About Marc Jadoul

Hi-tech marketer, strategist and communicator. Currently, marketing director at Nokia (Belgium). B2B storyteller, evangelist, blogger, speaker and panelist.

Why 2021 wasn’t a good year for thought leadership

“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They become the trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.” – definition by thoughtleadershiplab.com

In my previous post, “Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?“, I made a plea to stop whining about COVID-19 related challenges and start seizing new opportunities. Which is extremely relevant for corporate communicators, content marketers, and thought leaders.

In a September 2021 survey by Edelman and LinkedIn, 3600 global business decision makers and C-suite executives across a wide range of industries and company sizes were asked about the impact of thought leadership, how it influences their perception and buying behaviors, and what attributes B2B audiences want to see from companies.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a global cancellation of corporate events and conferences. With the absence of physical meetings and face-to-face networking opportunities, many companies and individuals have turned to delivering their messages using digital means, such as webinars, downloadable white papers, email blasts, and LinkedIn posts.

Photo by Kotivalo (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As a result, the pandemic has resulted in an excessive quantity of (often) lower quality content and, more recently, also a growing fatigue for virtual events. According to the report, almost 4 in 10 decision makers said there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or that the market is oversaturated with such material. This flood of digital content has also diluted its perceived value: 71% of decision makers concluded that less than half of the thought leadership material they consume gives them valuable insights.

On the positive side, more than half of the executives said that they spent more time-consuming thought leadership than before the coronavirus started its global spread – more than an hour per week. They still value quality content because it allows them to understand the trends affecting their industries and helps them generate new ideas for their businesses.

You may remember an article I wrote a few years ago about the sometimes thin line between a thought leader and an entertainer, in which I listed a few dos and don’ts for aspiring thought leaders. Some of these were confirmed by the respondents of the Edelman survey. When asked about the predominant shortcomings of low-quality thought leadership,

  • 46% answered being “overly focused on selling or describing products rather than conveying valuable information”,
  • 40% of them get bummed by “unoriginal thinking, or a lack of new ideas”, and
  • 31% don’t want content “authored by people who are not true experts on the subject matter”.

Building upon the definition I quoted higher on this page, thought leadership will need to start serving as an engine for change again. That’s why I believe that the 2022 secret code for pundits will include words like purpose, meaning, and engagement. And that true opinion makers will have to demonstrate insight, authority, and trust for being credible to business decision makers.

You may download the report here:

Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?

During the corona crisis, companies had to change their way of working, cope with on-site staff shortages, and deal with supply chain disruptions. Marketers were forced to reinvent their messaging and engagement strategies.

The past 18 months, we changed the way we told stories as well as the stories we told. Virtual events and webinars became the rule rather than an exception. The majority of business articles and remote presentations  started with an obligatory statement about COVID-19 and the obvious need to ensure business continuity. 

Excuse me for being too optimistic but, with more people getting vaccinated, our (new-) normal life is slowly taking up again.

And so, it’s time now to stop whining about pandemic related challenges, and start seizing post-pandemic opportunities: better balancing work and life, bridging the digital divide, reinventing education, creating an inclusive society, becoming carbon neutral, … 

Photo by vperemen.com (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Let us start creating this post-pandemic narrative today.  Let us change our tone from comforting people to inspiring masses. Let’s promote hope. Let us advocate change. And let us metamorphose from covid-era storytellers into post-corona thought leaders and storymakers!

Related posts on this blog:

True colors

One of the important rules of corporate branding is always to stay loyal to your company’s visual identify. Of course – and probably on top of the list – you should keep the color palette you use consistent. I wrote a blog post about the importance of colors almost 8 years ago.

I’m currently at a public event (yesss! my first physical one after 18 months of online webinars and virtual conferences.) And one of the exhibitors is serving macarons at their booth. Mmm, yummy. My favorite trade show giveaways, only preceded by those unbeatable jelly beans and gummi bears… And, yes, the company also knows how to market its brand.

Can you guess which global telecoms player is serving the delicacies shown on the photo above?

Remember die Raute

Next week’s German federal elections will mark the end of the Angela Merkel era. Regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the world, the German chancellor guided her country through many crises and has dominated European politics for the last sixteen years.

But, Mutti has also become famous for her signature hand gesture, known as the Merkel Raute (a German word that translates as rhombus or diamond).

Photo by Armin Linnartz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While communication specialists have explained the famous gesture as “a sign of stability and reliability”, “an intermediate sensation between proximity and distance”, or even as “a protective roof for defusing and avoiding emotional signals”, the German leader herself says the position of her hands simply shows “a certain love of symmetry”.

Nonverbal communication is more important than most people think. Only a small portion of our (public speaking) message is conveyed through words. It is complemented by vocal elements like volume and pitch. All the rest is communicated through your facial expressions, eye movements, hand gestures, body posture, etc. Even through your makeup or the clothes you wear.

By the way, Angela Merkel isn’t the only politician in history that became (in)famous through an iconic attribute or gesture. Think, for example, of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, Winston Churchill’s cigar, Mobutu Sese Seko’s leopard skin hat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand-in-coat, or even Donald Trump’s L-shaped finger pinch.

Other articles I’ve written about communication skills of political leaders and their spokespeople:

After the gold rush

Would you rather read a SEO-optimized article or one with an intriguing title?

With the knowledge that I’m a (should-be digital) marketer, you’d probably expect me to defend the first option. But, if you’ve read last week’s blog, you also know that knowledge doesn’t always equal wisdom.  In my case, even seldom. As such, I’m frequently tempted to creating surprising, even nonsensical, blog headlines and presentation titles. Not the clickbait kind of stuff, but rather the ones that make my audience wonder what the rest of the content will be about.

Here are 10 more or less insane blog titles that I created during the past years. Can you imagine (or do you still remember) what these columns were talking about?

Even some of my favorite rock songs don’t have meaningful titles. Take, for example, Neil Young‘s “After the Gold Rush”. Nils Lofgren, who played piano and guitar on the same called album, once said in an interview: “Neil never told me what the song was about. I’d love to bend his ear about it.” While, when asked about the song’s meaning, Young admitted: “Hell, I don’t know. I just wrote it…”

Fragment from the original record cover by Joel Bernstein

Probably we’ve become just that tiny bit too rational when defining and communicating our message. We’re doing too much search engine thinking, ignoring Aristotle’s ars rhetorica, and abandoning the power of emotion.

If the godfather of grunge can be successful with a title that doesn’t teach you anything but with lyrics that sparkle emotion, why wouldn’t I do the same on my blog?

Knowledge, wisdom and trust

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

The above quote is either attributed to Miles Kington, a British writer, or to Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby player. I’m not sure who of the two was first, but it raises an interesting question: how would your company interpret this statement?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Some companies would certainly issue a standard operating procedure, create a work instruction template, or publish a corporate policy document on what to put into and not to put into a fruit cocktail. Never put tomatoes in a fruit salad. Full stop! Period!

While other organizations trust on the wisdom, common sense and competence of their people and assume that they will be perfectly capable of making a decent fruit salad. Creative staff members might even engage in product innovation by adding some exotic berries or nuts to the mix.

This observation leads me to another quote, by Simon Sinek:

When leaders are willing to prioritize trust over performance, performance almost always follows.

How about the company that you work for and the leaders that you work with?

Never regret saying ‘no’

On August 15, 2021 the world woke up with the news about the fall of Kabul.

Reading the headlines about the chaotic evacuation of Western citizens and their local allies from Afghanistan and watching the horrifying images of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport, it came to my mind that, about six months ago, I received a LinkedIn job proposal for a marketing position with a telecom company. The most surprising part of this lucrative offer definitely came at the end of the recruiter’s message: “Job location: Kabul, Afghanistan”.

While I’m, generally speaking, open to discussing a once in a lifetime opportunity, I decidedly said ‘no’ to this one. Adding tongue in cheek that Kabul is not the most inviting place to work. Today ― excuse my understatement ― I still don’t regret my decision. You may guess why.

Image: Kabul International Airport in 2008 by Carl Montgomery (CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite columns by Seth Godin is titled Saying ‘no’. In this only 120 words long post, the American thought leader and author discusses the choice of making the people with the loudest requests temporarily happy vs. changing the world by saying ‘no’ often.

Every decision gives you an opportunity to take control of your own life. If being capable of saying ‘no’ is paramount, then not regretting your decision is possibly even more important. QED.

Is digital killing creativity?

Yesterday, I was writing copy for a paid search and social media campaign and, considering myself a creative content creator, the job made me feel really unhappy. As a guest blogger I’ve gotten used to writing articles with a 800-100 word count and since the start of the COVID crisis I’ve been video-recording keynote presentations with a duration of 10-15 minutes, but the guys from Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn were actually instructing me to start counting c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r-s. Even worse, each of the respective media platforms impose their own length limits. For some fields you can use up to 150 characters, but other ones only allow 30 for conveying a similar message. As a result, I had to trim all content separately, manually, and repeatedly.

Of course, I will get a bit of creative compensation when crafting the infographic, video clip or white paper to be linked to the social media post or to be hidden behind a lead generation form. Though a click-through rate of a few percent is not always a huge motivation.

Video killed the radio star and – in my humble opinion – digital is killing (part of) human creativity. I know we’re living in the internet age and that paid social media is a good lead generation tool, but I would be happy to leave this ‘copywriting’ to the AI robots. They don’t have a heart or a soul, but these aren’t necessary qualifications for this kind of tasks.

Expectations and promises

During today’s lunch walk, I passed two pedestrian crossings. The traffic lights had a push button that makes the cars stop and the pedestrian light turn to walk. As this was the button’s behavior I expected, the label that said “Want to cross? Push for green.” (“Oversteken? Druk voor groen.”) appeared no less than obsolete to me. There were no cars or police officers in sight, so I actually crossed the street ignoring the magic knob.

The second light pole was a lot more interesting. Someone had placed a sticker below the button that read: “PUSH TO RESET THE WORLD.” Now, that was a surprising, an intriguing, and even a thought-provoking instruction. While the first label was just confirming my expectations, the second one held the promise of spectacular —even though impossible— things to happen. Thinking of the disastrous floods, fires and heat waves our planet was confronted with over the past weeks, the sticker made me wish for such for a reset.

After a bit of desktop research, I found out that the sticker was designed by Space Utopian, a street art lover and sticker addict who applies the slogan “Changing the world, one sticker at a time.” Let’s go for it!

No such thing as writer’s block

I wrote my last blog on this page about a year ago. My key messages were that I had run out of inspiration and that I was starting a non-writing sabbatical.

Earlier today, I was a watching a LinkedIn course about creativity at work by Seth Godin. One of Seth’s statements was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a fear of bad writing. Most people are afraid of being wrong. But everyone has some good ideas. It’s easy to get your audience to be negative, but hard to get people to speak up. And sometimes, something good comes out. So, do more bad writing and have more bad ideas!

Godin also drew a parallel with the board game Pictionary: when one guesses for the word that’s being drawn, there is no cost of being wrong. There are no points deducted for bad guesses. No one blames you for drawing bad pictures either. And as people start guessing, the drawer hears them talk and responds to what they’re saying by improving his drawing or creating new ones.

So, that’s why as from today I’m picking up my pen – or typing my keyboard – again to start writing fresh blog posts. Some of them will be long, some of them may be short. Some of them may be good, some of them could be trash. Some of them could be on topic, some of them will be just a diversion. Some of them will teach you something, while others won’t tell you anything new at all.

As Seth Godin says, we need to start doing the urgent, important, and thrilling work of being more creative – even if many of our ideas will be bad. Stay tuned for my next article on this page…