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 email@example.com 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
6 Oct 2009
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Phil Dobbie last week and he has posted the podcast of this interview on his site . Phil has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and has been in Australia since 1991. BNET provides lively and insightful views on business issues.
Listen to the podcast here.
2 Oct 2009
My apologies for not posting anything for some weeks but I’m just back from a wonderful trip to South Africa after emigrating to Australia six years ago.
I took a decision not to take my Blackberry, not to look at e mails, not to twitter and not to blog. Pretty radical for someone who can never put his Blackberry down but I highly recommend it – it’s quite liberating.
Before I left, a work contact of mine, Glen Frost, who is rapidly emerging as a thought leader in his own right in the PR and Marketing conferencing world in Australia www.frocomm.com/ alerted me to an article in Media Asia http://www.media.asia/ wherein David Wolf the CEO of Wolf Group Asia http://www.wolfgroupasia.com/ says that thought leadership should be declared useless jargon. I attach a pdf of the article here - unfortunately you have to subscribe to Media Asia and cannot view the article online.
Well David’s article certainly raised the hackles for someone as passionate about the subject of thought leadership as I am. Before I share with you my response to David’s article I would first like to say that I think it’s fantastic that people like David are even bothering to talk about thought leadership – it means it is a term and a practice that is well and truly alive albeit not always in a form that is palatable for people like David.
Why thought leadership should not be declared ‘useless jargon’
In his September issue article ‘Thought leadership should be declared useless jargon’, David Wolf raises some excellent points but fluffs his main line. Just because people misuse the term Public Relations or Advertising doesn’t mean we should turn them into nebulous descriptors like: “How we help companies build their brand and engage with their stakeholders.”
In the same way nor should we dump the term thought leadership for David’s generic label: “…help our companies and clients lead an industry agenda and deliver genuine insights”.
The fact that David has written about thought leadership is a good sign – it means it has traction, the industry is taking note. I know a lot of clients are crying out for it.
But sadly David is right, it is often misused. That, however, doesn’t mean you should suddenly declare it useless jargon.
A more constructive approach would be for the marketing industry to educate ourselves and our clients about the true meaning and value of thought leadership, how one can identify or best package the company’s IP or point-of-view and in the process add real value to the company’s stakeholders.
By taking the high road, recognising what true thought leadership is really about and applying tighter discipline and rigour around the term and its processes we can allow it to take its rightful place in the marketing mix.
There are too many great thought leadership campaigns out there for it to be dismissed so easily.