I’ve presented several times on how to make thought leadership content stand out, and step one is always to be empathetic. As outlined in a previous blog, showcasing that you really understand your customers and what they’re going through is incredibly important to earning both their trust and their attention.

The first question that participants (and many of my clients) ask is usually the same: “How do I avoid coming across as pandering?” The short answer: Make it helpful.

Empathetic content is helpful without being salesy; it puts the buyer — not your product — at the heart of the story. In the tumult of 2020, how many times did you encounter the refrain, “We’re here for you,” without feeling like the company actually understood what you, the buyer, needed? To create effective empathetic content, you need to know your audience, give your buyers the right content at the right time, and provide something inherently useful. Here are three tips to get started.

1) Pick An Audience

Too often, marketers want every piece of content to appeal broadly to the maximum potential audience, including a wide range of personas. More bang for your buck, right?

The problem is that those different personas have different responsibilities, different pain points, and different needs. By keeping the audience broad, you have to keep the message broad — decreasing the likelihood that you will offer something that resonates on a personal level. Yet marketers continue to push this one-size-fits-all approach. The result? Buyers are increasingly fed up, reporting that vendors still give them too much material — and most of it is useless.

Choose a persona and focus on what you can offer them specifically (big ideas and frameworks — not products!) to help them do their jobs better. If you have impactful pillar content that you want all of your audiences to ultimately land on, think about starting that journey with targeted content derivatives that contextualize the larger messages for each of your key audiences.

2) Pick A Goal

Good thought leadership content can be the hook to spark buyer interest. But you aren’t going to sell a product with a piece of thought leadership. Likely, the reader’s engagement with that content is one of many touchpoints along the buyer journey. As a marketer, it’s your job to help (not force) buyers through that journey.

Based on your target persona (or buying group) and messaging intent, choose what content and tactics to include across the three phases and decision gates of the Forrester B2B Buying Decision Process Framework. In the Education phase, help the buyer loosen the status quo and commit to making a change. In the Solution phase, support the buyer as they explore possible solutions and ultimately commit to a solution. In the Selection phase, provide the buyer with content to justify the decision and ultimately make the selection.

Each piece of content should address the unique knowledge requirements at each step of the journey. By defining and committing to the specific goal for a piece of content, you can go into greater depth in a specific area and are more likely to produce something of value.

3) Forget About Your Product

Now that you know who you’re talking to and where they may be in their buyer journey, what is the piece of knowledge that you (or someone at your company) can deliver to improve their success? If it’s true thought leadership, it isn’t about your product capabilities.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of the lines of specific solution capabilities, particularly for earlier-stage content. Think about the daily workflows of your audience and how you might help improve them. Consider working with third-party firms to elevate credibility. Offer objective data and insights into customers’ issues. Then be comfortable letting go. Once you’ve earned their trust, the product conversation will happen later.


To learn more about creating empathetic content that works, join us at Forrester’s B2B Summit North America next week. I’ll be doing a couple of interactive networking sessions with VP and Principal Consultant John Grozier called “Creating Empathetic Content That Works,” in which we’ll talk about these concepts in more detail.

For a complete list of content-related sessions, check out the content leader view of the full conference agenda. And to learn more about how Forrester can help you create and activate powerful thought leadership content, contact your rep.