How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

What Are You, Ready Reference?

Which questions are your audiences asking that you or your organization can answer better than anyone else?

That’s the essence of library content strategy, which I wrote about yesterday.

If you want to move from just being another publication that competes with every other publication (almost all of which have resources that dwarf yours), you need to absorb this strategy into the bones of how you communicate and market as a research organization.

It’s not easy. It’s much easier just to churn out press release after press release, blog post after blog post, report after report, tweet after tweet.

You need to know the audience, know its questions and be able to answer them at a depth and with a creativity so that you become not just an expert, but an authority. Answer questions, and audience growth (and all the good things that come with it) will follow, says library content strategy.

But if it were that simple, you could just be, as the old folks would say, Ready Reference.

No. Knowing an audience implies a second question: who or what does our audience want to become?

I’ve said it before: Research-driven groups are no longer in the business of information. Everyone — from journalists to consulting groups to “thought leaders” — is elbowing in on that turf. So you are no longer providing a good or service. 

Instead, you’re now in the business of transforming your audience through your research authority — though the insights, paradigms and solutions you draw from your research, your immersion in the literature, and your creative application of those to problems in the world.

This is Positioning 101: Specialize in the thing only you can do.

Kyle Bowen of SuperHelpful writes about this concept in another way, applying the “Jobs to Be Done” framework of thinking about audience desire to cultural organizations, particularly museums.

As Kyle defines them (paraphrasing Alan Klement, who has produced a library of great content on the JTBD concept): “Jobs aren’t tasks or activities. A Job is a product, service, or experience helps a person become some better, more desirable version of themselves.”

Research-driven groups generally don’t think about their audiences this way, to put it mildly.

They instead get hung up on their own mission and vision.

My argument: for researchers and research-driven orgs, your positioning is the intersection between a) the questions your audience is asking, b) the transformation they’re seeking, and the c) answers and d) transformation you can provide them.

And too often, we leave out a), b) and d) while giving them a stream of new research products in the guise of c), along with an appliqué of mission and vision statement.

I feel like I’m moving toward formulating a model of a new kind of research organization.

Is it realistic? Is anyone coming close right now? I’m all ears.