News & Views

Picture the ideal reader, viewer or listener in the target audience for your thought leadership, and their ideal reaction to it. Perhaps they are leaning back to give it the thinking time it deserves. Perhaps they are stroking their chin or nodding – and then picking up the phone to your sales team or a relationship manager to do more business with you.

Getting such a reaction requires credible content. Among the many interesting insights in Edelman’s 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, based on a survey of over 3,000 executives, is that 73% of those who produced successful thought leadership credited “deep thinking and intellectual rigour” as an important driver of success. And getting it wrong might cost you: nearly one-third of executives said consuming poorly done content had sometimes led them not to award business to the organisation that published it.

Of course, most companies can talk credibly about their own narrow fields, but few manage it consistently, and fewer still can truly call themselves “thought leaders”. (It’s debatable whether you can ever call yourself a thought-leader without instantly losing credibility. I suspect you can’t.) A handful of consultants and tech companies spring to mind as exemplars. So what makes them different, and what factors connote credibility in content?

I think they can be itemised in terms of dos and don’ts. You won’t be able to do all the former all the time, but you should try to avoid the latter whenever you publish.


  • Use a direct, active style
    You have important news to impart, an opinion to share or a point to make – or why are you bothering? State your message clearly, whether it’s written down, declaimed or presented visually.
  • Focus on your strengths
    Journalists build credibility by covering a beat, since deep knowledge takes time to accrue. If your company makes roofing felt and you start publishing articles about blockchain simply because everyone else seems to be talking about it, it’s going to take much, much longer to win your target audience over – and most won’t take the trouble to find out whether what you say has any merit.
  • Use third-party insights
    No one likes hearing about the author all the time. Actually, no one likes hearing about the author most of the time (unless they have the wit of Dorothy Parker or Clive James, perhaps). Talk to other experts, report their insights, and judiciously weave their views into case studies that illustrate your point, providing credit where it’s due. The credibility of your content will rise to match theirs.
  • Use hard numbers and data, where available
    Each of your arguments need supporting evidence. While anecdotes and case studies can do the job sometimes, business readers will expect evidence to be in the form of data. If it’s a unique, proprietary dataset, like a survey or index you’ve created, all the better. If not, be careful in sourcing third party numbers: get it wrong, and you risk looking foolish.
  • Publish regularly, and personally
    You can’t hope to build credibility if your readers only hear from you once a year, or if what you say always comes from behind a bland, corporate façade. Use and promote your internal experts. But be judicious: over-exposure is also sure to damage the credibility of what you say, in part because you might end up publishing for the sake of it.


  • Sell your stuff – or hide your biases
    Credibility, a close cousin of trustworthiness, resides in part in the perception of impartiality, or at least in telling it like it is. This is getting harder and harder to find in news sources nowadays, let alone in content produced by companies. B2B audiences will quickly discount anything that is either overtly self-serving or strives too hard to disguise the commercial nature of its origins (why readers don’t trust native advertising). It’s a delicate balance, but the core principle is that thought leadership isn’t pure marketing: it’s about reinforcing the perception of expertise, and thereby implying that the source of the insight can solve the audience’s problems. Blatant pitching always undermines credibility.
  • Water down bold opinions and whitewash hard truths
    Have you ever noticed how the most-shared content (outside paparazzi photos and cat videos) says something surprising or bold, or even liable to offend? As my colleague Joseph Chaney has explained before, B2B campaigns often suffer from an excess of caution, often at the behest of timid marketing functions (or legal teams). They needn’t. We regularly poll front-line sales staff at financial services firms to gauge whether the content that their own companies publish is making the right impact. They frequently say that none of their clients would jump ship if their firm published strong opinions, even if they subsequently turned out to be wrong. Bland, say-nothing content, though, is often seen as damaging. Boldness, properly argued, reinforces credibility, while publishing pablum or ignoring hard truths always undermines it.
  • Over-use jargon or cliché
    I won’t hammer this point home – suffice to say that if you’ve heard a buzzword before, the chances are that millions of others have too and are getting sick of it. Know when to drop it in (for SEO, maybe) and when to ditch it. Similarly, you might be tempted to sprinkle your content with jargon (or TLAs like “SEO”, come to think of it) unexplained, in the hope this makes you appear au courant. But doing so risks irritating a proportion of the audience, while writing for maximum clarity will never annoy anyone.

We’ll be doing more research on what makes content credible later this year – based on our own hard data and, hopefully, thought-provoking analysis. Watch this space: I can picture you leaning back and nodding already…

Share this:

It doesn’t pay to be too precious about language. What thought leadership requires is prose that is concise and clear, and which conveys points with originality and impact.

Not too much originality, perhaps. Neologisms, unless done exceptionally well, are liable to be off-putting, even ridiculous (see “creovation”). And there’s nothing wrong with using the odd stock phrase or dead metaphor to ring the bells you want rung in the minds of your readers. (Now including “thought leadership”, a phrase that would doubtless make Orwell wince. But he never had SEO to contend with: so many potential clients are looking precisely for that term, it’s a commercial necessity to include it.)

But there are some usages that I still think miss the point completely. “Revert” to mean “respond”, “reply”, or “answer” – all perfectly fine substitutes – is one such. It’s not as if “revert”, meaning “return to an earlier state”, doesn’t have its own specialised work to do. Still, I’ve noticed that some dictionary definitions now include the new meaning and, if it becomes common enough, I’ll have no choice but to accept it.

But a misuse I’m less inclined to accept is of “editorial”.

To me (a biased source, I admit), the adjective “editorial” connotes an ability to highlight the pertinent, excise the superfluous and create narratives that inform and engage. In other words, laudable qualities that anyone should want applied to their content. In fact, I have often described New Narrative as an “editorial consultancy”, with that in mind.

However, at a recent conference I noticed a lot of people bandying “editorial” about as an uncountable noun to connote quotidian chunks of written text, as an alternative to the duller-sounding “copy”, “text” or just simply “words” – e.g. “we need a thousand words of editorial.” There was no trace of the more commendable implications of the word.

Contrast this abused adjective with another: “creative”. To a lot of people there is no higher praise, whether the word is applied as a modifier or a pseudo job title, though to my mind (even ignoring the questionable grammar of the latter) it is so approaching the limits of overuse as to be almost meaningless.

Maybe I am fighting against the tide here, but I think it’s time to ditch “creative” and resurrect “editorial” to its rightful place. There is no doubt that “editorial” qualities are precisely what many enterprises are looking for when they talk about creativity, even if they don’t use the term.

I know this because at the same conference where I heard “editorial” being tossed around so carelessly, attendees kept talking of the need to “cut through” the mountains of me-too content, zero in on relevant trends, and craft narratives to reach hard-to-impress audiences – all valuable editorial skillsets. And, crucially, applicable not just to prose but to any creative endeavour.

So I’ll continue to promote our “editorial” acumen. Unless, of course, the dictionary changes.

Share this:

HONG KONG, July 26, 2019 – New Narrative, Asia’s leading content consultancy, today announced the opening of its Singapore office and the appointment of Edward Butler as Managing Director.

New Narrative’s client base is expanding quickly in Singapore, as it delivers content strategies and ambitious thought leadership campaigns for financial institutions and technology firms aiming to capitalise on ASEAN’s rapid development.

Butler will be based in Singapore, where he will help leading companies seize upon opportunities in the city-state’s asset management industry, contribute to smart-city initiatives, and raise their profiles in ASEAN’s leading investment destination.

He joins New Narrative from UK-based content agency, Editions Financial, where he served as Senior Content Strategist, and devised campaigns and advised on customer engagement strategies for leading multinational corporations and financial institutions.

Before working at Editions Financial, Butler held a variety of senior strategic and management roles with global media businesses, including Informa, Clarion and Communisis. He holds a BA from King’s College London and a master’s degree from the London School of Oriental and African Studies and is fluent in Spanish.

“Singapore is leading development across the key ASEAN markets, not only as an innovator and investment destination, but also as the standard bearer for regulatory stability,” said Butler. “Leading corporations, both global and local, will need to position themselves to play a significant role in ASEAN’s future – and I’m delighted New Narrative will be there to help them tell their stories and win new business via compelling thought leadership campaigns.”

Press enquiries:

David Line, Partner
+852 8192 7768

Share this:

[Currents in Financial Services Thought Leadership #1]

That question is likely to elicit the response, “no thanks”, and perhaps also bring to mind the image of a door closing on a briefcase-wielding gentleman in an ill-fitting suit. Actually, though, if you’re not interested in what’s happening in insurance then you’re unlikely to be up to speed with crucial trends informing the best financial-services thought leadership around nowadays.

Thinking about it, insurance has always had a bit of an image problem despite the risk-sharing wizardry of what it accomplishes (and notwithstanding some of Hollywood’s best efforts). Actuaries performed big data analysis long before consultants came up with the phrase and told everyone they need to be doing it.

Now, insurtech innovators are pioneering the application of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain, quantum computing and others, while also grappling with some of the most crucial concerns underlying these technologies, from data security to the ethics of AI profiling and decision-making to the ever-growing demand for greater product personalisation. These topics cut across all sectors; moreover, all the biggest trends set to impact our lives and businesses in the coming years, from self-driving vehicles to population ageing to climate change, have a crucial insurance component.

Where Asia leads – and lags

Asia is simultaneously at the cutting edge and behind the curve when it comes to these trends. One of the world’s biggest online-only insurers, Zhong An, was among the first to use AI to price risk more finely and distribute differentiated products on the internet. Launched in China in 2013, the company serviced over 150m clients in its first year of operation; its IPO in 2017 arguably introduced insurtech to global investors as an asset to watch. Across the region, there is no shortage of insurtech talent (and capital).

At the same time, though, APAC is among the world’s most underpenetrated insurance markets, holding just 13% of global premiums, according to UBS, despite having around half the world’s population. Innovation is stymied to some degree by the preponderance of old-fashioned distribution channels: life policies are still often sold through banks, for instance, with distributors and underwriters facing little incentive to offer bespoke pricing or coverage. No one ever got excited about bancassurance.

And, if you care to click on any of the barrage of links included above, you’ll be lucky to hit on anything directly from an insurer. Thought leadership produced by the giants in the sector is often pretty dry, with many of the biggest (in APAC, at least) basing campaigns around topics such as the problems of financing ever-longer retirements, or trends in employer-funded healthcare coverage.

These are important, to be sure, but part of the image problem insurers face is that the most inspirational thought leadership about their sector is being done either by consultants looking to help them realise the potential of new tech, or analysts seeking to educate investors. (Since nothing beats a good case study, they are also in effect doing a lot of the upstart insurtech firms’ marketing for them.)

This actually gives forward-looking insurance companies the opportunity to start owning more of the dialogue about the future of their sector in Asia. They can emphasise both the potential of revolutionary technology to meet their customers’ changing needs, and the importance of managing the risks around the megatrends shaping people’s lives in the region. With thought leadership like that, no one should ever think of insurance as boring again.

Share this:

If you’re anything like n/n’s editorial team, by the end of the calendar or lunar year you will have had a mental list of the most well-used thought leadership topics in your field. For core B2B sectors like financial and professional services, this list might include AI, cyber-security, sustainability, and, inevitably, digital transformation (again).

With many firms in the region still firming up content calendars for the new year, the temptation is to stick to these safe fields, especially given the anxiety over geopolitical and macroeconomic risk. (Indeed, saying anything about China is proving a real challenge, now references to the macroeconomy, trade, or outbound investment are often deemed too controversial for many compliance teams to approve. This is arguably the first time in a generation that the underlying narrative to China’s macroeconomy hasn’t been that the country is getting richer, fast.)

Yet the trick to effective thought leadership is the second word of that somewhat overused phrase: leading the pack by coming up with something novel. It’s not “thought followership”. Of course, we know that coming up with entirely new umbrella topics is not always realistic. The fact that the year is porcine rather than canine has no bearing on what matters to our clients (or, more crucially, their clients), or on what it makes sound editorial and commercial sense to discuss.

What is required is a new take on an underexplored or emerging sub-issue that will pique readers’ interest. The greater focus in 2018 on AI, for instance, was an evolution of the overarching fintech theme that has been running for some years, gaining mainstream relevance as once-limited technologies found broader commercial application. (Consultancies like McKinsey, as might be expected, were ahead of the curve here: ideally the topics you highlight today you’d like everyone to be talking about tomorrow.)

With that in mind I canvassed our team to find some B2B angles that we thought were underexplored (at least in the Asia-Pacific context) and ripe to feature more in the Year of the Pig. Consider them n/n’s thought leadership thought starters, perhaps…

  1. The ethics of AI: the dominant narrative last year was about how AI could help companies cut costs and deliver better service to their clients. The hot debate now is about its governance and ethical application – in everything from loan applications to help-request chatbots. Can we be sure that AI won’t incorporate the biases of its programmers, leading to problems down the road? Most B2B businesses that want to use AI (i.e. all of them) will also want to know how to protect themselves against making AI mistakes.
  2. Cross border data ownership and governance: Banks in the UK and EU are opening up their data up to third parties, creating “ecosystems” of service providers; the same is happening (with regulatory encouragement rather than coercion) in plenty of Asia-Pacific markets. Not enough analysis has been done on what this means for cross-border businesses in one of the world’s most fragmented regions. How can firms be prepared to be responsible data managers (and what commercial impact will initiatives like Australia’s Consumer Data Right have if adopted more widely)?
  3. A corollary of this is What will B2B tech ecosystems look like? Thanks to China’s digital behemoths you don’t need much imagination to see how consumer-focused tech platforms in the region can evolve. But what about the prospects for B2B ecosystems, involving fintech, insurtech and a whole raft of professional services? Sure, there are plenty of discrete innovations in the region, from trade and SME finance to new approaches to professional services, but who will bring them together? Speaking from painful experience, a one-stop shop for SME professional services would be a major boon…
  4. How will an ageing workforce affect APAC’s B2B companies? To date most commentary on ageing (in APAC at least) has been by hand-wringing actuaries or wealth managers warning about insufficient pensions. But actually ageing will affect every sector, and B2B employers are in prime position to lead on the issue of how workforces can make best use of their experienced, knowledgeable and not-ready-to-retire experts. Who’s ready to make ageing a bigger diversity & inclusion issue?

Naturally the more you drill down into different B2B sectors the more ideas bubble to the surface, but in the interests of brevity I’ll leave it there for now. Here’s hoping we see some ambitious firms ready to lead thinking on these issues in the Year of the Pig. In the meantime, Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Share this:

I learned a lot from the B2B Marketing Leaders’ Forum Asia 2018, held in Singapore in September, particularly about how tough life is for the typical B2B marketer. As is the custom of our times I jotted down some “key takeaways” on the day and sent them out tout de suite on LinkedIn. Having (two weeks later) found some time on my schedule, I think it’s worth revisiting and expanding on those, as they get to the heart of the issues facing anyone trying to reach and impress a rarefied B2B market.

– B2B marketers are deeper in the trenches than their B2C colleagues (“using sniper rifles, not shotguns”)

The pithy description of the B2B marketer’s arsenal given by one speaker captures the wholly different nature of many B2B campaigns from their B2C counterparts. This speaker, from a global financial services consultancy, revealed that they had fewer than 40 target enterprises across the region and created content with them exclusively in mind. What use, then, are flashy brand campaigns of the type so beloved by the Cannes crowd? B2B marketers have to show a much deeper understanding of their targets’ businesses, and the challenges their clients face, than is possible with a 30-second Superbowl ad. Credible content is a huge part of the solution.

– B2B marketers must manage stakeholders in every part of the business – and often do so facing a “trust gap”

I met a ton of talented, motivated and razor-sharp people at the event, with diverse backgrounds – from audit and accounting to programming to development economics. Yet I got the sense that the B2B marketing function often battles a lingering and unwarranted inferiority complex compared to the revenue generating side of the business (again, not something that troubles many Cannes Lions partygoers, I’d imagine).

This was aptly summed up by Thomas Barta, keynote speaker and author of “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader”, who pinpointed the problem as a matter of how the rest of the business can perceive the marketing team – illustrated on this slide (apologies for the low-quality photo).

Funny though this might be to some, battling the “trust gap” can a daily problem for B2B marketing departments, unless they can get to grips with the next two points:

– B2B marketers are held to tough standards of accountability by the business

– They need multiple skillsets, not least the ability to prove ROI by marshalling the torrents of data at their disposal

Much of the conference was given over to the problem of how to prove ROI on marketing campaigns. As Barta put it: “If anyone says you’re a cost centre, change it – or leave. Get in the revenue camp!”

Naturally this applies to B2C marketers, too, but their B2B counterparts are more likely to have to account for every bullet fired from their sniper rifles. The metrics by which campaigns are judged obviously vary depending on their aims and how far towards the top or bottom of the sales funnel they are positioned – and, as we’ve noted before, must be signed off by the business well in advance. Hit those metrics, thereby demonstrating value, and the trust gap disappears.

Partly this means speaking the right language: C-suite execs don’t really care about social shares, brand salience, or other marketing buzzwords. But educating the rest of the business is also crucial to changing perceptions. Branding campaigns might not have metrics as easily linked to revenue as those aimed at delivering qualified leads, but are nonetheless crucial for B2B firms too. As one speaker said, “Brand is the reason the sales team gets in a client’s front door. But no one on the business side wants to pay for it.”

– The tools B2B marketers need must be highly specialised and targeted, across geographies, sectors and audiences

Given the specialised nature of the audience B2B marketers are trying to reach, expertise in certain sectors (especially when it comes to content) is a sine qua non for agency partners. Picking the right channels is also crucial – because as several people pointed out, quoting Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed, “Content is King, but distribution is Queen – and she wears the pants.”

Speaking of which, among the pearls of wisdom there were inevitably some oft-repeated quotations, platitudes and buzzwords, as there are at any conference (even at those run by my former employer, which strives to set the bar pretty high for live discourse). I recommend keeping yourself amused next time you are at a comparable event by playing “Marketing Conference Bingo”. Here’s the card I put together in between moments of insight at the event. Enjoy!

Share this:

Amid all the comment about Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the most commonly heard complaint was about the flood of spam from companies who realised, a little late, that they needed people’s “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous” consent to keep receiving their emails. (NewsCred has a good explainer on the impact on marketing here.)

I’m sure like me you deleted most of these “Don’t Miss Out on Our Bumf!” emails with nary a second thought – the first thought often being “I didn’t realise I was even on your mailing list.” (The ones I received may have sounded more plaintive than those sent to people who aren’t EU citizens: requirements obviously differ outside the EU, but the rest of the world won’t be far behind in legislating data protection.)

More interesting perhaps is the jolt of alarm I felt about the prospect of not receiving something I actually valued or relied on. I had that a few times and didn’t mind the extra steps of confirming my interest or re-entering my details.

This raises the question, what was the crucial difference between the two reactions? It all boils down to quality of content.

In the information economy there is plenty of content you need and are happy to pay for: reputable news sites and data feeds have all but stopped giving away content regularly in exchange for advertising reach. They needn’t worry about GDPR-related complaints from loyal readers (assuming they’re not over-using the privilege and flooding their inboxes): nothing screams informed consent like giving up your credit card details.

But paid content is still a minuscule sliver of what’s coming into your inbox. Email, for all its faults, is still a great means of receiving regular digests of news and comment from informed sources. Most companies rely on it to reach their best customers and hottest prospects and will need rapidly to work out how to keep doing so.

What GDPR has brought home is that if you’re giving away content in the hope of building a willing audience, it had better be as good as the stuff people are paying for. Because if someone signs up for “free” content with an email address and explicit consent for you to use their information, they are in fact paying for it – with their data, rather than their money.

The upsides to this are twofold. For the recipients, it should mean pure dross won’t get through: marketers will have to raise their content games.

For companies forced to get to grips with their audience, it offers the opportunity to find out at a more granular level what they’re interested in (and prepared to sign up to receive). This means that if companies can deliver it, their content will be all the more likely to help them achieve their commercial aims.

Of course, getting to professional-standard content isn’t easy. Which is why we’re here to help companies reach a bar that’s getting raised all the time. With GDPR, it’s even more vital to make the jump.

Share this:

It’s right that truly original ideas are celebrated. That’s because they are exceptionally rare: it was said of Einstein that he only had two new ideas; they just happened to be the Special Theory of Relativity and the General Theory of Relativity. One of the most famous original thinkers before him, Isaac Newton, acknowledged that he got his ideas through “standing on the shoulders of giants” (though this might have been a mean dig at a short rival).

In business it’s often a struggle to identify more than a handful of ideas without precedent. Steve Jobs was a genius for launching the first phone with a touchscreen and apps? Nope: IBM got there fully 13 years earlier. Today’s dominant ETF providers, BlackRock and Vanguard, popularised an idea conceived first by the Toronto Stock Exchange. Even Henry Ford, according to his contemporary at Ford Motor Co, Charles E Sorenson, wasn’t the father of assembly line production, he was just the sponsor of it.

The same is true in just about any field of human endeavour (particularly creative ones). For most of us, there’s not much point wringing our hands about not being geniuses. When it comes to publishing and content marketing, we can all be sponsors and developers of others’ good ideas and, in the process, create arresting and useful content that burnishes our brands. After all, what most people mean when they talk about original thinking (or thought leadership, if you like) relates instead to original modes of expression or exposition.

These are obviously crucial. You can’t go plagiarising other people or repeating exactly what you said yesterday. You can, though, pay homage to other people’s thinking – if it is worth repeating, and assuming you give them due credit – and reiterate points you made yesterday that remain valid today. Both can lead to good quality content if they are expressed with clarity, brevity and perhaps a modicum of wit.

It’s important to recognise this point when planning a content campaign. At the broadest level your competitors are likely to be talking about the same topics, and you are likely to encounter the same issues time and again. That doesn’t mean you should stay silent, even if you don’t think everything you publish is staggeringly original. After all, the internet has a (very) short memory.

And when you do have something to say that no one else can (because it is truly original) or will (because it is brave or contrarian), then make it work doubly hard. So you invested in a lot in a truly ground-breaking study last year? You can come back to it again and again, focusing on slightly different angles each time. So you called the crash when everyone else was piling in? Keep referring back to it to remind your audience of your perspicacity.

Of course, judicious editorial judgement is required. But if you are used to reading the op-ed pages of respected newspapers (which had to fill pages for many decades before the internet came along), you’ll see that repeating yourself is hardly a cardinal sin – unlike not publishing anything.

Share this:

“I know half my marketing budget is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Any marketing professional will have come across that quotation by Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker. Or it might have been said by Henry Ford, JC Penney, or any other of a half a dozen early twentieth century titans of commerce.

Its dubious provenance is only part of the problem I have with it: its superficial folk wisdom doesn’t bear much scrutiny (as WPP’s Jeremy Bullmore wrote in a thoughtful essay on the sentence in 2013.) Its biggest problem is that it is has never been true. There has never been a good excuse for marketing expenditure to be “wasted”, as long as campaign goals and metrics are defined in advance.

In Wanamaker’s heyday (or Penney’s, Ford’s, whomever’s) it would have been a straightforward job to establish the impact of a marketing campaign, especially since most such pre-mass-media spending was geographically isolated. By taking the gross sales for a defined period after a campaign, subtracting the pre-campaign average, and dividing the difference (hopefully, a positive figure!) into the marketing dollars spent, Wanamaker could work out, say, whether billboards in Harrisburg did better than those in Wilkes-Barre, or if radio spots in either city beat print ads. Of course, other factors might have played a role in sales performance over time, but Wanamaker wouldn’t have been flying half-blind in calculating the return on marketing investment.

Maybe the quotation bemoans the fact that many people who saw the billboards or ads, or heard the radio spots, would have been unmoved to buy. That’s not really the point, though. Other things being equal if, after a campaign, sales went up, the marketing expenditure would have been amply justified.

Made to measure

Today it’s doubly more pointless to wheel out this maxim as a get-out-of-the-CFO’s-office-free card, for the simple reason that you can be much more targeted in your marketing—and since our bread and butter is B2B content, I’ll stick to that—on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, together with old-fashioned media.

There are also many thousands more ways to measure the impact of that expenditure, through numerous engagement and brand impact metrics—as well as the plain old top line. Of course, too much choice isn’t exactly helpful here. That’s why for all content campaigns, marketers need to establish the precise business goals and what kind of measurements would constitute success, before pulling the trigger.

The key thing to remember is that every campaign is different. Among our clients, for instance, a tech firm selling a specific solution to a specific decision-maker in a specific industry measures the impact of their content in terms of its power to earn marketing qualified leads, benchmarking the marketing budget against their average cost per lead.

A major bank, meanwhile, seeking to raise the profile of its senior staff among corporate treasurers in a certain country, prefers to track LinkedIn engagement as the most important figure to focus on. Select other social media stats are used as supporting evidence, along with brand awareness studies.

It’s important to get the buy-in of the budget decision makers on these metrics in advance. Otherwise, when it comes to talking about the impact of your content, the temptation is to wheel out every stat under the sun to justify its success—which won’t win you any friends among time-poor senior management. And they certainly won’t accept the excuse, given with a shrug, that half the marketing budget has always been wasted, so what are they worried about anyway?

Share this:

Earlier this week fellow n/n Partner Lorraine and I gave a perhaps ambitiously titled talk at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about B2B Content Marketing”.

After we’d finished, a former journalist colleague approached me, perhaps remembering what we’d said about being careful with statistics, and said that although it didn’t quite deliver “everything”, it covered at least 84.6% of what he wanted to know. (Unfortunately he didn’t tell me what the missing 15.4% was…)

We’d be happy to share the entire talk of course (watch this space for a webinar) but one part in particular had most of the audience reaching for their smartphone cameras: this diagram, which set up the rest of the talk.

B2B Content Marketing Decision-Making Flowchart

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating. If content marketers follow this flowchart – with each step ranked in order of priority – and get buy-in on each decision before they embark on a campaign, then they are much less likely to go wrong (in terms of strategy at least; as to actually producing quality content, that’s a different matter.)

Everything flows from the business aim of the campaign, whether this is broad brand-building at the top of the sales funnel, lead conversion at the bottom, or anything in between. That decided, the next most important decision is the audience: nowadays you can be very precise indeed about specific “personas” you might want to target and, of course, which channels are suited to reach them.

Only then should marketers think about the type of content to produce. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s crucial to remember that this is subordinate to those first three decision points. In our experience, content campaigns that don’t follow this decision-making hierarchy are far less likely to succeed.

This brings us to the last decision point: how will you define success? Since the commercial aims of a campaign may vary, so too do the means to measure ROI. There are hundreds of thousands of potential KPIs to choose from (not least metrics from social media) but this doesn’t make the job easier, since budget decision makers won’t be impressed with a disordered jumble of stats.

That makes it doubly important to agree on this in advance. Of course, you need the flexibility to adapt, especially in a long campaign. But getting stakeholders’ buy-in on all five points from the outset should get you at least, I estimate, 84.6% of the way to success.

Share this:

One of the most dispiriting things about political discourse these days is the readiness of some people to shout “Fake news!” when confronted with facts they don’t like. Misinformation and propaganda are as old as human communication, of course, but there is such a thing as a credible source of information–as well as plenty that don’t qualify.

Using credible sources is crucial when it comes to creating content that will impress a discerning audience (the aim of all of our clients). n/n founder Jon Hopfner recently set out how data alone isn’t enough to get your message across, and I’d underline that with the point that using any old data won’t do, either. At a minimum you have make sure you can trust where it’s coming from.


Sometimes it’s pretty obvious who has the right stuff. For economic, social and demographic data you can’t beat the resources and diligence of multinational NGOs like the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, OECD and the like. (OK, so extreme conspiracy theorists would say these guys have some nefarious agenda too, but let’s assume you’re not interested in trying to convert flat-earthers or David Icke fans.)

Stats from news sources with long, hard-earned editorial credibility (think Reuters, the Financial Times, New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal etc) you should also feel comfortable quoting. They typically go to great lengths to ensure the reliability of their data, and they have fact-checking quality controls without which their brands wouldn’t have gained the cachet they have. (OK, they make mistakes; to err is human. But to wheel out an old maxim, you should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.)

…and verify

We admit to some bias here: n/n was founded by two former Reuters journos, and I was an editor at The Economist Group for 10 years. Being aware of potential bias is of course crucial when judging the credibility of sources, especially if you’re looking for a stat to help prove a point you want to make.

I could tell you, for instance, that 70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert. How credible is this? I found it midway down a (frankly intimidating) infographic from “Point Visible”, a Croatian marketing agency. They’ve included sources at the bottom, but none actually has that stat in it (and some merely cannibalise other cited sources, including a hefty CMI study.) Googling “70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert” reveals that the same stat was used in a 2013 blog by someone at, but the source they give leads to a 404 error. I could go on, but my patience has already worn thin.

There are credible sources on marketing out there: Edelman and LinkedIn’s survey of 1,300 senior executives, for example, has an impressive sample size and clear methodology. Just using one stat from that study–that 9 in 10 respondents think thought leadership is important, for example–carries much more weight than a shotgun blast of factoids with no or dubious provenance.

So it goes for statistics in any content. Be judicious and transparent in sourcing your stats and they will work much harder in your favour.


Share this:

We’re very happy to announce two new additions to our expanding team: Mohamed Abdelbaki as Global Project Manager and Head of Middle East, and Katrina Oropel as Director of Business Development.

Mohamed joins New Narrative from Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong, where he acquired nearly a decade of project management experience building multimedia hubs – including Trading Middle East and Trading China – that connected portfolio managers with news and thought leadership across global markets.

Katrina arrives from The Economist Group in Hong Kong, where she led integrated sales initiatives in custom research, events, thought leadership and advertising for a client base of multinationals. Previously, she produced investment forums and other events in Asia for Euromoney Institutional Investor.

In his new role at New Narrative, Mohamed will provide global operational support while also driving the development of New Narrative’s business in the Middle East, where our growing list of clients includes banks, asset managers and leading corporates in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Katrina will lead New Narrative’s business development initiatives across Asia and North America among our expanding client base of multinationals, investment banks, asset managers, healthcare and technology firms, and media groups.

Both Mohamed and Katrina bring a wealth of experience to New Narrative, including deep knowledge of the financial and media markets in Asia and the Middle East, and an understanding of how top-tier content and thought leadership shapes the market conversation and helps drive business results. We’re fortunate they both chose to join us at this pivotal time – and we know our clients will benefit from their professionalism and expertise.

Mohamed holds a degree in Financial Management from the Arab Academy of Science & Technology in Cairo and is a native Arabic and English speaker. Katrina holds a BS in International Business, and a Minor in Economics (Honours) from the University of San Francisco.

Share this:

Many of the events of the second day of RISE, Hong Kong’s tech-startup-focused conference, were devoted to disruption in marketing and media (how could we not attend?) One of the most interesting panels was entitled “The media-driven brand”, but as one panellist noted the discussion could equally have been about “brand-driven media”. Which is driving which? It’s not a new question, but it has become more pointed as traditional publishers struggle to revamp their subscription and advertising-dependent business models, and as companies are producing more high-quality content (which is where, *cough*, we come in) alongside pure brand advertising.

Publishers have traditionally won or lost on the size and quality of their audiences, but now–in competition with behemoths like Facebook and its endless free newsfeed–they face difficult choices about how make their businesses sustainable. “Media needs to be rebooted,” said Rob Fan, co-founder and CTO of Sharethrough, a native advertising platform, on the RISE panel. He cited Buzzfeed, which has parlayed its mass appeal to the digital native crowd into some serious journalism.

Coming at it from the other direction is harder. Traditional publishers will find it hard to build Buzzfeed-level fanbases and are unlikely to see subscriptions or old-style ad sales recover lost ground. Sadly, great content alone is not enough to make them solvent. (Just ask Alan Rusbridger.) There are some innovative attempts out there–including in our home town–to crowdfund news reporting, but however commendable such efforts are, it seems media and brands will have to keep collaborating to make the most out of their target audiences’ evolving proclivities.

One solution–that Mr Fan’s platform was founded to enable–is to allow native advertising; that is, embedding and integrating a brand’s content alongside the publisher’s own. This can help independent publishers survive, Mr Fan claimed, warning that without them we’d risk a world where “everyone is a blogger” and no one does any serious reporting. But there is a risk with native advertising that companies and publishers alike recognise: if it isn’t clearly demarcated, the audience may start to lose trust in the credibility and authority of the publisher–and by extension the brand paying for the content. (The Onion, itself no stranger to the concept, made a good, and very crude, point about this a few years back. Only follow that link–or read The Onion–if you’re not easily offended.)

Trust is hard-won and easily lost. But as another panellist, Lara Setrakian, co-founder and CEO of NewsDeeply, explained, there is a way to build it and simultaneously make high-quality independent publishing sustainable in collaboration with corporate partners. First, and above all, establish that editorial goals are paramount, and do good work. This will generate loyal and passionate communities of followers that companies will want to reach. Then use this experience to create custom projects on related themes. (It’s also a model that The Economist Intelligence Unit has used to good effect when conducting sponsored research.)

Of course this means walking a fine editorial line, but it is one that it pays both media platforms and corporate brands to adhere to–if they want to build trust in their audiences. Ceding a degree of editorial control is uncomfortable for some brands, but given they share with the publisher the objectives of building a sustainable business and pleasing a discerning audience, it’s a step that must be taken.


Share this: