Can thought leadership be agile?

I’ve been pondering this for some time now, usually after receiving another whopper 100-page report on marketing automation.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a report from cover-to-cover. And neither do the people we send our equivalent thought leadership reports to – “Yay! Another report!” said no target/client ever. I’ll pick through and read the odd line, screenshot a chart and leave it to rot in my download folder.

So why are we still following the tried and tested formula of survey-report-launch? It’s difficult to change the “We do it every year” mind-sets though my personal favourite is “brand awareness”, a slippery piece to track. Even digital marketing hasn’t been able to wean us off titanic reports though many firms do an excellent job of reworking the content for online consumption.

Making thought leadership more agile came up for me after attending our recent ‘Make Your ROI Roar’ event (see pg 18), where we talked about measuring output, outcome and impact. If we’re going to do ‘business as usual’ thought leadership then we have to understand the impact. This is a challenge for any marketer as the impact can take time to realise itself. Attribution can be difficult with multiple touchpoints. Digital can be as much a help as a hindrance – we’ll give you data. In fact we’ll give you so much in different formats and systems you won’t know where to turn.

How can we begin to unpick the impact and value? How can we evolve the norm? I believe that agile marketing is the right approach to take with thought leadership. McKinsey defines this in their step-by-step guide as:
“Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating.”

This is the antithesis of thought leadership, which can take months to deliver the final piece.

Perhaps a better approach is “theme leadership”? This allows for more agile content, responding to changing external conditions, and less boom and bust of one thought leadership launch after another. Breaking a theme or thought down not only helps the audience digest it more easily, it also gives you an opportunity to test and learn, refining the message and have a more manageable measurement approach.

Most importantly it gives your audience an opportunity to respond and shape the next stage. Too often thought leadership is a one-way street, with limited opportunity to collaborate. The most successful pieces of thought leadership I’ve encountered are the ones that want to keep engaging me in conversation and evolving the topic.

Victoria Lennon, Committee member, PM Forum London