We recently started doing business with a new client in a familiar industry – that of trucking. During our early discussions with them, they emphasized a desire to get direct ROI from our content.

But after a month, they asked us to take a redirect: They wanted the content to be thought leadership, not sales-type material about products and their value to customers.

At first we pushed back a little: How can we deliver direct ROI if we don’t talk about the products you want people to buy? After all, one of the virtues of content marketing in this day and age is that technology platforms allow you to say whatever you want. You essentially own your own media, so why not tell everyone you’re reaching that your products are the best?

But the client’s philosophy is simple: It’s a well-established company, and if they get people thinking with challenging ideas, people will know where to go to buy the products.

So we pivoted, re-did the editorial calendar and ramped up to write some entirely different material. Having discussed this at length with the client, we like the approach and see how it can get them results.

That raises a question that every company should really consider: Where is the right balance for you between thought leadership and straight-on sales content? We don’t think there is a single best answer that works for everyone. It depends on a lot of factors, including the following:

  • Are you in a thought-intensive business that has to figure out how to apply what you do to solve problems? Whether it’s technology, product design or consulting, you need to know if the thinking behind your product or service is really what sells it.
  • How robust is your thinking? And don’t kid yourself on this. If you can come up with 24 pretty solid blog post ideas that can spread out over the course of a year, maybe you can do a thought-leadership content campaign. But if you’re quickly going to run out of interesting things to say, maybe you shouldn’t.
  • Can you speak to your customer base with an understanding of their pain points? This can make for compelling copy. But if all you ever do is describe a customer problem and then conclude that your product is the answer, that’s not thought leadership. That’s product promotion – which isn’t a crime. But understand what it is and what it isn’t.
  • Do you serve a market that already thinks it needs the type of product or service you offer, and is just trying to decide between you and your competitors? If that’s the case, thought leadership might be less effective because they’re already in your ballpark. You probably need to take the occasion at that point to show them the differences between your offering and the competition.
  • Does your company have a robust sales department? If it does, then thought leadership can augment the efforts of the salespeople because they can share your insights as part of their engagement of sales prospects. If it doesn’t, and the CEO is looking to you to make the sales, you at least have to combine your thought leadership efforts with some direct attempts to generate leads and close deals.

We don’t have a dog in this hunt. We like writing about products and services. We also like writing about ideas and solutions to problems. The main thing is that we like writing content that helps achieve the client’s strategic business objectives. And if you’re not sure what that is, we can help you think it through.

Lead your thinking to our web site here.