Key rules for writing a compelling thought leadership article
I’m often asked by professionals, consultants and business owners attending my personal branding workshops if they should even bother with writing a thought leadership article.
Isn’t it all a bit old hat especially with the popularity of video, podcast and live-streaming? Are people really going to wade through a lengthy article and see it through to the end?
Yes they are, particularly if they are potential customers keen to check out if you are indeed an expert in your field and whether or not you have the smarts and experience to address and resolve their pain-points and difficulties.
That said, I am not suggesting that every time you pull together blog, send out a newsletter or post to social media that you write a lengthy thought piece. Far from it! Instead I am advocating that the occasional well-constructed thought leadership article which provides readers with valuable insights will prove its weight in gold … not only in the short-term but for months, even years to come.
Just like your business book or video or podcast series, these articles have that evergreen quality the majority of other content doesn’t have.
Once shared on your blogsite, social media or offered up to the media, these articles can be added to the INSIGHTS page of your website and the FEATURED section of your personal LinkedIn profile.
They are there as a constant reminder that you are an expert in your field while at the same time providing your customers and referral partners with the evidence and proof that you are good at what do and a safe bet to do business with!
Top TEN thought article recommendations
So you know that pulling together the occasional meaty thought leadership article is critical to positioning you powerfully as an expert in your field, but what are the key rules for creating a piece that truly packs a punch?
Tip 1 – Focus on your area of expertise or niche
When writing your thought leadership article, focus on topics and issues that you know best and are most familiar with.
Commenting on the challenges and solutions in industries where you have minimal experience or a limited track record won’t do you any favours and have the potential to seriously damage your credibility.
If you are for example, you are an expert in fraud and financial crime risk management don’t attempt to stray into other areas simply because they are trendy or where the conversation is at. Stick with what you know best.
Tip 2 – Content should be relevant, useful and insightful
It is essential that your thought leadership piece focus on key challenges or issues facing your industry and provide the solution or the best way forward.
Your article could:
Alert your audience to emerging trends, threats and disruption and how they should navigate this change
Provide answers to pressing problems facing you industry
Put poor business or work practices under the microscope and suggest a better way of doing things
Introduce your client-base to new or complex concepts and help them unravel these complexities
Provide actionable advice, such as step-by-step instructions
When deciding on which problem or issue to focus on, choose the one that is real and relatable to your customer-base, otherwise they will simply not care.
Tip 3 – Make sure you are writing for the right audience
With thought leadership, in the majority of instances you will be writing with your ideal customer in mind. However if you are a professional or business owner who is highly reliant on referrals to drive your business, don’t forget this very important referral audience.
Make sure that you periodically pull together articles that address their pain points and challenges, rather than just the issues facing your ideal audience.
For example if you are in family law and your typical referral partners are accountants, valuation experts, psychologists and financial planners, make sure that from time to time your target issues of interest to them.
Tip 4 – Research your topic
Even if you are an expert in your field or industry, research is essential. It helps you differentiate your content from other experts, especially if you are writing about something that has previously been discussed.
Conduct keyword research on your topic as this will help you unearth stories in the mainstream media, trade publications and news websites.
Check out research reports from universities, industry trade associations and management and other consultants such as Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, Ernst & Young or Gartner
Engaging in research also helps build your knowledge base and discover what has worked for your competitors.
Tip 5 – Back up your idea or hypothesis with data
Your article will not be complete without timely, credible data that validates your idea or hypothesis.
Ideally your data should come from your own company but where this is not possible, use data from credible sources. However, remember to acknowledge this data.
Customer surveys are another great tool to support the findings and solutions outlined in your article.
Top tip: If your data is ground-breaking, you can make it the star of your thought leadership piece!
Tip 6 – Storytelling and personal anecdotes
What separates good thought leadership from the rest is your ability to connect with your audience.
Storytelling and a sprinkling of personal anecdotes tap into the emotions of readers and get them to resonate with the narrative that you are creating.
While you can weave in stories anywhere within your thought leadership article, my big recommendation is that where possible you start your article with one. After that sprinkle some personal anecdotes along the way then bridge back to the story you started out with.
Tip 7 – Steer clear of jargon
Avoid jargon and technical terminology at all costs. It doesn’t make you sound clever or like an expert but only serves to confuse people.
However if using technical terms is absolutely critical to your article, make sure that you explain what they mean.
Tip 8 – Avoid unnecessary hype
One of the easiest ways to lose credibility and your reader’s interest is to talk up your company’s product or service. Remember readers are one click away from moving to another article so don’t give them an excuse by being self-promotional.
Avoid words like “transformational,” “disruptive” or “bleeding edge.” Readers will see right through this unnecessary hype because they are well aware that very few products or services fit those definitions.
Tip 9 – Provide your articles with visual appeal
Do keep in mind that if your thought leadership article is visually appealing, people will be attracted to it, and if it looks polished and professional, you’ll be creating a lasting first impression.
There are two critical aspects to visual presentation:
Use short paragraphs and sub-headings to break up the text. Big blocks of text look like hard work and are unappealing to the eye!
Include images and/or diagrams. You can use pictures, charts, diagrams, infographics and even cartoons, to tell a story and help convey your message.
Tip 10 – Check, check and check again
If you find writing is a bit of a chore (and trust me you are not alone), a good idea would be to get your first draft written and let it sit for a day or two before cleaning it up and hitting the publish button.
Distancing yourself from your first draft will ensure you bring a fresh pair eyes to your piece. It will enable you to better spot the errors, confusion and gaping holes in the piece. I use this approach for the majority of my long original content and it works every time!
And finally … do a quick proof-read to ensure so no unexpected spelling or grammar mistakes have crept in.
Writing compelling thought leadership articles can be challenging and time-consuming. However the effort is worth it as it will help position you powerfully as an expert in your field and grow your business or professional practice.
Should you have difficulties with developing your thought leadership content, don’t hesitate to get in touch.