How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Your Brand & Value in the Pandemic

Your organization had an opportunity these last two months that most research-driven organizations didn’t take.

Did yours?

The opportunity, that is, to answer a simple question, posed nicely by Geoffrey Director, the VP of Intelligence at the content marketing firm Manifest:

What is the content that only your brand can provide that would also be genuinely valuable to your audience?

Let’s assume that you’re comfortable with the word “brand,” unlike most researchers. Because even when you run something research-based — a center, a think tank, a business, an NGO, an academic division, or even a lab — that something has a brand. And you need to cultivate it intentionally.

Of course, most of research is allergic to brands and audiences and “genuinely valuable.” And that’s why, for instance, public health research “is now such a mess,” as Andrew Gelman puts it: “lots of small studies, no coordination, no data sharing, scientific papers being unleashed on the world and then fighting each other in social media and the news media like some sort of killer robot drones going at each other…”

The lack of brand-based content strategy parallels the lack of research coordination and direction toward the most important questions — all bazaar and no cathedral, as Gelman might put it. The mess of research communication reflects the chaos of research production and validation.

But it’s still not too late to seize the opportunity, at least for your organization. However: you have to take seriously both parts of the question.

The first: what is the content unique to your brand?

We ask because, as Director says, “brand building should be a core outcome of content marketing, not just click-throughs.”

This isn’t about vanity metrics. And it isn’t about simply “communicating your research.” Everyone else in your space does that.

It’s about building awareness for your center, think tank, business, NGO, academic division or lab by articulating how they are different. Distinct. Special.

And that commitment to differentiation — your brand strategy — should extend to your content strategy and tactics as well. “Do not assume the way everyone in your category does content is the right way,” Director writes. “Find no comfort in the herd.” He even suggests that you and your team “write out all the conventions of content marketing in your category and then consider what might happen if you did the opposite.”

The second part of the opportunity question: figure out what your audience will find genuinely valuable. That they need. Not that they might like, once they get around to reading your email.

We are awash more than ever in relevant content. But that is not in the same solar system as genuinely valuable.About relevance, Director writes: “Let’s be honest, it’s not too high a bar. All you need for that is Google Trends, automation technology and a pulse.”

Determining genuine value for your audiences isn’t a masturbatory pursuit. It doesn’t mean saying “well, I think everyone is pretty much over reading about the pandemic and is probably ready for my usual content now.” It means talking to your target audience about what they want and then looking at your site data to understand the 5 percent of content that’s responsible for 80 percent of your positive outcomes.

Once you have answers to the two halves of the question: marry them. Make your content a core brand experience for your audience.

The best time to use your content to serve your audience and build your brand was before a pandemic.

You already know the next best time.