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Demand Gen, GTM

How to Create a “Definitive Guide” (Thought Leadership Content)

Jacco van der Kooij

Written by Jacco van der Kooij

Founder, Winning by Design

account based marketing

Tae Hea Nahm, Managing Director at Storm Ventures has written about the power of thought leadership for young companies:

Attacking with Thought Leadership

Achieving Thought Leadership

And he should know …

He invested in both Marketo and Engagio, two companies that killed it with their thought leadership content.

Marketo: “Definitive guide to Marketing Automation.”

Engagio: “Clearn and comlete guide to Account Based Everything.”

In both examples, customers aren’t just turning to these vendors for their technology, but also to master a new way of marketing, not just a better or faster way of marketing. A new way of doing things requires not just new technology, but also a new way of thinking, planning, staffing, etc. in order to be successful.

There is no better way to build an enduring customer relationship than by helping with a business transformation. On the other hand, if you don’t recognize that a business transformation is required to be successful with your technology, your customers might fail resulting in costly churn.

How to decide what thought leadership content to produce?

I am testing out a new framework to help you answer this question.

Answer these three questions and you’ll have an outline for your core thought leadership piece, your “Definitive Guide to …”:

  1. Now: Why do customers need a new way of doing things right now? The “Now” describes the context or macro-trend that is affecting your customers.
  2. How: How do customers need to change? What is the new way of doing things? This is typically a new business process, not a new technology.
  3. Wow: What is the “wow killer feature” of your product that demonstrates best how your product helps customers succeed with the new business process.
leadership content
The “NOW — HOW — WOW” framework

Let’s look at each of these in greater detail and give you some examples:


“Now” should answer the “Why change” question (as in Simon Sinek’s “Why” — watch his TED talk), but also the question of timing as in, “Why do customers need to change their old way right NOW?” Ask yourself, what is different NOW, as opposed to five years ago, that makes the old way inadequate?

Take the example of BlueShift. BlueShift targets marketers trying to reach a large online audience through email, mobile, and push messaging. The ROI of all these campaigns has dropped precipitously over the past years with customers ignoring brands or opting out in large numbers. Marketers are seeing not only click rates and conversion rates drop, but also the associated revenues, creating the urgency for a new way to engage with customers.

Another Storm Ventures portfolio company, AirPR is also helping marketers battle the pressure of declining returns of traditional marketing channels using a completely different strategy. More about both BlueShift and AirPR later …

For now, here are a couple more examples of macro-trends that are forcing (or enticing) companies to adopt a new way of doing things (and a new generation of technology to go with this):

LogicHub: Security Intelligence Automation

Security Intelligence Automation

SourceClear: Continuous Application Security

Continuous Application Security

LeasePilot: Retail Lease Automation Platform

Retail Lease Automation Platform


After you’ve determined what are the macro-trends that your customers are facing, think how they need to change in response to these pressures. “How” is the new way of doing things. It is often a business process change. Early adopters might be able to piece together the new business process by themselves. The rest of the market will need.

HINT: the “How” is not about your product.

Let’s look at our two marketing pioneers again: BlueShift and AirPR, both helping CMOs battle declining response rates to traditional demand generation campaigns.

Al-powered cross-channel customer journeys

BlueShift’s technology makes it so easy to create triggered email, push, and mobile campaigns that for the first time brands can completely abandon undifferentiated batch-n-blast campaigns and move to one hundred percent personalized and triggered campaigns.

Think about that for a minute …

Going from a calendar-driven customer engagement to triggered customer engagement will require a lot of changes beyond installing a new technology. Marketing departments will have to rethink how they plan/budget (many small dynamic audiences), create content (dynamic, not static), and staff (more tech-savvy, less creative) campaigns. BlueShift’s early adopter customers, such as Udacity, Lending Tree, and The Muse, have been able to make this transition on their own. However, BlueShift has both the opportunity and the obligation to guide mainstream customers through this transition.

The “Definitive Guide …” BlueShift could write is: “How to completely move away from batch ‘n blast and send only personalized and triggered campaigns?”


In the case of our other example, AirPR, the company is making PR measurable, thereby paving the way for completely new PR strategies. For example, instead of securing one Wall Street Journal article and giving up a lot of messaging control, CMOs might opt to secure three stories in smaller publications, resulting in similar social amplification numbers, greater traffic and engagement numbers, while retaining control over messaging. Or, CMOs might redirect funding from advertising towards public relations and drive demand for a web site, product, or HR recruiting effort. AirPR has proven that traffic from PR converts at a 50x clip when compared to traffic from advertising. Mainstream CMOs may need help understanding and managing this new demand generation channel and AirPR is positioned well to help.

The “Definitive Guide …” AirPR could write is: “How to use public relations as a new and top performing sales channel?” They already wrote: “The 7 Surprising Super Powers of PR.”

More examples …

LogicHub: Security Intelligence Automation

Security Intelligence Automation

Definitive Guide: The complete guide to Security Intelligence Automation

security intelligence

SourceClear: Continuous Application Security

Continuous Application Security

“Definitive Guide”: UNDER DEVELOPMENT

LeasePilot: Retail Lease Automation Platform

Retail Lease Automation Platform

Definitive Guide: “How to close commercial leases faster at a fraction of the cost”

Definitive Guide based on this webinar under development


While your “definitive guide” should not be about your product, it is ok to introduce your product on the last page or on a subsequent sales or demo call. It is helpful to focus on one killer feature that is a good example of how your product helps customers adopt The New Way.

“Wow” should be a feature that you have available today (not a future vision). It doesn’t have to be your biggest or best feature. It is just the best example of how the old way of doing things is insufficient and how your new product will help customers respond to the “Now” and “How”. This killer feature will become a story that gets told time and time again by your sales team and retold by your customers. Therefore, less is more.

The “Wow” of BlueShift for example is their artificial intelligence technology that allows marketers to analyze and utilize in campaigns customer data, even at 1000x the volume and 1000x the change rate, as compared to traditional customer data.

The “Wow” of AirPr is the way it can accurately and precisely measure and attribute the impact of PR campaigns, opening the doors for new PR strategies, previously unthinkable.

See below some more examples of wow features …

LogicHub: Security Intelligence Automation

Security Intelligence Automation

SourceClear: Continuous Application Security

Continuous Application Security

LeasePilot: Retail Lease Automation Platform

Retail Lease Automation Platform

I would love to get your feedback on the “NOW — HOW — WOW” framework and learn how you defined your thought leadership content roadmap?