If you’re a marketer responsible for executing an expertise-based positioning strategy, you’ll know how important it is to collaborate with the subject matter experts in your business to create expertise-based content. But how exactly do you go about doing that?
Before you start, you might want to take a look at the first two articles in our series on communicating expertise:
Now you’re all caught up, it’s time to focus on the particular challenges you’re likely to face as you go about creating expertise-based content to support your brand position.
While you may be well versed in your industry – even a specialist – you’re not the subject matter expert. The person or people with the deepest insights might be the founder or CEO, the CTO or Chief Science Officer, the product team or the consultants out in the field.
As we mentioned in the second article, content produced by marketers in isolation from subject matter experts is likely to feel insubstantial, no different from that created by businesses with no expertise full stop. To set your content apart and make your brand’s reputation shine, you’re going to need to work with your experts.
Easier said than done. Here are some of the challenges that you’re likely to face, along with solutions you can use to ensure you get the most out of them.
Challenge 01: Your subject matter experts aren’t marketers
Every content marketer dreams of finding a subject matter expert who is also a brilliant content creator. Few realise that dream. It’s rare that a leading data scientist or pioneering microbiologist or highly qualified leadership consultant is also a talented and experienced marketer.
Chances are, if left to their own devices, your subject matter experts will pitch their writing at the wrong level for your audience. They will almost certainly use the wrong tone of voice – especially if they come from an academic background. And it probably won’t be strategically informed.
This is where you bring together their expertise and yours. Even if you’re lucky and your experts are fairly decent writers, you’ll still need to create the content strategy, set the topic areas, write decent briefs, make sure there are thorough brand voice guidelines available, and probably do a lot of editing.
But that may not be enough. If your experts aren’t likely to be able to craft great content even with guidance, you’ll need to think of them as gold mines. Your job is to dig until you find a rich seam and then extract as much gold as possible and use it to craft the content yourself.
Challenge 02: Your experts are very busy people
Even if you’ve landed yourself an expert who is adept at creating content, there’s a good chance they’ll be too busy to put pen to paper. At least not with the frequency and consistency you need to support a decent content strategy.
It could also be that they simply aren’t all that interested, especially if they can’t see the benefit of creating expert content. Which means even if they say yes, they’ll find some reason why they couldn’t deliver this month – sorry, too much going on with the latest sprint or patent application or fundraising round.
Let’s address the latter issue first. If your expert isn’t convinced that content is important, you’re going to need to sell the benefits and make your case. Remember, they’re not the marketing expert, you are – it might be obvious to you that expertise-based content can have a significant impact on the business but not to them. Find out what it is they care most about – whether it’s generating leads or getting speaking engagements – and appeal to that.
Then, once they’re convinced, make it easy for them. Rather than bugging them every week, arrange a longer session once a month or even once a quarter to get the information you need for a content series.
And make sure that you do your research so that rather than asking them the basic questions – the stuff you could find out with a bit of research – you can ask them for those insights that only they as experts can bring: the anecdotes, the opinions, the nuance.
Challenge 03: They just have too much expertise and knowledge
Experts, by their very nature, hold a lot of information in their heads. They may be good at accessing that information, but they’re probably less adept at sifting through it and working out which bits are relevant to the given piece of content you’re creating. Being passionately interested in their subjects, they may well go into far too much detail.
Imagine that information is a tangle of yarn. In that state, it isn’t inherently useful unless you’re a passionate collector of yarn. In order for it to be useful, it needs to be untangled, and the right strands knitted together according to a pattern to form that jumper, or a scarf or a hat. Ditto information.
As a marketer responsible for creating content based around subject matter expertise, you need to get good at extracting the right information from your experts – the untangling and selecting process – as well as using it to create the content itself. So you’ll need to learn to ask the right questions and guide the conversation so it stays on the right track, pushing back when your expert veers off track.
It might also be helpful to create a brief for your experts to consider in advance so they feel prepared. This is especially important if your expert is prone to rambling or if they’re the kind of person who likes to ponder a question for a few minutes – or hours – before giving their answer.
You’ll know – or get to know – your own experts and what you need to do to get the best out of them.
Challenge 04: They don’t know how expert they are
If challenge 03 is about your expert sharing too much detail, this one is the opposite. Experts often sit at the last of the four stages of competence – unconscious competence. That’s when you’re so good at something, or so knowledgeable about something, that you don’t realise how much others don’t know.
This can lead to two different problems. In the context of creating content, your expert may not drill down into a subject in enough detail because they assume you – or your brand’s audience – understand their jumping in point. Or they might completely miss the most interesting and relevant points full stop because again, to them it’s ordinary even though you know that your audience would be fascinated.
Again, your job here is to help your experts to a) identify what’s interesting to their audience and b) pitch it at the right level.
In our briefing sessions at RH&Co we often help experts to come up with analogies to make whatever it is they’re talking about more understandable to the brand’s audience. As an example, we work with a company that’s in embedded finance and one of their experts was talking about the difficulty of performing KYC (Know Your Customer) checks to protect against financial crime. The analogy we helped them come up with was:
“It’s the equivalent of taking a utility bill to the bank to prove identification. Except in this case, the bills aren’t yours and you might not know how to find the people who have them.”
You can see how that instantly makes the subject a lot more tangible and relatable.
Challenge 05: They just don’t respect your position
This one might sound a little harsh but we’ve heard it from enough marketers to know that it’s true, even if it’s not meant as badly as it sounds when you write it down in black and white. It’s just so much easier to cancel an internal meeting than an external one, or push team based tasks down the to-do list because a request related to a client project feels more urgent.
In the same way that kids will often ignore their parents but listen as soon as a visitor has something to say, we’ve found that experts usually pay better attention to us as outsiders than they do to their own people.
Another benefit of being an outsider is that we can push back without fear of internal politics. We’ve often stayed on a briefing call with a marketer after the subject matter expert has left and heard them marvel at how much we’ve managed to extract. They may have been asking the same questions for weeks and not getting anywhere. It’s annoying but it’s just the way it is with some experts.
A bonus challenge and solution
If you’re considering bringing in support to help you extract the right information from your subject matter experts and use it to create genuinely useful, authority-building content, you may find yourselves facing one final hurdle.
The problem with some subject matter experts is that they don’t believe anyone else is capable of representing their knowledge faithfully. That’s why we wrote “How can you blog for my business if you’re not an expert in my subject?” Follow the link for a post that’s designed precisely to help you make your case without treading on any political landmines.
Journalist turned copywriter Rin Hamburgh (formerly Rin Simpson) is the founder of RH&Co, a Bristol-based strategic brand copywriting agency working with expert-led businesses across the South West, UK and Europe.