Thought leadership is a method of marketing, which establishes you or your company as an expert and authority on a particular subject. The goal of thought leadership marketing is not to generate sales-ready leads, but to provide an entry point for engagement by branding as an expert.Thought leadership is a key element in any marketing strategy.
Business buyers just don’t buy your product or service; they buy into your perspective and approach to solving their problems. Thought leadership shapes perception of you, your company, and its products. By having a well-executed thought leadership strategy, you can frame your buyer’s thinking, spark conversations and lead people down the decision-making path.
B2B buyers seek out those that bring forth new ideas, are visionary, and that they trust.
To build thought leadership you need to be visible and forward thinking. By offering insight that is not readily available into topics that are controversial or emerging in your industry so that you become the “go to” person on that topic.
Understanding Your Goals and the Power Broker
The first thing you need to do is have clarity on the goal of your program. Your goal for your program may be simply to be a thought leader in your industry and drive market share or it could be more specific. It could be to secure the next round of financing, sell the company, get the attention of the big players (David vs. Goliath) or to go public. It could be to secure your personal or company’s position for the longer term in your industry.
Without a stated goal, your program is likely to fail. Developing content for content sake, without a specific target audience, paired with tactics that don’t align to the goal is just wasted resources.
It is only once you understand the goal of your program that you can begin to find out who you need to influence. Just as you need to understand your buyer’s journey, you need to understand who is influential in your industry.
It is not always apparent who these influencers are. In the B2B world, chances are they are not on social media or readily visible to the marketing team. They may be the CTOs of a particular set of companies, the buyers of consumer electronics retailers, an industry analyst that is already considered an expert, or the dealmakers that spend their time negotiating in the background. They are the influencers, the true power brokers.
Here are a few examples:
- In the telecommunications industry, there was an invite-only lab that was quietly integrating key technologies for the next best thing. At the time, if your product was on the integration schedule, then you were well positioned for the beginning of the next new thing. If not, it put you years behind the competition. A small start-up started a thought leadership program with the goal of garnering interest from the lab and the business development reps from the large networking firms participating in the lab.. Using content, blogging, and social media, this start-up was eventually invited into the lab to integrate its technology and the start-up was sold to the company creating the ecosystem. Check out the case study.
- In the networking hardware business, the goal of a thought leadership program was to gain the number one market share position in a specific category. Lisa and Dana - the founders of Red Javelin - developed a strategy to convince the power brokers, market analysts, to change the way they were counting market share. Through content an ongoing education, the company was successful and to the surprise of the industry, achieved the number one market share in the next report. The company was sold for 15X its valuation.
- In the space industry, NASA just introduced a number of partnerships to advance Moon and Mars technology. If your in the space industry and your company wasn’t named in that announcement, the goal of your thought leadership program may be to garner the attention of those named players so that you can start a relationship and do business with them.
- In the early days of TripAdvisor, before they were a household name, the power broker in the travel industry was the Travel Editor at the Sunday New York Times. Once the NYT featured TripAdvisor, web traffic spiked 600% and TripAdvisor went on to become a household name. Read the case study.
Which tactics work?
We at Red Javelin believe that companies that rise to leadership positions excel at consistently communicating vision and validation across all channels. The same is true for thought leaders.
These tactics include:
No single tactic will drive industry conversation. An ongoing and integrated program that consists of many integrated tactics that educate prospects, customers, and industry influencers is required.
- Vision – People want to understand what you think is going to happen in the future. Business leaders want to understand what is going to happen 18 months, 3 years, 5 years and 10 years from now. Your vision needs to encompass each of these milestone points. This is particularly true in the technology arena. How is your technology going to change the way we work, live, and play? How quickly will the market adopt your vision and how will it adopt it?
- Story backed by data – For business stories to be believable, you need to offer some type of validation on why you think your vision will evolve in the way you present it. Validation can take the form of intersecting trends, emerging technology, economic trends, hard data, or customer anecdotes,
- Content – Content is at the core of any tactical thought leadership program. The type of content that you develop will depend on your audience and your influencers.
- Guest Blog posts/Bylined articles – This is essential to any thought leadership program. Guest posts and bylined articles give you a chance to reach a broader audience with your vision and message.
- Influencer/Media relations – Being featured or quoted in an industry publication or national news outlet accelerates your credibility. It means that a third party has vetted your story and has decided to write about it.
- Blogging – Blogging is a great platform to talk about your views. It gives you the ability to expand on your thoughts in more depth than with a third party.
- Speaking – Start small but work your way up so that you are speaking to larger audiences at industry events. In person thought leadership accelerates credibility.
- Social media - Share your ideas on social media. It is one of the quickest ways to gain exposure. Make sure you are using hashtags – many journalists use Twitter to find experts for commentary.
- Awards – Winning awards is critical in a thought leadership program. It validates your vision and story – everyone wants to work with a winner.
What Should You Expect for Results?
If your story and vision is not differentiated, chances are your progress will be slow. And it can't be too far fetched, it needs to be rooted in some type of reality with concrete validation points.
Results are not guaranteed.
With a thought leadership program, you can expect to see better brand visibility measured by:
- more website visitors
- longer time spent on your site
- more downloads for top-of-funnel content, more social engagement
- consistent top-of-funnel conversions
- more backlinks from guest posts and bylined articles
During the first three months of a program, we help our clients hone in on their goals, develop their story and identify the appropriate influencers/power brokers and map out the publications that may have interest. We ensure that the foundation of the program is solid and that the editorial calendar is ready to go. We are usually able to place the first one or two guest posts/bylined articles and begin pitching for speaking opportunities, which are typically 6-9 months out.
After six months, our clients will see a steady stream of blog content and social sharing. They can also expect to see some more of their guest content published in targeted outlets. Clients typically see an increase in website visitors as well as an increase on time on site.
At twelve months, by consistently publishing content in the form of blog posts as well as downloadable thought leadership assets such as ebooks, we expect to see our clients fill their top-of-funnel pipeline, secure press mentions on a regular basis, and begin winning awards.
Is the Investment Worth it?
Real thought leadership can be as valuable to a brand as the products or services it sells. Buyers are fundamentally risk-adverse and B2B buyers making large or strategic purchases are afraid of making a wrong decision. Making the wrong decision can be disastrous to their careers.
If done well, though leadership builds trust, mitigating the inherent risk in making big purchase decisions. It helps your buyers be more successful. And that is what it is all about. Helping your buyers be successful.
Should You DIY?
Here's the thing with developing a thought leadership program in-house. If you have a strong leader, you are all drinking the same Kool Aid. It doesn't mean that it is wrong, it just means that your perspective may not be as objective as an outsider or someone that isn't directly associated with the company.
The best programs are developed and vetted with an objective point-of-view.