By Roanne Neuwirth published September 2, 2015

How to Choose Content Topics That Get C-Suite Attention

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To connect with busy executives, you need content that taps directly into the C-suite’s most pressing priorities and concerns. Get the topic right and you can sustain an ongoing conversation with your most valuable audience across all the communications channels where you engage them.

How do you find topics that are compelling to the C-suite and make sense for your company to tackle? We have found three core ingredients in C-suite-worthy content: client relevance, credibility, and innovative value … and the elusive content trifecta is securing a topic in the sweet spot where those three come together.

1. Client relevance: Linking to client priorities

First, you must ensure your topic connects directly to the issues with which your audience wrestles today, as well as those looming on the horizon. The topic should be based on what executives want to hear about, not what internal experts want to talk about – or worse, the services they want to sell. Business challenges evolve quickly and executives don’t have time to consume content that doesn’t help them in the here-and-now.

2. Credibility: Earning the right to take a position

If you want executives to take your content seriously (and make the connection to your company as a source of value), make sure the topic is within your company’s wheelhouse. Topics too far afield from your core business strengths are more readily discounted or ignored. While companies can successfully use content to help build a presence in new market spaces or new practice areas, the leap has to be clear, believable, and rooted in convincing research.

3. Innovative value: Providing new thinking to help create growth

Executives like to be surprised and intrigued with ideas they might not have thought of yet – ideas that move beyond the typical and tactical. The executive-level content created by thought leadership powerhouse McKinsey & Company exemplifies this approach. Its content agenda tackles the key issues and challenges business strategy, technology, emerging markets, and the digital revolution that are addressed in the business press and by many vendors and providers. But McKinsey’s perspectives have become required reading for many board rooms and executive tables because they push beyond standard observations; McKinsey provides the “so what” road map to help its audience think differently. It recently published Service Innovation in a Digital World, an article that pushes traditional players to embrace change, then clearly outlines the specific imperatives required to be competitive. This level of strategic insight raises the stakes on content development for executives.

How to identify the content trifecta

Seeking systematic client input into your content agenda

If you want to make your content relevant, the best place to start is by seeking regular client input. You can start with a series of client interviews to develop a baseline point of view on areas of importance, and then conduct regular pulse checks over time to watch for trends and changes. It also helps to continuously track the leading business press and the content agendas of competitors to calibrate and differentiate your point of view and content focus. This type of research is not a light-touch effort; it requires industry and domain knowledge, business acumen, and active interviewing skills. It is also where strong content marketers can have a big impact on the company’s dialogue with the marketplace.

Another powerful tool is to create a client editorial board or advisory group to help develop and test topics for your content agenda. Invite a group of six to eight of your most senior, most strategic-thinking clients to convene periodically to co-create and advise on your topic agenda. Do your homework ahead of time to get individual feedback and bring some straw dogs to the group for discussion and evolution. Give them early access to findings and new thinking, and you’ll build their interest and support to continue to help drive the agenda.

Mining internal expertise and client work for insight

Your own internal client work is an underrated source of insight for executive content. Companies that provide services – whether consulting, technology, financial, among others – deliver hundreds if not thousands of client engagements. From these come a set of best practices, new thinking, beneficial outcomes, and insights into industry or functional patterns. Consider extracting insights across that extensive base of client work and translating them into a perspective clients can leverage. This is not easy to do; it takes a concerted effort to collect and assess the learning across clients, and link them to broad client challenges and priorities. Individual client interviews or the client editorial board can help sift through the most promising ideas. Or convene a small group of internal subject matter experts and client leads on a regular basis to guide the process.

Partnering with external experts for research

Consider partnering with third-party experts to conduct research on the topic. Companies often join forces with universities, research houses, or industry associations to carry out research, gather insights on key topics, bolster their point of view with additional data, and uncover broader trends to continue to evolve within the content agenda. Whether you are looking for help with executing the research or accessing a broader pool of market voices, or you are looking for an association with a respected source of insight, these partnerships can help elevate your ideas to data-rich and compelling fodder for content creation. Even well-established content marketing leaders like IBM, which has extensive internal research capabilities, find value in these types of partnerships to extend their reach and range of input, and expand the audience connecting with the output.

Keeping it going

As a closing thought, the trifecta of client relevance, credibility, and innovative value will get you the attention you want from your executive audience – at least the first time. But to sustain their interest requires constantly feeding the pipeline of new priorities, emerging innovation, and evolving market trends and challenges. To maintain a powerful executive content program is a living process, not a static one, and keeping up the cycle of client input to test and verify will enhance the longevity of your content agenda and keep you top of mind.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Roanne Neuwirth

Roanne Neuwirth helps companies engage their executive clients to build deeper relationships. She has worked with a wide-ranging client base, including IBM, GTE Sprint, Wells Fargo, and Chevron. Follow her on Twitter @RoanneNeuwirth.

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