How to write thought leadership that's actually thoughtful
Written by Christopher Gillespie of Find A Way Media
Show don't tell
As a ghostwriter for executives at startups, I know a thing or two about good writing. And because I know the good, I can also recognize the bad—the kind of writing that’s lacking substance or reads like a thinly veiled press release.
In the B2B world, there’s plenty of it, and you know the articles I’m talking about: they’re the meandering musings, the incomprehensible blocks of jargon, and the howling appeals for industry change.
Bad writing isn’t just a waste of time: it can hurt you. What you publish online becomes your digital business card and done poorly, it can poison your entire brand image. Just think of United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz's assertion that security guards were justified in beating a passenger—that's now in print.
But good thought leadership? That can spark real discussion, lift brand awareness, and lead to meaningful traffic.
As a writer, I don’t just make content: I make a positive impact. You can too if you thoughtfully distill your brilliant ideas into crisp, engaging articles, and below is the best method for doing that.
5 tips to write better thought leadership content:
1. Preparation is everything
Before I begin writing, I check to see if anyone has written on this topic before. If I don’t do my research, the writing is sure to sound uninformed and will only add to the ever-increasing digital din rather than build upon what’s already been said. For example, if I wrote today about how consumers want to be understood by companies and I didn’t mention Pepsi’s recent tone-deaf ad, I’d sound out of touch.
For my due diligence, I perform searches on Google, Google Scholar, and top sites like Inc, Fast Company, national newspapers, and trade publications.
2. Have an original perspective
With a sense of what already exists, I figure out my spin on it. For instance, if everyone is writing about how influencer marketing is the hottest new thing, I’ll talk about whether it’s a fit for a particular industry, or about how I’m concerned about whether it can scale, or about how looming FCC regulations might impact it.
When in doubt, always write for a niche. Many executive authors make the mistake of thinking that they’re casting a global net when it turns out their audience is really just a handful of people. Broad, all-encompassing articles are more difficult to write, come off as cryptic, and are often missing the semantic keywords that will make your article perform with your desired audience. If you write an article targeted for everyone it will appeal to no one.
3. Use the statement-example-analysis format.
Follow my writing and you’ll notice a pattern: I make a statement, often supported by a statistic or fact, provide a concrete example, and then analyze why it matters. This example sandwich is the optimal method for conveying information to audiences because it answers the questions that naturally arise as they read:
- What’s this about?
- How can I relate?
- What are the implications?
Audiences prefer this format. Use it to increase reader comprehension and avoid writing dense, poorly substantiated rants.
4. Have a powerful “what’s in it for me?” statement
“What’s in it for me?” or “WIIFM,” for short, is what your customers are constantly thinking while they’re reading your article. If you’re not up-front and consistent about the value that you offer, you’ll lose them. But, be careful not to give it all away at once. You want to create some intrigue.
To do this, use what’s referred to as the empty-suitcase method for headlines and value propositions: give them everything except the answer. Just tell them the benefits.
For an example, just reference the title of this article. Note that it’s “How to write thought leadership that’s actually thoughtful,” and not “The way to write thought leadership is to be prepared, pointed, and concise.”
The former version keeps readers guessing where the latter gives them no reason to continue. To keep people interested in your article, tout the benefits and leave breadcrumbs as you go.
5. Write everything and then edit with a chainsaw
Finally, be courageous and kill your darlings. While you should begin by writing down everything that comes to mind, come back to hack away all those self-indulgent digressions, histrionic jabs at competitors, and clever turns of phrase that you find yourself having to explain to each proofreader. Clip them all, and edit your piece to within an inch of its life.
After your first edit, set your work aside and return to it with the goal of making it another 30% shorter. I know, I know, most will balk at this. It seems impossible! Yet this undertaking is what transforms the okay into the unforgettable. When you invest that time and demand that each and every word earn its keep, you find that all that’s left is a concise and powerful point.
Now you’re ready to go forth and write thought leadership that’s actually, well, thoughtful!
Want more writing tips? Check out our other writing resources.