Want your audience to actually listen to your experts? Read this.I saw the best minds of my generation completely overlooked because they were quoted on page 37 of a PDF.
It was seven years ago that I read a headline that made me laugh and then nod my head and then sigh in quiet desperation – and seven years later, it’s still just as true. The headline belonged to a Washington Post article that analyzed a research report on just how few people downloaded research reports. Pretty meta, right?
“The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.”
Cue the laughter, the head-nod and the sigh. The reports they studied covered topics that would help guide people through the biggest challenges society faces. Sounds like very important stuff. But the information in these reports never really saw the light of day.
From the report: About 49 percent of the World Bank’s policy reports have the stated objective of informing the public debate or influencing the development community. About 13 percent of reports were downloaded at least 250 times. More than 31 percent of reports are never downloaded. Almost 87 percent of reports were never cited.
It turns out that some of the best and brightest minds were toiling in obscurity. Pouring their findings into reports that were never unearthed by the audiences they intended to reach. The same is probably happening to your brand’s thought leaders.
Experts have a long, rich history of being ignored
Nieman Journalism Lab also recently noted the challenge of translating expertise into messaging that resonates with audiences: The best thinking produced by the world’s leading scientists is not being translated to (let alone resonating with) the public and policymakers. We felt this acutely in the public health space as COVID-19 raged in 2020 and 2021. And it’s been happening to climate scientists since the 1990s. Their work documenting and sharing evidence related to global warming is dismissed by corporations, politicians, and the public alike.
Even the pasteurization of milk in the United States, which led to a 14 percent drop in mortality rates in the 1920s, took nearly 50 years to be widely accepted. That happened only when journalists and advocacy groups put the power of pasteurization into context for people, and battled misinformation aimed at keeping it out of the public consciousness.
We have a long history of great ideas going unheard. Why? Because those expert ideas weren’t packaged for consumption and put into context for their audiences. It’s not a problem for the history books; it’s one that persists to this day. And it’s a familiar problem for content marketers trying to develop thought leadership through their organization’s expertise.
How content marketers can turn their experts into thought leaders
So what’s the solution? As communicators, we can play a vital role in helping the thought leadership of our experts not only reach its intended audience, but work to make the audience think, feel and act differently. Not only can this help those audience members – it can help your organization’s bottom line.
Whether the experts at your organization understand climate change, nutrition, the power of early childhood education, or anywhere in between, you have an opportunity and a responsibility as a communicator to help translate your organization’s expertise into content that connects with and engages your audience to improve the status quo.
Here’s how content marketers can help:
- Give your content a narrow focus: Don’t try to provide detailed background information. Identify the one sentence that could change your audience’s world and build from there. Think: If this piece of content had an elevator pitch, what would it be?
- Develop content formats that stand out — and help put the content into context: Would your expertise best be delivered as a PDF report (research says probably not) or a PowerPoint slide? An advice column? A podcast interview? Identify the formats that are landing with your audience, thinking beyond your industry and space, and see what feels right for your organization in terms of content delivery.
- Tailor the content format for the distribution channels that matter most: Don’t assume that the best information will find its way to your audience. Channels are too crowded and competitive for that. Study your audience to find what formats are resonating best and what channels they spend the most time in, then format your expertise accordingly.
- Give each piece of content a job to do — and measure its productivity and performance: The goal of communications is not just to get content published; it’s to have it drive action. Think about the action you want your communications to drive among your target audience. Then give each piece a job to do and a KPI to hit. It won’t always accomplish that job. And it won’t always hit that KPI. But you won’t get better until you start tracking what works and what doesn’t. It’s a process, not a moment in time.
At its best, marketing is about using your communication powers for good. What better cause than sharing expertise that can make the world a better place? Meanwhile, you’ll drive home the value of the organizations we get up and work for every day. It’s a mission worthy of our time, energy and attention.R
Need help packaging your organization’s expertise into content formats that resonate with audiences? Get in touch to learn how we can help.
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