Life can be tough for a B2B marketer – especially when you get a brief to write a thought leadership article for your CEO about something as vague and ill-defined as “the role of technology in sustainability”.
The first thing you do is probably call your friendly neighbourhood B2B content writer. It’s no secret that thought leadership content is mostly ghostwritten by a copywriter – hopefully, based on an interview with the subject matter expert (SME).
But when you’re provided with a scant brief like this one, how do you set your writer up for success so they can write with authority, deliver real insight, and win you awareness, credibility, and traffic?
Let me help you out.
Here is my guide to commissioning outstanding thought leadership writing that gets read, remembered, and shared. (It doesn’t matter what content type you’re commissioning; from a blog to a white paper, it’s the same approach.)
Step 1: Propose ideas people haven’t thought about yet
“Know your audience” is the golden rule of marketing. Because relevant content gets read. While this is true for most forms of B2B marketing – where you find out what questions your readers are asking and answer them with content that makes their job easier – thought leadership is a bit of an anomaly.
B2B technology thought leadership isn’t usually so closely linked to client questions; it’s more about proposing new ideas people have yet to think about.
That means the challenge when writing B2B thought leadership content is making sure what you say is relevant and interesting to your target reader, and speaks to a need they can see, even if they have yet to think of the question they need to ask.
Step 2: Look around you – the unique angle is probably already there
Nobody likes a copycat. By contrast, original content gets remembered, which is why true thought leadership offers new perspectives for people in your industry.
This may well include a strong opinion that sparks debate. (Thought leaders don’t please everyone.) But not every piece needs to be radical. You can simply present a well-known concept in a different way – just make sure it’s a truly unique take.
And you shouldn’t have to go far to find that fresh angle. It’s likely you’re already sitting on a wealth of knowledge across SMEs in your business. Some of these people might even be ready-made thought leaders. All they need is your help to convey their distinctive viewpoint.
Finding a unique angle will help your piece avoid the fate of so much content that’s wrongly passed off as B2B thought leadership, but makes little impact.
Step 3: Build a detailed brief
Before commissioning a thought leadership piece, you’ll need to ensure your copywriter has a clear view of your sector, brand, and audience. They should be familiar with your target readers’ challenges, clearly explain the unique idea, and understand why it’s important to the people in that industry.
This means you’ll need a watertight brief, an experienced writer in your sector, or – ideally – both.
This will put your writer in the best position to have a valuable conversation with your SME and ask the right questions to clarify their thoughts.
To improve the process further – and depending on how well-developed the angle is – you could ask your writer to sketch out an outline, write some questions, and find some third-party data to support your SME’s brave new vision.
Ask your copywriter to share these with you and your SME ahead of the next stage.
Step 4: Choose a writer that’s experienced in interviewing
Interviewing is the most crucial part of the process as it helps you get the best content. When I worked in B2B journalism, the strongest stories always came from speaking directly to SMEs.
But not all writers have the experience or skills to interview SMEs. At Radix, we’re fortunate to be trained in interviewing experts as a core part of our skillsets. Here are a few of the areas we feel are most important:
- If there’s anything you’re not sure of, don’t be afraid to ask as this will help you translate the interviewee’s expertise into compelling content.
- Ask for real-world examples to bring the idea to life as this will make it much easier and more pleasant for your audience.
- Look for structures and narratives in what the person is telling you to help construct the piece, then summarise at the end of the interview.
One of our favourite things is watching the expert relax after we’ve asked some questions, because this means they were absolutely the right questions, and we know it’s going to be a good thought leadership piece.
Step 5: Double-check the angle (and make use of the tangents)
Asking questions is one thing. Articulating the answers and finding the best angle is another. To do this, your copywriter must be agile when interviewing and ruthless when writing.
This is where you will both be rewarded for creating an outline (in Step 3) as it gives your writer the chance to validate with you where they feel the best points are and which parts of the conversation should go in the main piece.
Of course, things can change during an interview, so your writer should let you know if the idea morphed and if the SME agreed to it. Also, your copywriter might think of ways to turn peripheral ideas that came up into other valuable content pieces.
This is what we do every day at Radix: gather and untangle the often-tangential thoughts of people who are too busy to do so. Then we organise, condense, and structure them into a captivating narrative, suggesting extra content where the opportunities present themselves.
It’s all part of a tried-and-tested process, as you’ll see in this example of thought leadership blog posts for CACI’s Marc Radley by my former colleague David.
Step 6: Create something outstanding
Thought leadership content can transform industries by challenging accepted beliefs, predicting new trends, or expressing surprising new visions. True thought leaders can provide valuable insights by commenting on industry developments or educating readers about complex topics.
But it will only stand out if the writing is superb.
So, my final piece of advice is to select your writer carefully. Look for an exceptional copywriter who understands B2B technology markets and all the other elements that make a piece of writing outstanding, such as accuracy, clarity, authority, empathy, and wizardry.
Extraordinary writing will make your SME’s piece stand out. (This point is even more important in B2B tech content due to the, sometimes… ahem, dry subjects.)
Putting thoughts into words
If you’re finding it hard to put your client’s thoughts into words and help them lead an industry, here’s some related Radix content on this subject. Or you can improve your own writing by getting our monthly copywriting tips.