Does your thought leadership make readers take action?

Mar 6, 2018

Sir Winston Churchill once said, “I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.” He was an action man a leader who famously put red stickers reading “Action This Day” on correspondence meant to make things happen ASAP.

It would be great if more strategic content was written to prompt “action this day” or any day, for that matter.

But precious few pieces of thought leadership are Churchillian in their impact. What I mostly see instead are well-meaning articles and papers that lay out a solid argument and then serve up a few generic and predictable solutions.

Those articles may be intellectually engaging the argument may be well-made and strongly supported. The articles may help open a door or two to clients and prospects. But they’re not usually the sort of prompt that readers need to push them to do anything any time soon. They don’t inspire action, much less demand it. (They also don’t score as well as pieces that do do that.)

That said, I now have to eat my own dog food. I have to require specific action of you today! Here goes:

1. Decide which action is required. Compelling readers to take action on what they’ve absorbed is the hallmark of strong thought leadership. So the next time you publish a piece, be overt with the “now what.” I’m not talking about the requisite “contact us to learn more.” How about a “to do” list of next steps? Or a link to an online diagnostic that will help readers drill deeper into the issues you’ve raised in your article or paper? Or maybe an invite to a Webinar where your team will discuss the topic at length? Whatever it is, it should spur readers to take the next step.

2. Say how soon the action must be taken. Of course, not everything requires that the whole executive team drop what they’re doing and attend immediately to the issue you’ve just addressed. Some things do require “action this day,” of course, but many just need to be prioritized and resourced more effectively. A few years ago we invented a dual-format way to do that, for a special report produced annually by one of our consulting clients. One text box highlighted things needing attention in the next 100 days; another box flagged what had to happen over the next 12 months. That report became the consultancy’s most strategically significant publication.

3. Point to who must do what. This is a biggie. With the exception of pieces directed squarely at a specific job title, most strategic content is shotgunned at “the C-suite.” So even if the paper closes with recommendations for what must happen by when, there’s often nothing to say whose job it is to act on them. Every recommendation should come with a title attached: the head of HR takes point for talent development or culture-change issues, the CTO leads the digital business ecosystems initiative, and so on. Anything less, and all you’re really saying is: “Someone ought to do something some time” without holding anyone’s feet to the fire.

4. Warn what may happen if the actions aren’t taken. To reinforce the importance of taking action, it can help to describe some of the probable consequences of doing nothing, or not doing enough soon enough. Note that the emphasis is on “probable”; it isn’t helpful to present everything as a “sky is falling” moment. Get all Chicken Little all the time and you’ll soon lose credibility with your target audience. Finding the right balance between shouting “fire” and holding your fire requires finesse. It’s the sort of thing that skilled story doctors can help you do.

So there you have it: an action plan for making your strategic content actionable. What are you waiting for?