Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal Consulting.de with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly
Thought Leadership for Consultants: You have 60 seconds!
October 27, 2021
Three out of four decision makers say: Less than every second thought leasership piece provides me with valuable insights.
One in three rates thought leadership as ‘mediocre’, ‘poor’ or even ‘very poor’. And CEOs’ time to spend on studies continues to be just a single hour per week. Mind you, for all 200 to 300 studies he/she receives weekly.
Anyone reading the “B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study 2021” will swallow dryly.
Me too. After all, I have co-written around 500 studies by consultancies and auditors over the past two decades and subsequently launched them in leading media, at supervisory board events, at the WEF or at webinars.
Four tips, if you’re asking me: “Now what?”
- More people, less brand
- Opinion stings numbers desert
- Paris Hilton instead of Robert Musil
- Petit fours instead of Black Forest cake.
Put less abstractly: Yes, studies continue to work in B2B.
Strong content is the backstage pass to the early (prioritization) stage in the buying process. Investments in good content pay off, because:
48% of decision makers placed an order or 53% increased the order volume when thought leadership was convincing.
But since the pandemic at the latest, the competition for readers’/buyers’ favor has become even tougher. Not only are there a lot of studies. There are too many. Last year, this form of content doubled – certainly thanks to lockdowns and travel stops.
However, the purchasing propensity of decision-makers has not doubled. Only 47% think at least indirectly about hiring consultants when reading consultant studies.
Therefore, it makes sense to consider when planning for the next fiscal year: What is working? And: What doesn’t work if only 15% of board members currently rate thought leadership as ‘good’ to ‘excellent’?
The goldfish dilemma: 55% of CEOs put studies away immediately if they don’t pique their interest in the first minute
At 8 seconds, our attention span is shorter than ever. Even goldfish can concentrate on one thing longer, 9 seconds. Whether this Microsoft Canada study is 100% valid or not, consultants and their marketing teams are under pressure.
55% of CEOs immediately put away a study if it doesn’t pique their interest in the first minute – according to the Impact study.
The following also applies to studies: “There is no second chance for the first impression“. Because: 56% of decision-makers never look at a study again once it has been filed, despite all good intentions.
What can be derived from this for effective studies?
The art of the first movement applies. If the consultancy, the audit has the client directly on the hook, the client reads on. If the spark doesn’t jump immediately, it’s gone. As Jumpa Lahiri describes it, “The first sentence is a handshake, maybe a hug.”
Executive summaries or prefaces are thus fate-deciding: ‘File P’ or Continue Reading. The common practice in 80% of cases of displaying the ten most important numbers as bullets at the front is one step too short. Those who do not interpret core results – even if there is little space for this on page 1 – run the risk that the rest of the study will never be read. And then 6- or 7-figure marketing investments were for nothing.
Provocation and intensification instead of broad and well-behaved
In my experience, there is still too wide a gap between what consultancies and auditors ‘dare’ to say in studies and what they ‘should’ dare to say.
One example: For an exclusive DAX30 supervisory board event in June 2016, we spent days fine-tuning two – supposedly politically difficult – statements in a study:
- “Germany is falling massively behind in digitization“
- “Germany has a problem with too few women at board and supervisory board level.”
After only ten minutes in Munich’s “The Charles”, the headers of our slides and the cautious theses were complete wastepaper. The supervisory board members present outlined precisely this as the greatest dilemma – and in much more drastic terms than we would ever have dared to do.
This is also confirmed by the study:
- 81% of decision-makers want provocative ideas. These are meant to challenge the status quo of one’s own thinking – in other words: pointed opinion trumps numerical desert. Only just under one in five decision-makers still likes to read studies that merely confirm their own thinking.
- 77% of decision-makers expect pointed content from profound experts on a subject – in other words, “true experts”. Only 23% still prefer to read meta-level analyses from the Adler perspective.
Almost every 2nd CEO rejects offensive pitches: Clear sales intentions are a no go
Writing good studies requires squaring the circle: Inspiration yes, sales orientation no. 46% of CEOs criticize pitches of consulting products and too obvious sales intentions.
Those who nevertheless want to use thought leadership for sales – and honestly, all players in professional services do, even if the word sales tends to be tainted with skin goût there – show more people and less brand.
Under the pandemic, face-to-face pitches came to a halt. Despite the vaccinations, they return only partially, but move more and more into the digital. According to McKinsey, there are now 70% of B2B decision-makers open to purchasing self-service or remote services up to $50,000. 27% would do so even worth US$500,000 or more.
Therefore, thought leadership should also provide the ‘cultural fit’.
Even B2B buyers are ultimately ‘only’ human. When in doubt, they vote for the combination of expertise AND personality.
So it’s only logical that 88% of decision-makers want content that is both intellectually challenging and entertaining. What is needed is a balance between authority, provocation, humanity and fun. If you manage to follow Paris Hilton’sdemand “Don’t be boring” and make it ‘snackable’ instead of the length of a Robert Musil epic, you’ve accomplished a lot.
Identifiable authors and human tone create relevance and resonance
Thought leadership always conveys a personality when one can also be read out. Therefore, 67% of decision makers want the viewpoints of an identifiable author. Whoever touches, whoever proves relevance, also succeeds in resonance.
As a result, 64% of decision makers want a human, less formal tone of voice. Only 36% prefer an intellectual, abstract tone.
Here we are at my op-ed “What do a vacation in Italy, VW’s ID.3 and Buyer Persona have in common?“. On LinkedIn, it became my most viral column post with 40,000 views thanks to a high interest at VW.
My core thesis at the time:
“Make your content click” works via cleanly defined buyer personas and a differentiating brand tonality.
Nobody wants to communicate with a logo, but only with real people. In pointed theses and the courage to take a attitude I see enormous potential. I’ve been working as a ghostwriter for more than two decades now; i.e., writing books to speeches to studies to LinkedIn posts for CEOs, boards, and practice leaders, but: freedom to tailor in tone I’ve only had three times out of ten.
It is no wonder then that every second buyer of consulting services find it difficult to find the right management consultant. There is no clear differentiation between the consulting firms or is not recognizable.
Bottom line: Better petit fours instead of Black Forest cake to achieve your three C’s
“Thumbs up/thumbs down” is more brutal than ever. Nevertheless, don’t be discouraged. For 63% of CEOs, studies continue to be an important proof of competence: A consultancy, an accounting firm could theoretically understand the challenges of their own company or solve the problems.
To gain access to your clients, it helps to apply the current buzzword – “the UX in the buyer journey” – to studies. When you pick up the pen, remember: One in four CEOs describes the tone of studies as too ponderous and old-fashioned – in other words, impersonally “corporate”. So don’t serve your thoughts as Black Forest cake in the form of a 100-page epic. Don’t slump in exhaustion when your mailing via HubSpot is out.
Today, successful content means community, continuity, and conversion. Serve your thought leadership multi-channel as petit fours, snackable – and for a long time in strong campaigns. Then nothing stands in the way of your successful business development!
Let’s have a call if you struggle with your thought leadership. I have successfully launched approx. studies in the past 25 years.
Author: Susanne Mathony
The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.