Why “me too” thought leadership may not be “meh”

Nov 30, 2016

This must sound weird coming from someone whose definition of thought leadership content hinges on “communicating insightful and persuasive ideas” but…sometimes piggybacking on someone else’s ideas is OK too.

We call this kind of content “me too” thought leadership because, instead of offering up a radically new perspective, it retreads a point of view that’s already been shared elsewhere in your industry. Said another way: it can often be more thought followership than thought leadership.

I can already hear the shrieks of outrage from all right-thinking thought leaders, so let me explain. Yes, when it comes to creating thought leadership content, we should all absolutely strive to break new ground. But let’s be realistic.

You and I both know not every thought leadership idea is knock-their-socks-off great.

Ideas that rock the industry? Yes, great if your experts actually have them. Proprietary research that yields findings your competitors would kill for? Wonderful if you’ve got the budget for it. Empirical evidence that leads to sparkling fresh insights? Nice if you have the time and the techniques to gather it and make it useful.

But what if your target reader doesn’t really know your company? Or doesn’t know much about you? Or has some outdated perceptions about you?

That’s where “me too” content can play a role – over time.

One of our top clients uses the term “library builders” to describe “me too” content. By definition, this stuff doesn’t get eyebrows climbing foreheads. The idea has probably been covered by competitors. The media may be full of stories about it too. There may even be a TED talk or three on the topic. So no, you don’t expect to get a call from a customer asking to learn more (but if you do, that’s gravy.)

Seeing your “me too” stuff, your customer may now realize your company is a player in the discipline described.

Whether it’s about analytics-based pricing, or talent development, or the automobile industry’s use of the Internet of Things, or whatever – your company is now associated with a topic where previously you didn’t even register. Your customer might tell her colleagues she never knew your firm did that – and now they know it too. So now you’re on the list, even if you don’t know it. That’s a very good outcome!

Or your “me too” document may be designed to do nothing more than to get you in the game – deliberately designed as the foundation of an ongoing thought leadership campaign around a theme that ties to solutions you offer.

The campaign then consciously builds on those foundations, perhaps drawing next on some rich proprietary research to reinforce and polish up the ideas. Then, after the third or fourth document, you should be starting to show that you’ve got some breakthrough thinking going on. Your ideas are being picked up by media outlets. By this point, you’ve earned the right to call the customer to ask whether she has been receiving the documents, and if so, whether you can meet to discuss the ideas in them.

Looked at in that way, your “me too” content was a perfectly acceptable starting point.

Don’t get me wrong here: Don’t just cave; never lower the bar; keep pushing for those big, brilliant, eyebrow-raising ideas.

But at the same time, don’t tilt at windmills. Don’t hold your company’s thought leaders to everlasting and unattainably high standards. Recognize that perfect can be the enemy of good.

And acknowledge that well-crafted content that taps the experience and passion in your business can have a place in your company’s thought leadership mix – even if it’s not revolutionary or cutting edge.

The trick, of course, is to make sure that “me too” content never becomes a passport to mediocrity. That means carefully, consciously managing the mix, and deliberately positioning the “me too” stuff as the start of a thought leadership journey – not the ultimate destination.

That, in turn, calls for particular skills and marketing savvy. But that, my friends, is a topic for another day.