February 2, 2021
True Authority Requires a POV. Here’s How to Find It.
Too many of today’s aspiring thought leaders are more concerned with simply being part of the conversation than adding to it in a meaningful way.
There can be a lot of reasons for this. Often it’s a feeling that they have to keep pace with competitors – the marketing equivalent of FOMO – even if they don’t have anything new to say. Other times, thought leaders have a lot to say, but are afraid their perspective could offend someone, somewhere, and cost them business.
It’s a problem because in almost every case it strips the would-be thought leadership of a point of view – which we believe is essential for establishing authority.
Here’s what aspiring authorities need to know.
Defining POV in the professional services context
The clearest and most succinct definition of point of view that I’ve ever come across is this: a point of view is a statement that others might disagree with.
Consider that a point of view is (by definition) not a statement of fact. Like any good piece of writing, or any good dinner guest, a solid POV should incite further conversation rather than close it off by simply repeating what’s already been said, stating the obvious or saying something patently false or outrageous. A point of view, like those thesis statements we learned about in middle school, suggests a well-constructed argument – and the best arguments are typically those that persuade, excite, or push the conversation forward using hard facts, engaging writing and illustrative examples.
Marketers at professional services firms might say, “Well yes, this is all well and good in theory, but the consensus-driven partnership structure of my organization makes it difficult to actually achieve.” And of course they’re right. It’s rare to find a lawyer or consultant who really wants to go out on a limb and risk offending their partners, clients or potential clients. The rub is that this is often what makes the best point of view – just look at any newspaper’s most read op-ed pieces.
And yet there is a middle ground here. Just because someone might disagree with a point of view doesn’t mean it has to be controversial or combative. For instance, it might simply be, “You’d do it this way? Interesting. Here’s why I think you should do it this way instead…”
Alternatively, sometimes a compelling, subjective point of view shines through the voice and distinct personality of the writer. Most movie critics, for instance, fawned over Moonlight (see: a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). But the lack of dissension doesn’t render each critic’s review moot. That’s because good critics express that same opinion in new and unique ways – through their individual experiences, interesting historical and industry context, their personal prose style – that set each review apart and opens up more space for conversation and disagreement.
Similarly, a consultant could agree that we need more focus on environmental, social and governance considerations at the board level (at this point, who doesn’t?). But they may also disagree on the best ways to go about it – or simply have different priorities. They may view it through the lens of, say, the consultant’s stint in South Africa during apartheid, or in advising directors who were early ESG adopters. Nobody needs to hear another call to adopt ESG. But drawing on unique experiences could help make the case for ESG in a way that nobody else has.
All of which brings me to another definition, one perhaps more palatable to professional services firms: a point of view is a statement that is made more compelling by virtue of the author’s unique perspective.
How to find your professional services firm’s POV in 4 steps
Crafting a quality POV takes work. Namely – and this is what most would-be thought leaders elide – what you want to say is only one part of the puzzle. You also need to understand what’s already been said about the topic and what your audience wants to hear about the topic. Only then can you figure out what you (and ideally only you!) can bring to the table.
Ask yourself, or the would-be thought leader you’re working with, these four questions to get there:
1) Can you frame the topic as a “how” or “why” question?
This question should articulate a pain point of a particular audience, e.g., “How should corporate leaders maintain their culture when everyone’s working from home?”
Forcing yourself to frame your topic this way not only directs your content towards an audience need, but does so in a way which pushes past the simple “what” (i.e., the information anyone could find on Wikipedia or a news site) and into the more meaty terrain of “why” or “how.”
2) What has been – and is being – said about the topic you want to write about?
Think of this as an audit of the current conversation. If your objective is to add to that conversation meaningfully, you have to know what’s been said so that you don’t merely repeat what everyone already knows.
Remember, this is the first step in an iterative process. It’s possible that you’ll start out thinking you have a unique POV, only to find three people have already said the same thing. So keep digging. Sometimes the solution is to think smaller and find a narrower, more specific angle (or audience); in other words, to do more with less rather than less with more. Other times, you might find an existing POV that you disagree with, which can act as a springboard for your own (“Numerous folks have said X…but I believe that Y is the right answer…”). And other times the solution will come from how you, specifically, can address the issue.
This step is where research (and a partner like Greentarget…hint, hint) can play an important role, be it by assessing media narratives, analyzing keyword search patterns or surveying audiences to get a more accurate picture of their views and concerns.
3) What does your desired audience need and/or want to hear about this topic?
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes: What’s keeping them up at night when it comes to this issue? What don’t they know that they should be prepared for? How can you illustrate this in a way that will grab their attention (i.e. with specific examples, anecdotes, statistics, etc.)? And, perhaps most importantly, why do they need to know this right now?
In our research, we’ve found that when it comes to thought leadership content, utility is what attracts C-suite executives to content more than any other attribute. Utility disrupts the professional services sales cycle by answering the question “what do I need to do to navigate or address this issue today?” Ideally, it provides the answer before the audience has asked it. It empowers audiences to act by tipping the scales from passive consumer to engaged prospect. With utility, authorities will be heeded. Without utility, it’s all just talk. More talk means more noise.
4) Why should you be the one to write this?
Once you’ve assessed the current conversation and your audience’s needs, you’ll be in a good position to figure out what you can uniquely add to the conversation. Here the (admittedly aspirational) test for good thought leadership might be: Could someone else have written his?
Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that you are, say, the only accountant that can dish insights around the complexities of PPP loan forgiveness. But that’s where your personal voice and experience – attributes that no one else has – comes in. This can be professionally related, sure, but it can also be more personal: Can you connect this to something you’ve experienced? Some other industry or news trend you’re following? A hobby of yours? A client you’ve assisted in the past?
At the end of all this, hopefully you’ll have something that doesn’t just add to the noise – but contributes to a smarter conversation.