The Key to Great B2B Thought Leadership Content: Insight

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It’s a rare occasion when I visit a B2B company’s blog and read an article that really grabs my attention. Businesses seem to be stuck in a mindset that their website is a brochure and ought to be “selling” all the time. And even the companies that manage to avoid blatant selling are still putting out content that is, well, boring.

It sure isn’t for lack of intention; when I go out and speak to CEOs and Heads of Marketing, all of them say that they’d like their site to be a destination for their industry – or, at the very least, for potential clients and employees. So what’s missing? These are successful businesses with tremendous talent and decades of experience.

My take? They’re missing the basics of good writing. As easy as it is for us to take interesting content for granted (we’re surrounded by it in our libraries, in movie theaters, and on television), it’s incredibly hard for most companies to perceive what makes for a great business article. I go through hundreds of business blogs each year as I tour the country speaking, and in that time I’ve noticed some patterns. Most business blogs fall into one of 3 categories:

  • The Pipeline for Press Releases. “Bob Jacobs Promoted to Global Head of Sustainability” shouts the headline of this blog entry. Almost before I begin reading, I know what the article is going to be: a collection of Bob’s accomplishments and corporate-speak about how the company is looking forward to having him in his new role. The problem is, the number of people who care to read press releases in the form of articles can be counted on one hand. This is partly because they’re disingenuous, partly because they’re uninspired. But even if they were, they’re still internally-facing, which means they have no chance of bringing in new sales leads or appealing to potential talent.
  • The Admirable Effort. Date of last blog post: July 16, 2014. Hmm, well at least they tried. The majority of visitors to a defunct blog won’t think much of it and will head somewhere else; but some will get the impression that your entire website is out of date. I see this issue all the time with B2B businesses – they genuinely tried to get the blog off the ground but just couldn’t keep it up. Out the gate, they published four or five, maybe even as many as a dozen good blog articles, but then somewhere down the line they ran out of steam. Maybe it was the policy of asking everyone in the company to be responsible for one new blog entry each month, which got off track when the company’s busy season started. Or, maybe it was the fact that they asked a team of engineers to do the writing.
  • The Jelly Donut. This particular type of pastry is known for its filling, which, much like the style of blog I’m about to describe, is all sugar and no nutrients. When a blog entry starts off with a sentence that is way too general like “There are many different options in the cloud storage marketplace” or highly unoriginal like “Avocados are not only delicious, but packed with nutrients” you know from the start the blog is going to fall flat. Often, this kind of blog is maintained by “the intern” or “the social media guy / gal” – a person who is not in a position to project the company’s leadership, both from a writing standpoint and a knowledge standpoint.

Which brings us squarely to the point of this article. Great content is marked not by business jargon, or half-hearted attempts, or clichés; it’s marked by insight.

What is insight? Well, I’m not going to look it up and give you the dictionary definition, because that would be a “filler” thing to do. I’m going to tell you what it is through the lens of my years of experience creating websites that tens of millions of people have visited. And, in a happy coincidence, my doing so will model the act of sharing insight at the same time.

Insight is, to me, a kind of knowledge that comes from deep experience and wisdom. It is different from regular knowledge in that it rings of truth, making for a strong, lasting impression.

To understand the concept of insight, let’s pretend you’re trying to understand what a tornado is. There are two people trying to explain it to you, a college student with no particular interest in the subject and a 75 year-old weather expert who has studied tornadoes for 45 years.

The college student goes first. “Well basically, a tornado is a storm with a lot of wind that can do a ton of damage to anything in its way.”

Fair enough.

The weather expert, on the other hand, has a very different take.

“A tornado – well technically it’s a funnel of wind that lurks beneath a storm system—a violent one, where the winds can easily travel north of 300 miles per hour. But experientially, it’s like nothing you’ve ever known. There’s never just one twister; more like half a dozen of them, all traveling together in a pack. And when they’re upon you, everything goes still, like death. The air is saturated with the smell of electricity, and it becomes hard to breathe. Looking up into a twister is like being inside a perfect cylinder made up of clouds with lightning mixed in, swirling round and round you and flashing a blinding light every few seconds. And all you can hear, the only sound whatsoever, is a faint hissing. If you’re lucky enough to have the eye of it pass over you, you might survive, but if you’re anywhere else nearby, it can lift up roofs, walls, bathtubs, pianos – anything – like they’re scraps of paper, blowing them miles away.”

Clearly, the expert has a much more vivid picture of a tornado to offer. But he can also do something more valuable than describe one—he can talk about why it matters. Here he is again talking about the damage that can occur from a tornado:

“Most of the injuries from a tornado aren’t caused by people getting blown away like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Nor are they the result of collateral damage, like fires and heavy objects falling on people. They come from things like stepping on nails. A third of all the injuries reported after a twister come from the massive displacement of nails that occurs when houses are destroyed – people stepping on them or otherwise mishandling them. Another third are cuts from picking up broken glass, electrocution from touching fallen power lines, and hernias from lifting heavy structural beams. Only about 10% of the injuries happen during the actual storm. It’s the clean-up that gets you.”

What you’ve just read is insight. It’s knowledge, but not the type of knowledge you can get from an encyclopedia. It’s vivid and memorable and inextricably tied to the experience of the person who shared it with you. Our tornado expert is what I would call a thought leader: a person who is well-known in his field for the quality of his ideas; a person who others turn to when they require the opinion of a true authority.

And that’s just the point. If you want to be seen as an authority – either individually or as a business – and receive all the benefits that come with it, you need to share your insight. The mark of truly great content is not cleverness or intelligence or even good writing – it’s that kernel of wisdom that makes someone walk away and say “Wow.”

No matter what your business is, whether it’s a sexy new app or a plain old accounting firm, there are fascinating insights to share – insights that matter to potential clients and can brand you as the company to turn to the next time they need what you offer.

So the next time you find yourself in the mood to resurrect that company blog, don’t fall into the trap of making it too salesy, or buttoned up, or boring. Give it the stamp of thought leadership by imbuing it with true insight. The companies that share their wisdom are the ones that get the business, and the talent, and the press – as well as a host of intangibles like speaking engagements, partnerships, and acquisition offers.

Invest in thought leadership in a genuine way and I promise it will be the best investment you make.

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