Think you’re a thought leader? It’s not enough.

July 1, 2015

Why you need to integrate challenger marketing into your content marketing strategy to inspire action

Think you’re a thought leader? It’s not enough.

“Thought leader” is a phrase that’s beginning to spark more ew than awe.

One, it’s overused. Two, it sounds ridiculous and a bit pretentious, right?


“Your thoughts may follow mine, like small peasants on a voyage from our village!”

Think you're a thought leader? It's not enough.

(I’m on an Entourage kick, so just indulge me for this one post, alright?)

But in content marketing, thought leadership is one of the goals we’re after. And for good reason.

Through blogs, videos, podcasts, what-have-you, we want our audience to think we’re freaking smart. We come up with a new idea or opinion. We attract a lot of attention (some retweets, some linkbacks)—we build respect. Some strokes to the ol’ ego.

But it doesn’t inspire what we’re really, truly after: action. At the end of the day, we want our customers to buy from us.

Thought leadership content focuses on what we want our customers to believe, think and do—but it doesn’t address why they need to change anything about what they’re currently doing. That’s the stuff that’s going to inspire action.

Thought leadership doesn’t challenge thinking.

CEB Global, a best practice insight and technology company, hosted a pretty kickass webinar on “challenger marketing,” speaking perfectly to the type of marketing needed to reach today’s customer. Carve out an hour, grab a glass of wine and watch it (don’t worry, it’s free).

Here’s what I took away from it. Listen to my thoughts—see what I did there?

Customers are typically already 57 percent of the way through the purchase cycle before they involve the supplier directly. Why? They’re learning and educating on their own, without you.

While that means they’re consuming content to do it (score), it also means your No. 1 competitor is now your own customer and their ability to learn on their own.

In a customer-centric world, where the customer is always right, that’s some scary sh*t.

Think you’re a thought leader? It’s not enough.

So what do marketers need to do? They need to challenge their customers’ thinking, disrupt what they’ve learned and are learning online. I don’t have to tell you the Internet is full of fallacies. When customers are educating themselves, they’re missing a ton of correct, valuable information.

Because of that, customers don’t understand the risks and the costs associated with what they’re doing right now—but they need to. Right now, they’re not looking to make a change and come to you.

You need content that gets your customers to say “I need to change what I’m looking for.” vs. “Wow, they’re really smart!”

That’s called commercial insight. It’s content that unteaches what your customer has learned. You have to break down your customer’s current mental state, the way they view things, before you build up the stuff that explains how you want them to think (thought leadership).

Of course, there’s a place for thought leadership—it just can’t be the only type of content you’re feeding through the funnel. Here’s a spread of different types of legitimate content, per CEB Marketing, that all should tie back to commercial insight.

  1. General information

    • Covers generally just about anything

    • Flood of content we spend more time filtering out than taking in

    • Content needs to be credible and relevant to stand out

  2. Accepted information

    • Credible and relevant content, but it’s not that interesting

    • Sounds like everyone else’s information.

    • Confirms numbers, stats, information consumers already knew or suspected

  3. Thought leadership

    • Newsworthy content customers couldn’t have discovered on their own

    • Offers a news perspective, opinion, idea

    • Provides news data and doesn’t just confirm existing

    • But doesn’t provide a reason as to why change is necessary

    • Attracts attention

  4. Insight

    • Frame-breaking content

    • Disrupts the status quo

    • Doesn’t convey an idea of what you should be doing, targets what customers are currently doing

    • Gets customers to say I need to change something

    • Empathetic, professional, culturally correct

    • Disrupts their learning, unteaches

  5. Commercial insight

    • Leads customer back to you as the ONLY supplier than can help

    • Need to have a solid handle on what your company’s strengths really are to effectively create this content


Think you’re a thought leader? It’s not enough.

Nuggets to remember

Are you ready to challenge your customer? Let’s review the pieces you should’ve picked up from this post:

  • Ask yourself if, when your customers are educating themselves, are they learning the right things? If they’re not, unteach.

  • Disrupt customers’ learning ability by challenging their current thinking.

  • Thought leadership is cool, but it’s not the ultimate goal. You need content that’s going to inspire action.

  • Ensure your content all roots back to commercial insights.

And, as always, hug it out.

Are you practicing challenger marketing? 


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