‘Thought leadership’ is becoming a subject of increasing popularity in business-to-business sales and marketing campaigns, as tough economic conditions drive increased competition for every piece of business. Organisations are now under pressure to differentiate themselves as more than ‘just a supplier’ and contribute opinions and insight on the issues in their chosen market.
However, organisations cannot embark on a thought leadership campaign without having properly considered what the reasons are for doing so or without having a clear method for building a steady flow of relevant content. Ashley Carr, managing director of Neo PR, tells us more.
So, what is thought leadership?
Thought leadership is taking a leadership stance on the market, talking to the market about the market – it’s about positioning your business as having a view on the issues that affect the market, with an underlying message pointing to the solution that you can provide as part of your business to solve these issues. The best thought leadership comes from opinion leaders; people, who have entered the market, are in the market and are leading the market, using their entrepreneurial passion to creatively change the industry.
It takes the form of thoughts and ideas; valuable nuggets of captivating opinion that can be pushed out into the market in whatever form necessary, from a 140 character ‘tweet’ to an 800 word magazine article.
Thought leadership is not to be confused with market leadership; customer win stories, product and service descriptions – this type of marketing collateral has its importance, but places too much emphasis on what you do. Thought leadership is about why you do it.
Creating your thought leadership campaign
Performing thought teadership, and doing it well, can pose a challenge. It is all too easy to jump on the thought leadership bandwagon on the premise that it is something your business should be doing. However, people will see through any thinly veiled attempt to force an opinion that has no substance. This can be avoided if businesses implement an effective, foolproof method for managing their thought leadership campaign:
1. Find your thought leader
You must have access to a person who has opinions that the industry wants to hear. Thought leadership needs to be ‘talking to the market, about the market’. It needs to be informative, educational, and market changing. And it needs to be with substance. Brands shouldn’t confuse trend analysis or market statistics with thought leadership; they are fundamentally different things.
2. Build a library of material
A brand can’t embark on a campaign of thought leadership, without treating it as they would any other marketing campaign. If you’ve only loaded one bullet into the barrel when you’ve got to fire six, your campaign will fail. You’ve got to be building ideas and fleshing them out for a campaign in advance so that you don’t run dry of material half way through.
3. Slice ‘n’ Dice
You need the ability to rework your thought leadership material so that it appeals to as many different audiences as possible. One piece of thought leadership can produce many things: a complete opinion article; ‘sound bites’ can be distilled and used to comment on relevant topics in the industry; and plenty of material for blogs and social media platforms. Unfortunately, as is well documented, true thought leaders and entrepreneurs may not always be the best communicators and may tend to be quite introverted. Brands may therefore need an intermediary between the thought leader and the pipeline who can manage the generation of content (teasing out the ideas and turning them into compelling content), and manage the distribution of that content into the various channels.
4. Be proactive
So now you have your thought leadership, you need to get it noticed. Proactively look on an intra-day basis for where those pieces could be placed; industry publications, feature comments, letters to the editor, opinion articles, the brand’s own marketing material, online exposure through blogs and social media - the options are many if you know where to look.
5. Follow up and circle back
Once you have offered out your thought leadership, continue to monitor the media for coverage. If the medium likes your material enough to use it, chances are they’ll be interested to see more. Establish good relations with social and media contacts; they want creditable, educational and informative material for their audiences and that’s what your thought leadership will be providing. Then, when you are happy with your coverage, it’s time to circle back to the start.
Integration and social marketing
A strong opinion from a market leader can stand alone and still have enough of a presence to make an impact in the market. However, integrating your opinions into your marketing speak, and into your market leadership, will maximise the potential of your thought leadership campaign and bring greater results than if it were to simply run alongside your existing marketing strategy. You want to convey the message that you have an informed view on the market that you are selling to – customers will resonate with your view and will be inclined toward your product because they believe your position within that market. Your new customers in turn can be included in your customer stories – your market leadership.
In addition, utilising the available social networking platforms and incorporating your thought leadership into a social media marketing campaign can be a valuable way of getting the ‘voice’ of your business to be heard regularly, and through multiple channels. But, irrespective of whether your thought leadership manifests in the form of a short tweet, a moderate status update, or a lengthy LinkedIn discussion, the bottom line will always be that you need enough material to maintain the momentum of your campaign.
In a social networking landscape, in particular, regular content is essential as people will only ever look at the last tweet, the last update, the last news feed. You need to ‘talk to the market’ every day, and providing enough material to meet that demand means that you must be disciplined about the process of generating thought leadership, as well as just the content.
In conclusion, it’s very easy for someone to have one great idea for single thought leadership piece, but it’s the continuous generation of thought-provoking, opinion-led content that dictates the success of a thought leadership campaign and, ultimately, raises a brand’s profile within the market.