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Five things… to consider when writing thought leadership

Updated: Feb 6

By Patrick Southwell:

In the second of our “Five things” posts, we’re going to look at thought leadership articles. They’ve become the rocket fuel for content marketing campaigns and remain a powerful way to secure media coverage. If the two integrate, it really works. But what makes a good article?

Woman typing on keyboard

1. Focus on a problem

All too often, businesses want to focus on the solution they’re selling. But the solution wouldn’t exist without the problem. Furthermore, who wants to hear all about you and your product? No one, that’s who. It’s self-referential and arrogant. But empathise with someone who has a problem, dramatise it, bring it to life, try to help. That will get readers.

2. Have a strong opinion

Linked to the above, you need to take as extreme a position as you can about the problem your audiences face. Are they sleepwalking to disaster? Or is the industry woefully ill-prepared? Don’t hold back. Remember that we’re drawn to negative headlines, drama and conflict. Use this to your advantage and position yourself as part of the solution, helping your audiences face up to the challenges they have.

3. Use fiction-writing techniques

Writing about a deeply technical issue doesn’t mean it has to be dry. In fact, the drier the topic, the more important it is to make it readable. Withhold information to assure attention in the moment and to keep people reading. Keep sentences short with as few clauses as possible. Use active language, where you say what the person or thing does, rather than what’s done to it. Occasionally use classical rhetoric to bring your pieces alive. The book The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth is a good read on this.

4. Explain, explain, explain

Never assume knowledge from your audience. It doesn’t make you look ignorant to use basic language that we can all understand. In fact, using jargon, industry terms and in-phrases, is a huge turn-off and actively excludes readers.

5. Wrap up the thought leadership simply

When you get to the end, it needs to link back to the beginning, both in terms of what you were setting out to say, but also in the language you use. Repeat at the end what you said at the start as a way of illustrating a completeness and summary.

Or, of course, you could just get someone else to do it for you. If you need help writing great content, get in touch.


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