Thought Leadership Resources

#14 The Goldilocks test for content – “Not too complicated, not to basic, but just right.”

• “This article isn’t technical enough.”
• “Doesn’t everyone know the information in this white paper?”
• “This blog post is just beginner level. How about something more advanced?”

Those are questions I frequently get from business professional clients when we’re discussing topics for blogs, articles and other forms of thought-leadership content they can produce. And they’re valid concerns.

Sometimes, the professionals I work with are worried about un-impressing their peers. “That was just a basic article you wrote,” a colleague might sneer after a few too many drinks at a conference. “Is that the best you can do?”

Or, my clients are sometimes concerned that the content I ghost-write for them doesn’t use enough technical jargon. They may think that using long, technical terminology will build the reader’s respect for the author’s knowledge.

And, they may believe that the reader is more knowledgeable than is actually the case, so the content is over the reader’s head, causing the reader to hit the “back” button or flip the page.

Here are four points for producing content that is effective at meeting your clients and prospects where they are.

The power of ignorance

In preparing thought-leadership content, it’s important to make sure that what you produce meets the Goldilocks test – “Not too complicated, not to basic, but just right.” One of my strengths as a ghost-writer is, quite frankly, that I can pretend to the named author that I don’t know anything about the topic. Sometimes the pretending isn’t necessary – I really do need the author of the article to explain everything to me.

I call this the Power of Ignorance. It’s powerful because an uninformed ghostwriter is likely to ask the same questions as the typical reader will have. I’ll ask the author to define terms, provide analogies, and in other ways make his or her ideas more accessible. This helps produce content that is more likely to meet the needs of whoever is using the content.

Technical professionals also assume that their clients are interested in and want technical brilliance, while the clients generally don’t care how you do your work. What they want is a disappeared problem – they want a legal judgment in their favor, a bullet-proof valuation, an environmental review that gets accepted by regulators – or whatever you’re delivering, hassle-free. They want to meet their business objectives.

So, prove that you can meet their business objectives, by showing you can talk their language. If it’s a case study, for example, provide enough technical detail to show that you’re competent and skilled, but talk the language of business, which generally involves numbers, and generally with a £, ¥, € or $ in front.

Focus on an aspect that is relevant to the market

There’s an old saying in Sales: “Customers only listen to one radio station – WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”. Your blog posts, articles and other forms of content need to demonstrate that you can relate your work to their world.

For example, I recently worked with a Tulsa-based client on an article for a publication out of London, for the world oil and gas sector. The article was about “pigging” using devices that look like dumbbells, which are pushed through a pipeline to clean or inspect the line. The author’s point was that more frequent pigging can help the pipeline operator recover what are called Natural Gas Liquids, present in raw gas, that are worth a lot on today’s market. An added benefit is that by removing the liquids, pigging helps reduce the chance of blockages in the pipeline, lowering the risk of explosions, fires and leaks.

I built the article around those needs, with a focus on the way frequent pigging can help manage risks as well as increase revenue from selling the liquids. The Marketing Director said that she did not find the article “technical” enough. My response was that the article was written with senior pipeline company management in mind – people who think in terms of risks, costs and strategic benefits, not operational aspects.

The resulting article showed the author’s grasp of technical issues, while also showing his ability to meet the reader’s business issues around cost and risk management.

Don’t assume your market knows what you know

As well as “not technical enough,” I sometimes get the response “Wouldn’t this be obvious to everyone? This comes from the tendency for many business professionals to think that their clients have a higher amount of knowledge about the topic in question, than they do.

It comes down to an appropriate level of content. I’ve heard of a high-traffic photography blog that helps entry-level or hobby-type photographers get good results. One of its biggest traffic builders is a blog post that answers the question, “What do the numbers on the lens barrel mean?” To someone like me, growing up on focal lengths and f-stops, this is very basic information, but this blog post clearly meets a need.

For this reason, a “basic how-to guide” or what some call a “cheat sheet” can be tremendously helpful. If there’s new legislation or a regulation that affects your market, a “here’s what we know” summary can be a magnet on Google, attracting the people you want as clients.

Sometimes they just want your informed opinion

Recently, I sat down with my web strategist to figure out some ways to make the Thought Leadership Institute website more useful. She had some good ideas, proposed some options, and said, “What do you want me to do on this?” My response was, “I’ll let you decide.”

We all have people in our lives whose opinions we trust and will be guided by. You can be that for your clients. Sometimes, they just want to know what you think about which of several options they should choose. They want your informed opinion.

Years ago, I worked with a lawyer who focused on energy policy. This was at the time when there were plans afoot to divide up and privatize government-owned electrical utility in the Canadian province of Ontario. My lawyer client laid out several options for the provincial utility’s municipal customers who distributed power to their ratepayers.

It became a useful article in a municipal-affairs publication, setting out the lawyer’s informed opinion on the choices available to municipalities. It was far from being a technical article, and it didn’t discuss legal matters much either. It was just an informed opinion.

So, in developing content, remember your purpose: to show prospective clients that you can help them. “Goldilocks” content – not to complex or stupidly simple, but just right – does this best.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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