The goal is not to become a major buzzkill. Rather, it’s about showing customers things they wouldn’t have discovered on their own–right in their own backyard. Taking a familiar narrative and driving a new plot twist.

Sometimes– and most powerfully– it’s about unteaching bad habits that customers fall into.

Pattern Interrupt

Commercial insight content differs from thought leadership in that it drives action and often breaks the frame of current behavior. Successful commercial insight content causes the reader (or viewer) to pause and internally say, “Hmmm. Tell me more.” One of the greatest things about insight content is that, as it gains traction, it can serve as validation for other customers who deal with the same issue. And the greatest benefit is accessibility– you’re talking about a customer’s current circumstance.

When you want to develop insight content, there are 4 main ways to think about discovering and presenting concepts:

  1. Ways customers can mitigate risks,
  2. Enter (or go more deeply into) new markets,
  3. Generate more revenues, or
  4. Save money.
     

Though you’re showing customers a better way, insight content isn’t about “bashing” what they’ve been doing, which, after all, was probably based on doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. It’s about, “Hey, this is new, and this is what it can do for you.” Solving a job they need done, better.

When Is Thought Leadership Appropriate?

Thought leadership is typically the product of in-depth knowledge and long-term experience on a topic. That’s why thought leaders tend to be a bit older than the tech wunderkinds who power up the freshest startup ideas in Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs was indeed a visionary when he and his friend Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computer in his parents’ garage, but he wasn’t recognized as a thought leader until much later.

Thought leadership can help with defining the challenges that customers encounter and with determining the best ways to overcome them. But their ideas may not be technologically practical or possible at present. It matters, however, because a thought leader is part of the customer conversation from the earliest stages, and develops a reputation and loyalty over time.

A thought leader produces content that transcends marketing. Exposing ideas and starting dialogues may not directly affect the bottom line in the way that a product launch would, but these processes can work wonders for brand perception.

Can Thought Leadership Drive Results?
 

  • Thought leadership drives results in a different way than, say, having a promotion or a sale drives results. It’s the long game, at best.
    • One of the most challenging parts of developing thought leadership is identifying a topic or area of expertise that’s associated with your brand on which to develop authority and expertise. A lot of companies begin with an ordinary Google search to gain ideas.
  • Thought leadership isn’t positioning yourself versus your direct competitors.
    • It’s actually far broader — everyone who publishes content in your area of influence. It’s a tall order, to be sure. To ensure relevance to your target audience, it’s important to identify the microscopic and macroscopic questions your customer are asking and to prioritize them. Answering those questions across multiple channels on a consistent basis is the key to developing as a thought leader.
  • Thought leadership may not inform customers and potential customers on a “nuts and bolts” level.
    • It’s important that you make thought leadership content engaging and worth their time. Educating and making people think requires a bit more creativity than explaining how to use a new feature of your product. Ultimately, you know your audience is looking for help, and you, as a thought leader, prove yourself to be a trustworthy source of that help.
       

How to Develop Commercial Insights

Developing commercial insights, like developing thought leadership, requires a thorough and deep understanding of consumer beliefs and attitude. You must connect emotionally with your customers, prompting a clear response in customers, like, “This brand knows exactly how I feel about X.” You can start by expressing known (or suspected) customer truths in the following ways:

“I would like to … ”
“I want to do this because … ”
“But I can’t because … “

The gap between the second and third of these statements is where your insight potential is. Developing commercial insights is largely a matter of asking and answering the right questions.
To determine the best ways to fill this gap, ask yourself pertinent questions, like:

  • What commercial insights are companies missing if they want to exceed their revenue numbers?
  • If we were in charge of a sales department that was “stuck,” what would be our first steps?
  • What would people want to learn in order to accomplish this goal?
  • With a stated goal, what are the primary drivers and what are the secondary drivers?
     

Examples of Commercial Insights
 

  • Commercial insight content could be a video showing how missteps in sales development can lead to inconsistent pipeline forecasts. Perhaps it could discuss how not valuing sales development time sufficiently leads to haphazard results, or how, when you don’t test your messaging (or do the lazy thing by using other companies’ messaging), you’ll get inconsistent results that are based on hunches rather than data.
  • Commercial insight content could be an article or checklist designed to help your customers penetrate new markets. The hypothesis could be that targeting the wrong accounts leads to approaching new markets all wrong. And, perhaps, within the accounts, sales development professionals aren’t going deeply enough, concluding that gaining an “in” constitutes a job well done that’s ready to hand off.
  • Insight content designed to help your customers make money could focus on how they’re building their sales pipeline. Perhaps their inbound marketing isn’t effective enough, or maybe sales and marketing are siloed because of how each side is graded and compensated.
  • Insight content designed to help your customers save money could point out hidden costs that organizations don’t recognize. If, say, sales development reps are spending a percentage of their time on deals that aren’t much beyond being chalked up as another sale, it represents an opportunity to the business, the cost of which can be calculated. Example calculations could be part of this insight content.
     

What Materials Help Your Audience Develop New Commercial Insights?

The form in which you present your commercial insights is worth considering beforehand. You don’t necessarily have to create a position paper just because that’s what’s usually done, but you need to ask yourself where you would turn if you were trying to bridge the gap between what you want to happen and why you think you can’t.

Sales leaders are often partial to books, audiobooks (or podcasts), infographics, and eBooks. Perhaps it’s common practice to Google search a topic along with words like “stats,” or “analysis.” In these cases, you can focus on both your chosen format and the keywords to use to ensure the right people find your insight content.

Sales managers often want to know what worked well for others. They want answers to straightforward questions like, “How do I hire the right person?” and “How many sales development representatives do I need?” These content users spend time on LinkedIn and interacting with others. They look for content on mobile devices and, generally, in smaller “chunks” of information. Therefore, your insight content for sales managers could be tailored to these tendencies.

Thought leadership and commercial insights work together almost symbiotically, with each reinforcing and supporting the other. But it’s important that you don’t confuse the two. Present your audience with a balance of both.

Thought leadership is forward-looking and more abstract, while commercial insights are more practical and today-oriented. Sales enablement success generally requires both, so you’re wise to offer both to your customers and general readership. On this note, KiteDesk invites you to download our whitepaper titled “6 Steps to Improve your Sales Process”, for actionable insights and tips that you can put to work right now.

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