The other audience for your thought leadership

The criteria we use to assess the quality of thought leadership – Is it saying something new? Does it attract and keep your attention? Is it credible? Does it provide some practical guidance? – were all originally designed to reflect the experience of the clients at whom it’s aimed. Similarly, all of the research we’ve been doing recently around the impact thought leadership is (or isn’t) having has been focused on understanding how external clients react.

But there’s another audience for thought leadership, one that’s almost as important.

We know (again, from our research) that the best way to deliver thought leadership is in person, either by physically showing up, report in hand, or by sending it to clients with a genuinely personal note (“Remember that point we discussed last time we met? There’s a chart on page 23 that I think you’ll find helpful.”). Either way, galvanising people in your organisation to act as a conduit for your thought leadership is integral to success, making the difference between material that gathers dust on a shelf and that which drives your business forward.

I’ve realised that our criteria applies to this intermediate audience, too. Just like clients, your colleagues aren’t going to pass the thought leadership you send them on to others (in this case, their clients) if they don’t think it’s going to stand up to scrutiny – so the depth of research underpinning it is just as important internally as it is externally. Just like clients, colleagues are pulled in many directions at once, so your material has to stand out against a backdrop of internal communications. The extent to which a piece of thought leadership provides practical guidance is important to clients – and those that act on it are more likely to remember what they’ve read. The same is true internally: your colleagues need to know what to do with a report or article, and how it relates to the work they sell and deliver. Above all this, however, is relevance: clients only read what they think will help them solve their most pressing issues – they don’t have time to be more selective. The same is true internally: if you give people material they know will be relevant to their clients, they’re much more likely to engage with it.

All of which makes you realise how bizarre it is that so little effort goes into asking the people inside a consulting firm what they’d like to see. When it does happen it’s usually done on an ad-hoc basis, about a specific piece: we’ve yet to see a firm do this on a regular, comprehensive, and systematic basis. True: many consulting firms have got better at basing their selection of topics on feedback from clients, but the issues gathered by this process may not be the same ones that are coming up in everyday conversations with their consultants. However good the material you produce may be, it may not be relevant.

So why not break with tradition? Ask your most immediate audience what they’d find useful.