Forbes and Deloitte have just published the findings of a survey of 300 global CEOs and other directors (the so-called ‘C-suite’), with some surprising findings about the kinds of business information they rely on.

The backdrop to the survey is, of course, a world where boards face enormous flux and uncertainty – commercially, economically and politically. A Forbes/KPMG study last year found 69% of directors were concerned about the number of critical business issues they face of which they have no prior experience.

Forbes’ latest research now probes the kind of information these top executives are seeking to cope with this fast-changing business environment, and how they like to get it.

One of the findings that most struck me is that top of their list is long-form written content:

  • 22% cite lengthy articles and reports as their preferred information source
  • 21% cite business books
  • only 4% name online videos and 2% slide decks
  • none of them turns to infographics

In terms of the information type they valuethe survey found:

  • general news media and business publications top the list, cited by 54%
  • … closely followed by information from consulting firms (48%) and from management journals (47%)

As for information format:

  • digital forms are unsurprisingly important, with 39% of executives reading general news online vs 32% offline, and a similar picture for trade publications
  • but 37% prefer to read management journals offline vs 26% online
  • and most prefer to read long reports in printed form: 84% are likely to do so in hard copy vs 75% on a PC screen, 70% on a tablet and 59% on a phone:



Implications for your marketing

So what does all this tell us about how to communicate and market to CEOs and other director-level audiences?

Firstly, it suggests traditional media are clearly still hugely influential, as long as the outlets are right.

Secondly, we clearly need to consider a wide range of devices and formats. Digital forms are vital of course. But for longer pieces, printed material is far from dead.

Thirdly, the study suggests we mustn’t neglect lengthy pieces of written material when it comes to this audience.

This makes some sense on one hand: directors would naturally want the most credible, well-reasoned and backed up information on which to base important decisions.

But it flies in the face of the assumption we tend to make that we’re all so busy and overwhelmed with information these days – senior executives in particular – that we’ll only consume information in small, bite-sized chunks.

And it’s somewhat at odds with the research into B2B buyers which I recently wrote about here, although that didn’t focus in on directors.

Internet psychologist Graham Jones suggests this finding is all about risk avoidance. Risk weighs heavily on the minds of board directors, and lengthy information gives them the comfort they’re doing their homework and making well-informed decisions.

This might well be right – and I wonder if this is often driven by a (sometimes irrational) gut feeling that the longer the content, the more credible and informative it must be.

A while back I had a client who said he really liked the concise, 20-page project report I’d written, but he was concerned his colleagues might feel it was too short given the size of the project.

I asked him if he thought I’d missed any pertinent information; he said he didn’t. I asked if he felt I should elaborate on any points; he said he didn’t.

In the end, we printed it on thicker paper.


You can download the Forbes/Deloitte research findings here.