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How to Create Ownable Conversations: A Step-by-Step Guide to Engaging with Niche Communities

Elevate your thought leadership content and build your ownable conversations by completing guided exercises across two key phases.   

Savvy brands already recognize that the opportunity in our over-served content market is to establish credibility, authority, and expertise through thought leadership. This means participating and leading conversations across specific areas of expertise — I call these “ownable conversations.”

Ownable conversations are editorial perspectives that highlight a brand’s unique value and category expertise to their audience. As “big ideas” they allow for a range of expert-driven discussions, industry nuances, and clear perspectives that help to increase market awareness and build brand reputation.

📖 Related Reading: Ownable Conversations: How To Create Content That Leads Niche Discussions

So How Do You Identify Your Ownable Conversations?

Ownable conversations sit at the intersection of your brand value proposition and the content zeitgeist — the big shifts, key themes, challenges, and opportunities within your industry. So in theory, it’s as simple as answering two questions: 

  1. What is your value proposition?, and
  2. What is the content zeitgeist? 

Your best bet is to use strategy research to arrive at your ownable conversations. How much research you do is up to you, but the idea is to use a variety of qualitative and quantitative (proprietary where possible) tools to develop your hypothesis on what the key conversations are for your brand. 

The Ownable Conversations Framework

This is a framework that I’ve developed to help brands identify conversation opportunities in a hyper-competitive market. Ultimately, it’s a visual representation of the inputs, outputs, and suggested exercises to help establish your ‘Why’ and ‘What’ of ownable conversations. 

Part 1: Your Value Proposition (Internal Discovery – Left Circle)

A value proposition is a simple statement that communicates your relevance to the market and why your customer would choose you. A value proposition might already exist for your company. If not, you can use the following template:

  • Your brand 
  • Audience
  • Solutions
  • Business Outcomes
  • Competitive Attributes

[Your Brand] helps [Target Audience] achieve [Business Outcomes] through [Solutions]. We achieve this through our [Competitive Attributes].

If we were to write one for studioID, it could look like this:

studioID helps enterprise brands achieve long-term marketing growth through a holistic brand-to-demand offering. We achieve this through our ROI-rich tool kit: Deep industry expertise, first-party audience insights, an editorial approach to branded storytelling, and targeted distribution capabilities.

If you want to make your value proposition robust, you can go through a research process, using these questions to get you to a good starting point:

  1. What is your brand mission?
  2. What are you known in the industry for vs what would you like to be known for?
  3. What are you an expert in?
  4. What are you not an expert in?
  5. Who are your internal experts? What are they known for?
  6. What are the functional benefits of your products/services?
  7. What are the emotional benefits of your products/services?
  8. What type of first-party data insights do you have? 
  9. What do you do that’s different from anyone else?
  10. What do you do better than anyone else?

Once you outline the basics, you can use one or a combination of the following research methods to fill in any gaps in crafting your value proposition:

a) SWOT analysis with a group of stakeholders (Difficulty: Low)

Conduct a SWOT analysis to determine your strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats to inform and validate the content opportunity, including identifying key conversations you could own.

b) Customer feedback and surveys (Difficulty: Medium)

Conduct interviews with customers to understand how your brand is perceived and what their key challenges and informational needs are. 

c) Stakeholder interviews (Difficulty: High)

Interview select stakeholders in order to gain qualitative insights into your strengths as a brand and how content can simultaneously address the audience’s needs and meet business goals.

In case you’re not familiar with these research methods, I’ve outlined a high-level approach as follows:

  1. SWOT analysis:

The SWOT Analysis is a framework to gather as much intel as we can on your brand story. A SWOT should be conducted with a group of key stakeholders to help to inform the value proposition of your brand. Through your discussion of the brand, you’ll answer questions like: how is the brand being perceived? How do we want to be perceived? What are the opportunities to communicate our strengths? How can content tell this story? 

  1. Customer feedback and surveys:

Identify the key issues, conversations, and FAQs that matter to your audience by speaking directly with them. If you can’t do customer surveys due to resourcing constraints, you can also look at customer feedback and/or testimonials, including complaints (you need to be honest with what you are good at versus what you need improvement on).

If you have a dedicated customer success team, you can also gather customer stories from the team members who know them best. Work with this team to develop customer profiles, highlighting how they became customers, what they care about, and any recurring challenges. Based on these profiles, you can begin to build a picture of what your current audience looks like and what matters to them. 

Qualitative customer interviews can be over the phone, via video, face-to-face or via online survey. The purpose should be to understand attitudes towards your brand, and its content, key challenges and interests relating to the industry, and content consumption habits.

Here are 10 questions to help get you started:

  1. What made you decide to be a customer? What information did you consult before becoming a customer?
  2. What services/products do you have with [brand name]?
  3. What is your perception of [brand name]? 
  4. What does [brand name] do well for you? What would make you leave the company?
  5. Do you use, or read content on, any of [brand name]’s digital channels? If so, why?
  6. What [brand name] content do you find most interesting/relevant/valuable? Why?
  7. More broadly, what are the main challenges of your industry and job?
  8. What interests you when it comes to [insert category] or related topics?
  9. Where (if anywhere) do you currently get information about [insert category] or related topics? Do they answer your questions? If not, what is missing?
  10. What companies/brands do you regularly consume content from? Why?

c. Stakeholder interviews:

A good way of defining your expertise is by talking with subject-matter experts within your organization.

No one understands your customers and prospects more than the folks who talk to them every day, who work with them in the field, and who work with them on a one-on-one basis.

I would recommend conducting up to five 1-on-1 interviews of 20-30 minutes each, with at least one representative from sales and one representative from client services as part of the five stakeholders selected.

The objective of this exercise is to understand how the target audience is currently engaging with your brand as a business, along with highlighting the frequently asked questions. We speak to customer-facing members of the team to get their insight into customer challenges, how they work with customers, the buyer journey, brand perceptions, and how best to communicate with customers. 

Here are some sample prompts you might consider in your interviews:

  1. Why would a customer come to you instead of your competitor?
  2. What are the big challenges/pain points that customers are looking to overcome?
  3. What type of existing blog/website content are you leveraging in your communications with clients/prospects?
  4. If you could have a new piece of content, what would it be, and why?
  5. What is a common compliment about your company?
  6. What is a common complaint about your company? 
  7. What additional services do you offer beyond your products and services that make your customers successful?
  8. Describe the sales process, from start to finish.
  9. When you have lost a deal, what is the main reason?
  10. How do you describe the intangible benefits of working with your company?

Now that you’ve established your value proposition by looking inwards, it’s time to look outwards to what’s going on in the industry and the media consumption habits of your audience. We call this the “content zeitgeist.”

Part 2: The Content Zeitgeist (External Discovery)

Understanding the content zeitgeist relies on you to look outwards, towards your industry and the competitive landscape. Brands need to remember that the world their customers are operating in has now entered an intense period of change.

A reasonable assumption is that today’s clients are looking for reliable information that’s also timely. So there’s an element of ensuring that your ownable conversations are topical. Your conversation should always correlate back to a trend that says something larger about the audience’s profession. This means taking a broader view of what’s going to change and then telling a story that helps your audience get there. 

Your content zeitgeist statement should capture the following:

  1. Trends 
  2. Industry 
  3. Participants
  4. Coverage
  5. Opportunity

Here’s how it translates to a template:

The key trends impacting the [Target Industry] are [List Trends]. [Participants] offer [Coverage] but there is a clear opportunity to capture a share of conversation by focusing on [Opportunity]

Here’s a completed example of one for studioID:

The key trends impacting the content market industry are 1. Short-Termism 2. Hyper-Competition in Digital and 3. Access to first-party data. LinkedIn, IPA, and Warc offer thought leadership and opinions on long-term marketing for general marketing, but there is a clear opportunity to capture a share of conversation by focusing on the niche application of brand-to-demand marketing for content marketing purposes.

Here’s some key research questions to help guide your discovery:

  1. What are the macro trends impacting the industry?
  2. What are the micro trends impacting the industry?
  3. What is the single most important challenge facing the industry?
  4. What topics are being discussed at the moment? 
  5. What are some important topics that are NOT being discussed?
  6. Which brands/organizations are talking about these topics?
  7. How is your brand participating in these topics? And to what extent? 
  8. What are some of the solutions being discussed?
  9. What are some anticipated changes to your industry and how will this impact you? (negative or positively)
  10. What is the competition doing that might cause difficulties for you?

You can use one or a combination of the following research methods for your content zeitgeist:

a) Third-party research (Difficulty: Low)

Supplement your primary research with secondary research, including data and analysis from trusted institutions (e.g. Pew, Deloitte, McKinsey). This will help ensure your strategy is not created in a vacuum. 

b) Trending topics (Difficulty: Medium)

Identify how target audiences across key channels and publications are engaging with key topics related to your content program, leveraging insights and top-performing topics to inform the direction of your ownable conversations.

c) Content landscape analysis (Difficulty: High)

Review best-in-class brands that are leading key conversations in the industry. This review will identify gaps and opportunities for the creation of unique, engaging content, or consolidate opportunities for existing content.

In case you’re not familiar with these research methods, here’s a breakdown of each. 

  1. Third-party research

Market reports and industry data can help validate the assumptions we gather from stakeholder interviews and third-party tools. 

Take a look at industry publications and studies on key trends in your category and your customer’s category to find opportunities to add your expertise and commentary. 

As a general rule, I like to look at research that is no earlier than 1 year old (unless it’s a timeless statistic or universal truth), and it needs to stem from some kind of original research. We should always be wary of any bias, obvious or not, from research sources. 

Here’s a list of credible third-party publications we often consult: 

  • Pew
  • McKinsey
  • Deloitte
  • eMarketer
  • Nielsen
  • GfK
  • Kantar
  • CMO Council
  • CMI reports
  • LinkedIn B2B studies
  • Edelman
  • GWI
  • HBR
  • BDO (for finance)
  1. Trending topics

Trending topics can come from a variety of sources including social listening and analysis tools, like Buzzsumo (most shared content), and RivalIQ (most engaging content), and also from proprietary sources. Tools like SparkToro can give us directional insights on what our personas engage with when it comes to content, as well as the topics they care about. 

We are fortunate to have access to the Industry Dive newsroom readership data which is aggregated and anonymized from its 24 niche titles targeting decision-makers across industries that range from  Pharma to Construction, Technology to Financial Services, and Retail to Banking. We leverage our own readership data from our specialist Dive publications to identify trending topics and uncover patterns and themes, providing guidance on what topics and trends to pay attention to. 

For example, a quick search of HR Dive’s top 20 articles in the past quarter revealed consistent trends around the rapid evolution of the workplace, privacy concerns, and retaining talent.  

If you have access to a similar data source, this would be a great way to gain a competitive insight on trending topics and themes. You can also look to your own content marketing program analytics for clues as to what are the top themes/topics that could be expanded into an ownable conversation.

Here’s a template you can use to aggregate your trending topic research:

  • Top 10 Performing Content (By Engagement)
  • Top 10 Performing Content (By Pageviews)
  • Top 10 Most Popular Themes
  • What’s Trending Up, Level + Trending Down

Trending Up: What topics are emerging, or being discussed with increasing frequency across the industry?

Trending Level: What topics are table stakes? In other words, what conversations are always going to be of high importance, regardless of current events?

Trending Down: What topics have become less important over time? Outdated? Another way to consider this section is: what topic has every other brand covered to exhaustion?

  1. Content landscape analysis

Content landscape analysis is all about checking out the competition. What are they doing well? Where are they failing? And don’t forget to take a look at non-category players too. These are the players that are also vying for some share of voice and/or your audiences’ attention. These may be publishers or another brand in another category. 

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to be just best in the category —  your goal is to be best in class. 

Rather than doing a traditional competitor review (market share or category players), I look at the content quality in the category, which can come from anyone — publishers or other brands. I then short-list competitors based on qualitative (relevance scoring) and quantitative evaluation (SEMRush domain authority, traffic, and keyword coverage). 

Once you’ve determined your short-list of competitors and non-category players, you can use the following template to analyze each: 

Editorial considerations:

  • Maturity: [How sophisticated is their content marketing in terms of items like  lead nurturing,  CTAs, and providing content for each stage of the funnel?]
  • Overall Strengths:
  • Overall Weaknesses
  • Conversations: [What topics are they seeking to own?]
  • Targeting: [Who are they targeting? Job function? Industry?]
  • Cadence: [Do they have an always-on approach to publishing or is it more sporadic?]
  • Style: [What is the tone of voice? Is it distinct? Is it relevant to the channel and brand?] 

Social media considerations:

  • Cadence: [What is the frequency of their publishing?]
  • Targeting: [Who are they targeting?] 
  • Engagement: [What is the quality and volume of engagement?]
  • Optimization: [Is the content optimized for social?]
  • Style: [What is the tone of voice? Is it distinct? Is it relevant to the channel and brand?] 

Spotlight: 

  • Standout Content: Best-in-class content from this competitor (and description)

SEO

  • Top non-branded keywords they rank for:
  • Domain authority:
  • # of Backlinks:
  • Keyword competitors: [i.e. which domains do they overlap with the most for keyphrases?]
  • Gaps or content opportunities: [use tools like SEMRUSH to reveal what keywords haven’t been covered by the competitor]

Developing Insights: The ‘So-What’ of Research

Ownable conversations are the bridge between discovery and execution. But before you can arrive at yours, you need to summarize all the research you just gathered into a compelling, simple, and sometimes surprising statement. This is an insight. 

After establishing your value proposition and conducting external research, you’ll arrive at an insight that represents your “aha” moment around how your brand could start to fill the gaps in the conversation. It should reveal something about the industry you are researching and be backed by your observations. See the below example for studioID:

Observation: The average B2B sales cycle is six months, yet 77% of digital marketers try to prove ROI within the first month (LinkedIn).

Insight: The majority of marketers are confusing ROI with short-term KPIs.

Hypothesis: The industry’s obsession with short-term success is hindering long-term marketing growth and over-indexing in demand over brand strategies.

Why does this insight work?

  • It’s grounded in research.
  • It reveals something compelling about your target audience.
  • It’s simple and straightforward.
  • It creates an opportunity for your brand to lean on its strengths to solve a problem.

What this means for studioID content: Educate marketers on how to break out of the obsessive cycle of short-term ROI by integrating both brand and demand strategies in a united approach.

In this example, we’ve used data from a recent survey to build a “realization” around a marketer’s relationship with ROI. You can then go back and review your value proposition and consider how your brand could (or should) leverage this insight. 

By consolidating your research into insights, you are keeping your message clear and giving yourself a simple rationale on which to build your ownable conversations.

Your Ownable Conversations: The Final Output

Now that you’ve reached insights and put up your hypothesis, you’re ready to leverage it to develop your ownable conversations. To do so, use an anchoring statement that captures the hypothesis of your approach (also known as a positioning statement), which is an articulation of the change you want to create in the market and how that change will come from your brand with your chosen conversations. This can come from your insights research. This is then supported by descriptions of your ownable conversations: 

Here’s a simple template to help you organize:

[Conversation #1 Name]

  • Description of the Conversation 
  • Why [insert your brand] Should Own This Conversation
  • Relevant Topics, Suggest Formats, and & Sample Headlines

[Conversation #2 Name]

  • Description of the Conversation 
  • Why [insert your brand] Should Own This Conversation
  • Relevant Topics, Suggest Formats, and Sample Headlines

[Conversation #3 Name]

  • Description of the Conversation 
  • Why [insert your brand] Should Own This Conversation
  • Relevant Topics, Suggest Formats, and & Sample Headlines

Here’s an example that we created for studioID:

Anchoring Statement: 

What change needs to happen in the market: It would be great if we could shift the marketing conversation away from short-term results and inspire creative thinking at all stages of the marketing funnel.

How studioID will drive that change: Establish studioID as a category leader in content marketing by advocating for a new industry standard that unifies brand and demand strategies and drives long-term marketing growth for clients.

Conversation Name: 

Brand-to-Demand-Marketing 

Description of the Conversation:

Brand-to-demand marketing is an approach that balances both long- and short-term growth strategies to build the brand, earn trust, and deliver leads. This is achieved by connecting all the touchpoints along the audience’s knowledge journey with relevant and timely content.

Why studioID Should Own This Conversation:

We are one of the few content marketing studios that can deliver on the brand-to-demand vision due to our deep subject-matter expertise, niche audience targeting capabilities, and track record for driving long-term growth with enterprise brands.

Relevant Topics & Suggested Formats:

  • Definitive Guide to Brand-to-Demand Marketing [Gated Whitepaper | pictured first below]
  • Into the Funnel: How to Drive Long-Term Marketing Growth [Ungated Video Series | pictured second below]

  • Content Marketing Measurement, Demystified: How to Demonstrate ROI from Brand to Demand [Blog, Gated Resource | pictured third below]

measuring-brand-to-demand-success-kit.png

How Do You Know You’ve Selected the Right Conversations? 

Once you have your shortlist of ownable conversations, you can see how they stack up against this simple checklist:

  • ​​Does it address an audience problem or need?
  • Does it make sense for your brand to talk about this conversation?
  • Does it meet audience expectations?
  • Will it surprise your audience? Is it something they have seen before?
  • Do you have data to support your views?
  • Do you have a perspective on these topics?
  • Can you add unique value to the conversation?
  • Does this topic connect back to your value proposition?
  • Does this topic support your anchoring statement?
  • Is the content topical? Will it be relevant six months from now?
  • Can you build a community around this topic?

Key Takeaways

Regardless of whether you’re a relative newcomer to the space or a well-established brand, this ownable conversations framework will give you the best chances of winning in an over-served content market. If there’s anything to take away, it’s this:

  1. Create content that moves the conversation forward. 
  2. Cover the topics that matter most to your audiences. 
  3. Offer an opinion and a clear perspective.

Content is now table stakes. It’s now time to raise the bar.

 

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