28 Dec 2009
I have never come across a thought leader who didn’t share his or her thoughts the two just don’t go hand in hand.
However, how you take your thought leadership position to market is critical to the success of your campaign and the degree to which you are viewed as a thought leader.
Once you have a thought leadership position worked out, there are six critical actions needed to help you or your brand achieve thought leadership status:
- Make it a strategic business imperative
- Know your audience
- Share openly
- Cultivate the media
- Write and speak about your campaign
- Pump up your content online
In this post I am going to speak about the first and will cover the others in subsequent posts.
This is not a box-ticking exercise – you don’t have to complete all of these to drive your thought leadership position. You will, however, need the first two and preferably you will need to carry out one or two of the others well to help get your point of view out there.
Action 1: Make it a strategic business or brand imperative
By making your thought leadership campaign a strategic business imperative it will more easily slot into the short-, medium- or long-term business objectives of the company. Given this, and having identified a thought leadership champion, makes it much easier to position this as a strategic business imperative because you have already won senior management support. It is even better if the thought leadership campaign/idea is owned by the CEO or managing director.
Ownership at the top ensures commitment at a senior level, board buy-in and an easier ‘sell’ to the various departments, staff, third party endorsers and suppliers who may be involved in the campaign.
It also ensures commitment at a senior level and alignment of other business activities to the thought leadership campaign.
Thought leadership needs senior support
Without senior management commitment you run the risk of the organization’s skeptics squeezing the life out of the thought leadership effort.
At times things can go awry or the campaign is not delivering as fast or as well as it should. At this point the avoidance or blame game begins and so starts the death spiral for the campaign…that is unless the CEO or senior management sees the thought leadership campaign as integral to the organization’s strategy and is still prepared to back it as a result.
If a leader makes success non-negotiable it is amazing how much impetus it can give the campaign.
Make no mistake, you will still need to make sure that you have a well thought out and presented plan. This should cover the thought leadership idea in detail but also, importantly, how you intend to roll it out.
As part of this you should identify clear objectives, your rationale for doing this and measurable outcomes. The more measurable your outcomes the more likely you are to gain credibility for the campaign across the senior management ranks and for future funding.
14 Dec 2009
Gap analysis has been around for decades. Simply put it is the expectation of a brand’s current level of performance and where it wants to be in the future. The difference between the two is the gap analysis.
In Tiger Woods’ case the gap has become a chasm. However, it also begs the question as to whether his personal brand was built into something it was not. Testimony to this is the website www.tigerisgod.com which was taken down a few weeks ago.
What has this got to do with thought leadership?
Put it this way. If you are planning on using your thought leadership campaign to build you or your brand into something you are not you run the risk creating a massive perceptual gap problem – one which could be damaging to your brand.
Very few consumers stick with brands that overpromise and under-deliver. So be wary of the PR campaign or thought leadership campaign that sets out to build you into something you are not.
Align your campaigns to your values
I am a firm believer in aligning, in particular your thought leadership but also other campaigns like your PR and CSR campaigns to your company values.
These values should be the compass by which to steer your profile building efforts. But how often do you hear an advertising agency or PR company asking for a company’s values when designing a campaign?
True thought leadership campaigns need to be credible internally and across multiple external stakeholders. The more your thought leadership campaign relates closely to the issues, trends or hot topics across your sector and the more it addresses the concerns of your clients or customers, the more authentic it will be.
Today more than ever, consumers are looking for authenticity in the brands they choose. If you can achieve this there is far less chance that your campaign will create a gap between the perception of what you stand for and the reality.
A classic Australian example was a company called Firepower, a company which created enormous media hype around the promise of a fuel pill that would save motorists and transport companies a lot of money on their fuel consumption. It has gone down as one of the biggest corporate scams this country has seen – a brand promise that missed the mark by a country mile leaving a litany of court cases and red faces and designated the brand to the bottom of the corporate scrapheap.
I would love to hear from you if you have examples of similar companies or campaigns that have overpromised and under-delivered.
7 Dec 2009
Being a thought leader in your sector means that you will fail at some point.
Why? Because you can never satisfy everyone, not everybody will see you as a thought leader and you will always have your detractors. In fact some people and organisations may attack your position outright. That’s the price of being a leader.
Thought leaders aren’t shy, retiring types.
The very nature of thought leadership requires that you put yourself out there. If you want to be seen to be leading or framing the conversations around a topic, if you want people to sit up and take note and think differently about the way they do things, if you want to highlight issues or trends that we have not yet experienced you are opening yourself for criticism at some point with some audience.
Does that mean you have failed as a thought leader? Not at all.
Throughout history some of the greatest thought leaders have been criticised by the media, their competitors, government and other detractors.
Look at some of the great innovators and inventors of our time. Over the centuries they too have been wrong. Consider how many times some inventions or ideas failed before they came to fruition or before they were generally accepted.
Thought leaders require vision, courage and perseverance
The fact of the matter is that the very nature of leadership whether it be thought leadership, innovation or leadership per se requires three key characteristics – vision, courage and perseverance.
It is also precisely why so many large corporations don’t embark on thought leadership campaigns. True thought leadership often falls into the too hard box making it very easy for its detractors in the organisation to explore what could go wrong, how much IP they are going to have to give away and what the immediate return on investment might be.
It is far easier for the marketing department to stick with the tried and tested above the line campaign or PR campaign that disseminates media releases and marketing collateral. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this stuff is not important to the marketing success of the company, indeed we could all name many a campaign which stands out and that really hit the mark.
However, more and more today the standard marketing and PR campaigns are probably not going to deliver your brand the cut through you need to stand out from the crowd.
If your thought leadership campaign isn’t working what do you do?
If you have a thought leadership campaign currently running and it’s not hitting the mark try some of these tips:
- Get closer to your customers, clients or whoever it is aimed at. Ask them what they like about it, what is most useful, what they don’t like and how it could be improved to truly deliver something of value to them. Far from failure, this should be viewed as a great opportunity to engage with your audience in a really authentic manner, a manner that shows you care
- As a matter of course, like any good marketing campaign does, your thought leadership campaign should be cross checked to make sure it is delivering on your initial objectives. Go back and re-evaluate these and measure them against what it is currently delivering
- Follow in the footsteps of the great inventors and thought leaders of our time. Don’t give up. Tweak your campaign, use the interactions and feedback from your market to adjust your campaign and you will end up with a far stronger thought leadership property than you initially envisioned.
Fear of failure will leave you lagging
If you aren’t prepared to give your thought leadership campaign a go because of the fear of failure you can be sure that you will remain in the marketing trenches doing what everyone else is doing.
I’d love to hear from thought leaders out there who have failed and who have come back better for it with a more robust campaign.
3 Dec 2009
I don’t think I’ve seen anybody encapsulate the essence of true thought leadership the way Chris Brogan has in his latest blog post.
I have quoted it here in part but I highly recommend you visit his blog to see the rest. Simply put he epitomises the mentality a thought leader should have at the purest level. No wonder he is a thought leader in his space. Go Chris!
”Sometimes, I’m asked why I give away all of my ‘how I do it’ information. I’m asked whether this gives others the ability to compete directly with me. Frankly, I don’t worry about competition. I worry that there aren’t enough people executing effectively for companies. I’ve got plenty of work to do as it is. New Marketing Labs picks up plenty of clients and has even when I give away all my major points and ideas.
“I feed the system because I believe you can take something I’ve started, run with it, and advance the whole space. I give you all that I can because I know that you’ve got your own ideas, and maybe components of mine will help you.
“Oh, and the more I share, the more business comes my way. It’s a built in reciprocal loop. ” Chris Brogan
Throughout my postings on thought leadership you will notice I talk often about having an abundance mentality. Many people struggle with this when it comes to thought leadership, however, as Chris so rightly points out ‘the more I share, the more business comes my way..”.
That ladies and gentlemen is the Eureka moment of thought leadership. That is what it is all about.
Thank you Chris.
20 Nov 2009
If I asked you to think of three thought leaders, who springs to mind? For me it is inevitably a handful of individuals as opposed to brands or companies. Even if I think of the question with my corporate hat on I come up with the individual’s names who represent those companies – Richard Branson, Mohammed Yunus, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Anita Roddick, etc.
Why do companies battle and individuals flourish when it comes to thought leadership?
Perhaps the answer lies in research conducted by Bliss PR in June this year www.blisspr.com/. The study entitled Social Media Landscape for Consulting Firms analysed 46 management consulting firms and found that not only did most of them make it challenging for clients and prospects to identify and directly engage their thought leaders via social media but most didn’t actively champion their thought leaders.
Furthermore the study found that 30% of them failed to clearly identify any thought leaders at all.
I believe this issue is the result of three corporate afflictions and an extra cultural dimension peculiar to the Australian market:
1. Unless you are the founder (Branson, Gates, Yunus, Buffett and Roddick) companies are loathe to invest time and effort in a thought leader champion because of the risks i.e. he or she leaves to set up on their own, they become a target for the competitors, etc
2. Companies are also wary of the making the individual bigger than the brand
3. Unless it is the CEO or managing director politics means it could be corporate suicide to develop a higher media profile than them
4. Finally, and this is the one peculiar only to the Australian market, you have to deal with the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Simply put this means that people are loathe to develop too large a profile for fear of being cut down to size by those around you – hey every culture has its peculiarities.
On the flip side individuals are more inclined to become thought leaders for the following reasons:
1. They are often hungrier than the large corporations
2. They keenly understand the need to differentiate themselves from their competitors
3. Many of them are already experts in some area of their field
4. They are more open to engaging with and sharing insights and information with their audiences
5. They are personally close to their customers or consumers – no customer care department here, they are the customer care department
6. They are normally passionate about what they do
7. They are prepared to take risks
8. They are courageous – after all they did start their own business.
Big business continues to grapple with how they can own a space and connect with their audiences in an authentic way. A way in which they truly share information and insights with their customers over and above the typical product or service pushes on which most campaigns predictably focus.
I take my hat off to those brave companies who have taken the plunge – they have and are still reaping the rewards. I say brave because someone has to make the decision to break the mould. Someone has stand up and say we are going to do things differently around here. It takes courage to do that.
Finally, I leave you with this thought. The McKinsey Quarterly Report of June 2009 http://tiny.cc/p21vQ entitled Building corporate reputations says that that organisations will need to enhance their listening skills and reinvigorate their understanding of and relationships with critical stakeholders and go beyond traditional PR to successfully activate a network of supporters.
It is precisely for this reason that companies need to focus their efforts on powerful, long-term, values-led thought leadership campaigns.
12 Nov 2009
There are two types of thought leadership and I’m not sure that the one even deserves the description.
The first is what I term quick-fix or short-term thought leadership and is often confused with true thought leadership. This is the great creative idea or innovation that is relevant only to one campaign or product and it here today gone tomorrow.
It is an idea that has no longevity beyond that particular campaign and while it may set your brand apart from the others for a moment in time it doesn’t necessarily make you a thought leader.
Advertising and short-term PR campaigns are good at achieving this and you see these campaigns all the time. Some are good and some…well let’s just say that thought leadership is probably way too generous a term to apply to these campaigns.
I stand to be corrected but my view is that true thought leadership should be a far broader, longer-term positioning for a company or its brands.
True thought leadership is about attaching an authentic value to your brand or company which validates the image, preference, influence, reputation or brand-purchasing decision because it links in some way to the issues which are important to your consumers’ everyday lives. These could be as wide ranging as education, social issues, philanthropy, social responsibility, environment, health and infrastructure.
It is about delivering to these customers a value, information or point of view which says to them: “These guys get me, they get the environment and they get the social factors important to my life. I feel good in making this purchase, I feel good about this brand. I trust this brand.”
If a customer inherently feels these attributes in a brand it not only develops brand loyalty but it also generates excellent word-of-mouth.
To do this I believe takes time.
Quick fix rules
Unfortunately we live in a corporate world dominated by what I term ‘quarterlyitis’.
This is a world dominated by quick turnaround projects, quick fix solutions and immediate results. Not only are listed companies afflicted by this in terms of their reporting and the scrutiny of analysts but marketing teams and PR teams suffer the same pressure.
This often results in what many may claim to be thought leadership campaigns but which in reality are merely one-off, innovative PR tactics that may or may not fall under a broader communications strategy.
I’m sorry but I think thought leadership is a whole heap more. It’s strategic in its nature and builds the reputation of your organization or your brand as a thought leader over time.
5 Nov 2009
I reckon when you boil any thought leadership idea or campaign down it ultimately rests on three key principles.
1. It is a public relations rather than an advertising exercise
In order to truly take hold, thought leadership needs to be driven first and foremost by PR. Advertising and other marketing interventions can and, where possible, should support thought leadership, but the very nature of advertising’s bought space negates this medium as a driver of thought leadership. Only PR can truly create buy-in and sustain a thought leadership position for a brand.
Why do I say this? Because thought leadership is about sharing information, it is about engaging with an audience through delivering content via channels such as print, radio, television, websites, research, white papers, discussion forums, speaking opportunities, stakeholder engagement strategies, books and events.
It is about conversations with rather than sending messages one way to your audience.
I have seen thought leadership campaigns combine these elements in such a way that it has been able to influence and change behaviour of the target audience – surely the ultimate goal of any thought leadership campaign.
On its own, advertising cannot do this, but it can work very effectively in conjunction with a broader communications campaign if used strategically, at the right time and using the relevant channels.
2. It is about sharing information or content
While thought leadership is about sharing information, this is anathema to some brands. Many corporations are, by nature, secretive and hold their intellectual property or product/brand information close to their chests. How often have you heard a client or you own company say: ‘We cannot tell them that. We cannot give that information away to our competitors.’
No one’s asking you to give away your ‘Coca-Cola formula’, but very often the information that companies are so precious about hanging onto can be found out there anyway.
Corporations with this attitude are rarely thought leaders. Thought leaders are refreshingly candid and they understand the bigger picture and where they and their brands fit into their consumers’ lives.
They understand their consumers and want to add value or insights to their customers’ lives beyond merely selling them a product or service. They often believe passionately in what they do or the space which they occupy, and they feel a moral or social responsibility to deliver something of value to the community in which they sell.
They understand that today merely selling a product is no longer good enough. For their brands to survive in the medium- to long-term they need to deliver value beyond their product benefits.
Brands with this sort of abundance mentality are prepared to engage with their stakeholders and share information and insights, and literally expect nothing in return in the immediate future. Their return on investment is in building trust and loyalty, and through this, positioning their brand as the leading choice.
Consumers are changing and so are the ways they make their purchasing decisions. They are demanding more from a company and its products. There are strings attached and they are best defined by the question: ‘What are you giving me or doing for me, my kids, my life, my community, or the environment?’
The companies that grasp this and can give satisfactory answers will be the ones that set themselves apart from their competition.
Thought leadership is precisely about creating an environment in which a company’s customers choose its brand because of what it stands for or because the position it has taken on an issue sets it apart from its competitors.
3. It should aim to produce a sound business outcome
While thought leadership need not, and often does not, focus directly on selling a brand or service, it should still aim to produce the best possible business outcome for the long-term reputation and standing of that particular brand or company.
I love Dana vandenHeuvel’s analysis of this. He says that you take a point of view to the market in order to gain share of voice in that sector or industry so that you can drive greater share of mind and ultimately greater share of market.
The power of thought leadership lies in influence. If correctly targeted and structured, it is a potent tool for influencing a particular audience. Your aim should be to become known as the expert or the ‘go to’, trusted source of knowledge or information in that particular area.
When you are recognized as the thought leader in your industry it does a number of things:
§ Creates ongoing, meaningful dialogue with your audiences
§ Delivers greater share of voice in the industry and as a result, greater share of mind over your competitors
§ Increases the profile of your brand
§ Delivers pre-qualified leads
§ Creates a set of customers who have already experienced your ‘value’ and who have ‘bought’ into your ideas before physically buying
§ Leads to less price resistance and a shortened sales cycle
§ Enhances the reputation of the brand/company as a leader in its field
21 Oct 2009
I never forget the first full length story my daughter wrote when she was about six or seven – she called it “The rat that lost its courage”. Forget about who moved my cheese, this rat didn’t even have the courage to go out and look for cheese.
It struck me on reflecting on my daughter’s story the other day that I along with many people with whom I have worked, seem at various times in our careers, to lose our courage.
Think about how often you’ve seen marketing, PR or brand teams compromising their work because of: insufficient budget; too much ‘political’ risk; lack of courage; taking the easiest or most reasonable path; too many other ‘things’ on their plate; fear of failure; adopting the safe route; being output focused rather than outcomes focused?
The question we as marketing, advertising, brand or PR professionals need to ask ourselves is how often we are brave with the work we do and the ideas we put forward? Sure some of us vacillate between brave and reasonable. But how many of us are truly courageous – brave with the advice given, brave with ideas and brave with implementation? How many of us have the strength to tell it as it is and to give hard-nosed counsel and strategic direction when required?
A true thought leadership example
The guys who came up with the Dove campaign for Real Beauty were brave. How many marketers or brand managers do you know who would give the green light for spending big on a campaign that doesn’t mention any of the company’s products on the flagship website for the campaign?
So the question is how we can interrogate daily the real value we add to our campaigns because it is no longer good enough to practice yesterday’s PR, brand, marketing and advertising strategies.
The impacts of a company’s social, environmental and political footprints are disappearing. On the contrary, the focus of all stakeholders on these impacts is growing and will continue to influence buying behaviour, purchasing decisions, perceptions of the brand and that much vaunted word of mouth.
Today we need to carefully reflect how we can add sustainable value to our consumers and the campaigns we run on behalf of our brands.
Thought leadership requires alignment with your consumer/stakeholder
As communicators we are in an enviable position. At no time in the history of marketing have we had the power to interact with a company’s audiences as now.
The advent of Web 2.0 and social media has seen a marked shift in the communication game. Consumers are not only interacting with brands directly but they have also become part of the media landscape.
Today, companies can communicate directly with their consumers and vice versa. Traditional media channels are no longer the only conduit to reaching an audience. Increasingly marketing is about communicating with, rather than to, the consumer. It is about participating in a dialogue with your consumers.
But consumers want more – they want to know what value you are add to their world and the society in which they live over and above merely selling them a product or service. And herein lies the opportunity for thought leadership as well as strategically relevant CSR campaigns.
I believe that this is the way companies will need to align with their consumers in the future. For consumers want more than a brand to merely sell them a product or service – they want to know that the brand gets them, understands their issues and is prepared to give something of value to them over and above the product or service they sell.
By being brave and spending time arriving at a great thought leadership position, you, your company and your brand will be able to create a compelling point of difference and add substantially more value to your campaigns and ultimately your audience.
15 Oct 2009
I had the pleasure of chatting to Dale Bryce the other day. Dale is the head of capability marketing at engineering firm Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM). I must take my hat off to him because he contacted me out of the blue after reading my book to share his and his company’s experiences of their thought leadership campaign. Professional services firms often lead on the thought leadership front but I was struck by the truly client-centred nature of SKM’s approach and have to say that their program certainly ranks up there with the best I’ve seen.
When Dale first started talking about their ‘relationship clients first’ approach I have to admit I did think to myself here we go again, another company talking about how client centric they are – aren’t they all. However, as Dale explained their approach, the way they grow with their clients, the depth of understanding they develop about their client’s businesses and the deep insights they develop as a result about the short, medium and long-term trends impacting these businesses, I realised that they truly go live the client-led relationship mantra.
The closeness of these relationships and the deep understanding SKM has developed as a result of this of their clients’ businesses and the sectors within which they operate has enabled them to craft a thought leadership campaign supported by content which delivers something of value to their clients well beyond the services they sell. By leveraging these insights into client-specific and useful information, SKM has positioned themselves as a partner of choice, in their and their client’s space.
As Dale put it to me: “We’re building reputations to win work but this should always be linked to a genuine desire to work with the client.”
SKM rolls out their thought leadership in many ways, and I cover some of those below but at the face of their campaign is their magazine achieve. Produced quarterly, each issue centres on a common theme which is of interest to a global audience across the areas of engineering, sciences and project delivery. You can check it out here http://tinyurl.com/yko2or6
As Dale explained, achieve is more than a magazine – it is a holistic, integrated, branded, multi-channel client engagement program. At the core of it are the “big picture” issues and thinking which SKM identifies thanks to their client-led relationship culture.
In order to roll out their achieve thought leadership campaign, SKM employs a number of tactics including:
· Online articles: Development of stand-alone thought leadership articles and news relevant to particular SKM client groups. These are translated into local market languages as required.
· Targeted emails to distinct client groups: Thought leadership articles are dispatched to a selected group of clients depending on the topic and in line with client preferences captured in their CRM system. Email “news” stories are also issued to clients in the same way.
· Video: A series of achieve branded videos with leading thinkers made available via links embedded in emails to clients, and with links also posted to the SKM website.
· Events/Conferences: achieve branded thought leadership events across all SKM markets.
· Advertising: achieve branded advertising campaigns developed and delivered
for a specific SKM region where awareness building is required (for example United Kingdom or Malaysia).
Dale did make the point that the constant challenge with any professional services business is to convince the “fee-earners” to overcome their reluctance to “sell” their capabilities.” While dispatching thought leadership content is one thing, proactively following up with a client is another. For this reason Dale sees SKM’s “thoughtware” as a conversation starter but getting some of the engineers to engage with clients around this is in fact the biggest challenge.
It was great to hear from Dale and I must say quite refreshing to hear about how a truly client first led relationship culture can result in something of such obvious mutual benefit and value.
If there is anyone else out there who is keen to share their thought leadership program with me please feel free to e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to hearing from you.
13 Oct 2009
The traditional levers which we have pulled as marketers, advertisers or PR practitioners to sell products and services or change behaviours, advocate causes or build brands have changed. Brands are facing significant challenges in engaging with their consumers more effectively. Word-of-mouth is by far the most powerful form of marketing a company can access and its greatest ally is the internet.
Brands today need either to be part of or to create their own conversations online. It is becoming just as important as driving media coverage. Why? Because the internet has accelerated and amplified public opinion – rumours and, worse still, crises start and spread online.
Moreover, while newspapers, magazines, TV and radio are here today and gone tomorrow, online coverage can potentially remain accessible for a long time.
Online is the domain of new, powerful content created by consumers for consumers. It is competing for our attention and trust against traditional media sources, and in many cases it is winning.
Depending on your target audience, it is my belief that a thought leadership campaign should be doing everything it can to maximise the use of the online world. If you want to make your thought leadership campaign successful you should be making your point of view easily accessible to your audiences – to do so you should be sharing it online. This could be via a blog, your website, pod cast, social networking sites, twitter, vlogs – you name it! There are so many options and there are more proliferating every year.
The objective is to inject your brand’s/company’s personality into the debate and to give a human face to your company’s point of view. It is the place where you can engage with your online audience – a forum where you can ask questions, your audience can ask you questions and you can have discussions with other interested parties.
If the web is appropriate for your thought leadership campaign, I only say this because some thought leadership campaigns are specifically targeted at a particular audience and delivered directly to them via other methods such as roundtables or one-on-one meetings, your aim should be to supercharge your thought leadership content online. Ultimately your objective should be to engage the company with relevant online communities and help facilitate conversations in the digital world.
Any online thought leadership campaign should deliver four key things:
· Knowledge about what is being said about your brand/company in the digital space and the ability to track it and take part in it.
· Productive engagement with customers, stakeholders and influencers in the digital space.
· Optimised content, in order to attract the search engines and increase your ranking.
· Measurement of your digital influence campaign’s return on investment.
But there are a few key things you need to consider before embarking on an online thought leadership campaign:
· Senior management buy-in is critical. They need to understand the importance of the task. This point cannot be over emphasized
· Engagement online is done in a collaborative community: it is about marketing with rather than marketing to an audience.
· Commitment – there has to be a commitment to communicating on an ongoing basis.
· Honesty and integrity are key. Untruths, half truths and misrepresentations are cruelly exposed online and can be damaging to your brand.
Consumers are changing how they research and buy products – they form their own opinions and share them online. Technology has afforded customers the ability to tune out of the cluttered traditional media space and find their own answers online, basing their decisions on what they see as authentic insights and answers from other people like them – people who do not have a hidden agenda; people who share their views on brands with anyone who wants to listen.
This is the world of Web 2.0, and while marketers are compelled to pay attention, a lot of companies are taking a long time to adapt.
The change is profound and it is clear that most marketers and, as a result, their brands are struggling.
For those grappling to come to terms with the role social media should play in a brand’s communication strategy and even for those who have jumped right in, I highly recommend David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR www.davidmeermanscott.com/books.htm