Content and Its Discontents: It is Time to Rethink Your Content Development

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As penance for talking during class one morning of my senior year in high school, the teacher assigned me a 1500–word essay on “The importance of quiet and decorum in the classroom.” I understand it was a punishment (I probably deserved it), but anyone who read the piece would learn nothing about my view on the subject. It was just busy work with no meaning. Three decades later, we hear our industry contemporaries talk about the importance of content creation and “thought leadership” as a buzzword.  But often, the output is the same – busy work with little or no meaning.

Don’t get me wrong; good thought leadership is an outstanding tool for demonstrating a company’s (or executive’s) expertise or highlighting an overlooked issue. Good, well-written, original pieces can change entire ways of thinking or raise a potential issue a company needs to address. But “good” is a high barrier to climb over. According to a 2024 Edelman LinkedIn survey, only 33% of thought leadership producers believe their company’s content is good or excellent.

The marketplace is saturated with largely unoriginal, repetitive content disconnected from the objectives hoped to be reached through a content creation strategy. This will likely get worse for two primary reasons: (1) marketing and advertising budgets are being slashed and thought leadership/content creation is an inexpensive solution – meaning there will be even more less-than-stellar content created, and (2) the use of generative AI will significantly increase the volume of creation, and more doesn’t equal better. Better equals better. The trouble with using generative AI – as it exists now – for content creation is that it is just a regurgitation of existing material.

“Content creation: has become a box to check rather than a differentiator. It’s become a quantity-over-quality situation. When a tactic – like content creation – leads to an overabundance or market saturation, you have to reevaluate the strategy being utilized. The overarching objective of thought leadership or content creation is building a reputation. If “brand” is what you say about yourself, “reputation” is what others say about you.  You want to connect with the target audience (more on this below) and build trust, hopefully driving sales/engagement, investor interest, etc. But to quote a really good content creator, William Shakespeare, “Words are but wind.”

It’s that word, reputation, which is the real focal point here. Not to be mistaken with brand, identity. A good reputation is more powerful than anything else in terms of building trust, admiration, and respect with your stakeholders. The catch is that while you can develop a brand or identity over a relatively short period, Warren Buffet says, “it takes years to build a reputation and about five minutes to ruin it.” Building a great corporate reputation is an arduous journey and requires non-stop management, but its rewards are immense.

Yet, too much faith can be put into content creation as a way to build a reputation. In a recent post announcing the launch of her new firm, Rostra, former SubStack and Activision communications executive Lulu Cheng Meservey suggests that “traditional comms is an anachronism.” She goes on to emphatically declare that “Going direct to the people who matter is how founders retain control over their narratives and preserve their companies’ uniqueness.” While that is undoubtedly true, that’s brand building, not reputation creation. If your company faces a regulatory or perception issue, you can scream your narrative at the top of your lungs, and it won’t move the needle. Fortunately (in our opinion), society still needs the work journalists do, which is a cornerstone of reputation building.

Five key points to consider when creating a piece of thought leadership

  1. Is this connected to a larger business objective? How?
  2. Who is the target audience, and what do they care about? Design the content and the distribution around the target audience.
  3. Are you presenting original content or rehashing existing and accessible material?
  4. How does this piece of content demonstrate expertise, or can your company solve the content recipient’s problem?
  5. Does your piece tell a story? Humans are connected by stories. Tossing facts and figures without context or meaning is a surefire way to lose a reader’s attention.

While we’re not MAGA fans, we’re certainly fans of MCGA—Make Content Great Again. Before you start writing, consider the objectives, audience, and need for a piece of content. Quality will always trump quantity when it comes to reputation building.

Purposeful Advisors delivers premium communications advisory, crisis communications, and public affairs services to founders and senior management teams, empowering companies to move minds, bodies, dollars, media, and governments to reach their business objectives.

Purposeful Advisors’ roots are in the boardrooms of the biggest brands in the world and the war rooms of some of the most complicated political and business campaigns in recent memory. With its senior advisors, the team brings over a century of hard-earned experience to start-ups, scale-ups, and midsize enterprises. Purposeful also leverages its expertise to help clients through crises, litigation, and other critical situations.

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