Unlike lots of well-loved but now obsolete features of the early 2000s (Blockbuster Video, classified ads in the newspaper, and floppy disks, anyone?), we at Source are proud to have created something in the noughties that has aged beautifully. We are referring, of course, to our thought leadership ratings methodology—the criteria we use to assess the quality of a piece of thought leadership. We recently published the 2021 version of our methodology, and while we think you’ll agree that the new design makes it look snazzier than ever, we’re proud to say that this enduring classic is substantively unchanged.
Of course, thought leadership has undergone dramatic change over the last fifteen years, with professional services firms increasing their investment exponentially and digital formats replacing weighty, printed tomes. But what clients look for in a piece of content—which has always been the ruling principle of our ratings methodology—has remained largely the same. Clients still want to consume material that is timely and aimed at them, and that rewards their time with new information and insights (what we term differentiation in our methodology). With many things competing for clients’ attention, they need thought leadership to be interesting, engaging, and easy to follow (appeal). They are looking for credible, well-supported views that are backed by data and analysis (resilience), and they want practical guidance for taking the next step (prompting action).
This traditional understanding of what clients want from thought leadership was recently reaffirmed in research we conducted with buyers of professional services in the US and UK. We asked the people we surveyed to think about a piece of thought leadership they had read, watched, or listened to in the last three months that had struck them as being particularly good, and we asked them to tell us what they most liked about it. The results clearly demonstrate that clients still value the same qualities they valued back in the day, when we convened our very first panel of professional services buyers.
Given this longstanding clarity about what clients want, it’s disappointing that many firms still fail to hit the mark with much of their thought leadership output. It’s a missed opportunity, especially in a market that’s still feeling the impact of COVID-19 and, therefore, forced into greater reliance on “arm’s length” sales and marketing channels.
So, is it worth the investment to kick the tyres on your content strategy and refocus it on what clients keep telling us they want? Consider that, in the same survey, over 80% of respondents told us thought leadership had become even more important as a result of the pandemic, especially as a means of spotting upcoming trends. This is in addition to clients’ consistently telling us in the many surveys we carry out each year that thought leadership is one of the most effective ways you can market to them. Seems like a no-brainer to us.