Thought leadership establishes you or your company as an expert and authority on a particular subject. The goal of thought leadership marketing is to establish trust with prospective buyers and to provide an entry point for engagement by branding as an expert. Thought leadership is a fundamental element in any successful marketing program. Let's take a closer look.
Why do you need a thought leadership program?
Business buyers don’t buy your product or service; they buy into your perspective and approach to solving their pain points. Thought leadership shapes the perception of you, your company, and its offerings. 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 companies that bring forth new ideas, are visionary, and that they trust.
To build thought leadership, you need to be visible and forward-thinking. Buyers want to know where their industries are headed, what will influence industry dynamics, and how they can take advantage of these changes. By offering insight that is not readily available into controversial topics or emerging topics in their industry, you become the “go-to” resource on that topic.
Establish your goals
The first thing you need to do is have clarity on the goal of your program. Your goal may be to drive market share, or it could be more specific such as securing the next round of financing, selling the company, garnering the attention of the big players (David vs. Goliath), or bringing the company public.
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 directly align to the goal is just wasted resources.
Once you understand the goal of your program, you need to understand who 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. 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. These 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, you were years behind your 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. Once the integration was completed, the company 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. The founders of Red Javelin developed a strategy to convince the power brokers, who happened to be industry analysts, to change the way they were counting market share. Through content and relentless education, the company was successful in its efforts and achieved the number one market share in the next report. The company was sold for 15X its valuation.
- 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.
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.
These tactics include:
- Vision – B2B buyers want to understand what trends are shaping the future of their industry, They want to understand what will happen in 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 tech industry. 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 your vision will evolve in the way you present it. Validation can take the form of intersecting trends, emerging technology, economic trends, hard data, industry partnerships, 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 in established media outlets give you the opportunity to reach a broader audience with your vision.
- 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.
- Blogs – Blogs are a great platform to talk about your views. It enables you to expand on your thoughts in more depth than with a third party. Sharing your posts on social media expands your reach.
- Speaking – Start small but work your way up so that you are speaking to larger audiences at industry events.
- Social media - Share your ideas on social media. It is one of the quickest ways to gain reach. 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 can you expect for results?
If your story is not differentiated, or if your story is too far-fetched, chances are your progress will be slow.
The following KPIs are indicators that your program is working. You can expect to see better brand visibility measured by:
- more website visitors
- increased 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 the story, identify the appropriate influencers/power brokers, and map out targeted publications. We ensure that the program's foundation 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 in time on site.
At twelve months, by consistently publishing content in the form of blog posts and downloadable thought leadership assets such as ebooks, we expect to see our clients fill their top-of-funnel pipeline, secure press mentions regularly, 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, thought 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.