How to Reach the C-Suite via Thought Leadership

For the last several years, dire warnings of “content shock”
have cast doubt on the continued ability of thought leadership
content – or any kind of content marketing – to deliver
results. But new research provides fresh encouragement for thought
leadership marketers, especially those targeting senior-level
decision makers.

I sat down with Gareth Lofthouse, one of the co-founders of the
thought leadership agency Longitude, to get a preview of the
findings in their study, “Learning
from the Leaders.”

First of all, do you draw a distinction between thought leadership
content and other content marketing?

Gareth Lofthouse:
There is an awful lot of content out
there at the moment, which, at best, is interesting opinion and not
much more than that. At worst, it’s self-serving and rather
salesy. Good thought leadership does more than that. It   and
that’s why you see research as a big part of the thought
leadership mix.

Good thought leadership content

The C-Suite has always been difficult for marketers to reach, let
alone engage in a meaningful way. Does your new research identify
any promising new paths for getting content to the corner offices?

Gareth Lofthouse:
What was really, really encouraging
for me with this research (and we surveyed over 1000 senior
executives from a cross-section of industries, in terms of how they
engage with this type of content) is that they value thought
leadership…providing it’s good.

And “good” executive-level thought leadership content

  • It provides new insight
  • It’s relevant to my problem
  • It’s backed by credible research

That came across very strongly. They like opinion, but opinion
on its own is not enough. It has to bring something else, some
evidence behind the assertions being made.

But if you take those three things and then you bring them to
life in a way that’s easy to consume and interesting to engage
with, there’s a hunger for it.  There’s enough going on in the
world, enough challenges that these executives are uncertain about,
so actual insight that tells them something they don’t know, that
helps them solve their business problems, is valuable enough for
them to engage with.

Other things we found include how long they spend consuming
thought leadership.

  • On average, in this research, senior executives are spending
    four hours consuming different forms of thought leadership content
    every week.

Senior executives are spending four hours per week consuming
different forms of thought leadership content.

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If you compare that to some of the metrics that digital
marketers talk about, measuring success in terms of seconds and
minutes, that shows something that has real power.

What did the research say about the impact of effective thought

Gareth Lofthouse:
It shows that senior executives use
it to inform decision-making. For example, when they perceive a
brand to be exceptionally good at thought leadership, then they are
more likely to favor that brand in terms of considering them for
business tenders.

You’ve looked at how senior people use and consume content –
but what are your observations on their role in formulating,
projecting and leveraging thought leadership? Do they need to be
thought leaders themselves?

Gareth Lofthouse:
The very best organizations have an
alignment between the marketing function and the leadership
function that’s driving these programs and campaigns day to

But the programs that work are the ones that have a very senior
business stakeholder or a set of business stakeholders who want to
own the message. They have bought into the program right from day
one, and their mission is to be the face of the campaign.

And that goes internally. So, if there’s a really senior
business sponsor, ideally right up to the C-Suite, he or she should
be saying, “This is our big bet for the year, this is something
we absolutely need to build our reputation profile around, and I am
going to be out there talking about this.”

For instance, we’ve worked with a brand called AECOM, which is
a leader in the architectural and engineering industry. They use
this kind of work at places like Davos, at the World Economic
Forum, where their senior people are up on the podium, referring to
the research and helping to establish the company’s credentials
as the facilitator and the leader of their industry on particular

That’s when you get a real pair off, I think, on content. It
hops from reports and text-based or even video-based outputs right
into the dialogue of the organization, and it gets knitted into the
C-Suite conversation.

What types of content are clicking with the C-Suite?

Gareth Lofthouse: 
One of the other things that
we’ve learned from the research we’ve done recently is that you
have to give your business audience choice.

Lots of people prefer to consume information these days in a
video or a podcast. However, there are still plenty of our
executives who are traditionalists, in terms of their willingness
to concentrate on text. So, I wouldn’t rule out the value of
longer-form assets, certainly in terms of showing there’s real
substance and credibility. You need that mix of serious study, more
digestible, snackable content, and everything in between. This
pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.

What do you see on the horizon, in terms of executive thought

Gareth Lofthouse:
We’re predicting quite a few shifts. It’s a very fluid space in
cutting-edge practices moving forward. 

The first is, I suppose, a more agile model for thought
leadership. There’s definitely a sense that the model as
practiced by corporates needs to move on from something where you
do a project that starts with a very heavy-duty survey. You roll
out the content, then the whole campaign comes along. Before you
know it, you’ve sunk nine months into this project before
there’s even anything ready to share in the market.

That’s shifting now to having something that’s more
iterative, and maybe more of a multi-track process on the research,
so there are stories to tell and insights to share from, say, month
two. And we start getting a story out there and seating the market
around the idea. Maybe that’s more qualitative-based, or more
opinion, but you’re also trailing the release of bigger

With that search for agility, the research toolkit is being
challenged and expanded, so we ourselves are increasingly using
things like social media listening and sentiment-type tools. It’s
taken a while for our cottage industry, if you like, to know how to
use those to create robust research output that’s convincing
enough for the C-Suite. But I think that we’re getting to that
realm now. It’s much faster, and it’s much more cost-effective
than some of these highly-engineered approaches.

I don’t think we’re going to see the survey disappearing,
but I think it’s being complemented by some far more agile
options. So that’s one of the big trends, agile.

Another trend is that we’re going to see a coming together, if
you like, of data plus creativity. At the moment, the content
campaigns that you see out there, the big ones, are major on the
traditional thought leadership recipe – lots of research and
lots of data – but the way that’s packaged and brought to the
market may be a little dry and academic.

At the other end of the spectrum, you see media-led campaigns,
which are extremely good looking, and very visually creative, at
least. But you dig a little and it’s fluffy messaging. I think
nirvana is somewhere in between these things. We certainly advise
our clients to get closer to a recipe that combine fodder for the
left brain and fodder for the right brain, hitting both sides in
terms of creative and data-led insight, bringing those worlds


About the author:
Chuck Kent is the Chief Conversation Officer at Lead the Conversation, a
consultancy that helps busy executives more easily create authentic
thought leadership content, including videos, articles and
podcasts. He is also the
sometimes songwriter
for the man in plaid.

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How to Reach the C-Suite via Thought Leadership