Thought Leadership in a Pandemic—Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just the elephant in the room—it is the elephant that has consumed the entire room. As a result, every financial services and professional services firm seems to be sharing their insights about the same things today.
Clearly, the crisis is hyper relevant, so providing your perspectives is essential. But it can be very challenging to create effective thought leadership when everyone is talking about the same thing. How do you avoid just being part of the noise?
The key principles of financial thought leadership hold true no matter the prevailing market environment—even in a crisis. By listening, narrowing your focus, continuing to focus on the long term, and putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, you can create thought leadership that adds value and stands out from the pack. Importantly, it can also exude a sense of calm confidence that is very reassuring in a turbulent environment.
Here, we provide a few guiding principles of thought leadership that can help guide your content marketing efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic—and any market environment.
Listen before you speak.
Instead of rushing to add your voice to the crowd, we recommend taking the time to listen to your colleagues, clients, and partners to determine where your perspectives are needed most. What questions are clients and prospects asking? What decisions are they struggling with? What data and guidance do they need to make those decisions? Just as importantly, what major risks or opportunities are they not thinking about? These are the themes that you should be covering through social media, blog posts, articles, videos, and white papers.
In a crisis, financial services marketing professionals can’t physically walk the floor, but they can promote idea generation in several ways. For example, we recommend that marketing professionals increase the frequency of their regular check-ins with client-facing personnel to at least a bi-weekly cadence. Encourage your client-facing colleagues to keep a running list of key questions and themes that repeatedly come up in conversation with clients and prospects. These methods will help you to build a content strategy that directly adds value to your key stakeholders.
Narrow your focus.
Instead of trying to boil the ocean and provide your views on how the pandemic is affecting everything in your industry, take a more granular approach. Focus on a narrow aspect of the pandemic that you can provide unique perspective on.
It can be very challenging to make sense of the big picture during a crisis. But this uncertainty shouldn’t prevent you from producing valuable thought leadership. A granular approach is more valuable for your clients and prospects anyway—the big picture topics have already been addressed ad nauseam, and the consensus is simply that the situation is fluid and there are many unknowns right now. No one needs to hear that same conclusion from you, too!
To put this idea into practice in investment banking, for example, don’t just talk at a high level about how the ongoing pandemic impacts deal-making activity broadly in a given sector. Be more specific and focus on particular verticals or regions that you know better than most firms, or highlight specific types of deals that are more likely to get done in this environment. By narrowing your focus, you can confidently drill down into areas that your firm knows best and further establish your credibility as a thought leader.
Don’t lose focus on the long term.
Unless you think that the COVID-19 crisis will last for several years and entirely shape the next decade, it shouldn’t be all that you talk about. Financial services firms have a responsibility to think about the long term and to put things in perspective for clients. It can be tempting to entirely focus your thought leadership on the immediate crisis, and this approach may make sense in certain industries that are highly tactical. But for most of the financial services industry, and especially in the institutional asset management and investment banking segments, focusing only on the short term can be problematic.
Over the past few months, our personal view is that the firms that have continued to focus on the long term have come across as calmer and more confident investors and advisors relative to those who have taken an “all COVID-19, all the time” approach to thought leadership.
Be mindful of your audience.
Your audience’s interests, needs, and constraints are always evolving, so your thought leadership strategy must adapt as well. Consider the thought leadership formats you are producing and be sure they are tailored to your audience in the current environment.
In a crisis, your audience will be extremely busy, and reading your firm’s thought leadership will rarely be at the top of the priority list. Focus on thought leadership formats that are easier to digest. These formats also tend to have an added benefit—they are easier to produce.
For example, Q&As are a great tool in a crisis because they are efficient from a both a production and consumption standpoint. (See our recent blog post: Using Q&As to Streamline Your Financial Thought Leadership.) Other formats that are well-suited for a crisis include e-books, blogs or series of recurring shorter articles, and videos. To help the audience digest long-form content such as research reports and white papers, we recommend adding executive summaries, bulleted highlights, landing pages, and informative social media posts—these “bite-sized” versions will allow your audience to be more efficient with their time.
Now more than ever, your clients and prospects are clamoring to hear your firm’s perspectives. But when everyone is talking about the same things, and amid so much uncertainty, how do you avoid just being part of the noise?
The key principles of effective thought leadership hold true in any environment, even in a crisis. By listening, narrowing your focus, continuing to focus on the long term, and putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, you can publish thought leadership that adds value and stands out from the crowd.
About the Author Scott Wentworth is the founder and head financial writer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Scott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.