20 Dec 2010
One of the best navigating lights for identifying your or your brand’s thought leadership position comes from one of the luminaries of the advertising world, David Ogilvy. While I have always been a strong advocate for PR leading the thought leadership charge I have to admit to being a bit of a thought leadership pirate i.e. I believe in stealing the best ideas no matter the discipline from which it originates.
There are some great marketing, advertising, social media, research, academic experts out there who know an awful lot about their subjects and who, in many cases, have superb insights into how thought leadership can work for a brand.
So when I saw Ogilvy’s bespoke ‘big ideaL’ concept, I quickly latched onto what I now call David Ogilvy’s greatest tip for thought leaders.
It’s all about helping you identify the thought leadership position you or your brand should take and while it sounds very simple, coming up with the answer can take a lot of soul searching to get it right.
The big ideaL’s premise is to simply ask yourself the question: X (your brand) believes the world would be a better place if…
I use a few examples courtesy of Ogilvy to illustrate this:
· Dove believes the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about themselves. Now think about the Dove campaign for real beauty and how perfectly this is informed by their big ideaL
· Scrabble believes the world would be a better place if we loved words more
· Coca Cola believes the world would be a better place if we saw the glass half-full not half empty.
Ogilvy offices around the world have spent a lot of time and effort turning this principle into workshops and there is a lot of strategic thinking that goes into it. While I can’t do it any justice in this post, in summary the big ideaL is about having an interesting and attractive world-view, one which goes to the root of why the brand exists.
But Ogilvy is also very realistic about what it a big ideaL can achieve and as a result they are very clear that it is merely a starting point – one which won’t make your decisions for you but one which will help make better ones.
The same certainly applies to your thought leadership point of view which, if informed by the right big ideaL, will mean that you end up with a thought leadership position strongly aligned with the very essence of the brand.
Ideally your big ideaL should have some sort of higher purpose. So too should your thought leadership campaign, for it is these campaigns that capture the imagination and attention of your clients or prospects.
After all thought leadership is all about underpinning commercial outcomes and you want to get it right from the outset.
13 Dec 2010
Reading a white paper from PR Newswire entitled Marketing is Content, it struck me that content can be compared to the presents under a Christmas tree.
But imagine presents with no tree. Not quite the same is it?
And herein lies the crux of your content marketing. The tree is critical to your content, it represents the core theme i.e. your thought leadership position – it is the focal point around which your content should revolve and which gives your content a sense of direction and purpose.
And the decorations? They make the tree look attractive, think of them as the myriad of channels you have at your disposal to share your content with your market.
As a parent with two kids, my wife and I do our ‘research’ well before Christmas. We pretty much know their interests and then cunningly ascertain what they want and what’s hot in their lives. It’s a combination of knowing them well but also sense checking because what was hot six months ago is old hat today. Can you imagine their disappointment un-wrapping a handful of presents on the day that in no way reflects their interests or shows scant foresight of their environment, sex and age group? Perish the thought.
Likewise perish your brand if you attempt the same with the content you provide to your customers and your prospects.
Without a deep understanding of their sector and their business needs don’t waste your time and money. Moreover don’t waste their time with irrelevant content. Just because it’s content doesn’t mean it’s useful and just because it’s content doesn’t mean you are a thought leader.
Thought leading content is the stuff that really adds value to your customer’s lives, it’s content that positions you as the expert in that field. Best of all it’s content which keeps them coming back and which ultimately underpins the sale.
By now, give or take a few disappointments along the way my kids pretty much trust Father Christmas’ judgment. There is a strong brand promise and a level of excitement that the content under that tree meets if not exceeds their expectations. They’re happy ‘customers’ who keep coming back year after year.
And if we really get it right, guess what? They tell all their friends.
Remember, Christmas is not the same without the tree, the presents and the decorations. I haven’t even begun on the higher intent, the very raison d’etre of Christmas which I equate to your values and the way in which you do business and your guide as to how you relate to your customers and how you conduct business with them – but another time for that.
Merry Christmas everyone.
9 Dec 2010
I was interviewed by the Australian Businesswomen’s Network the other day on the topic of, you guessed it, thought leadership.
You can click here to listen http://tiny.cc/g9vsm
15 Nov 2010
A few years ago, Amy O’Meara, Amnesty International’s USA Director of Business and Human Rights, had the following message for businesses: ‘Show us that you are trying…and we will take you seriously and work with you over time to help you become socially responsible. It’s cool to be green but don’t exaggerate…have a genuine story to tell.”
For me, in those few sentences aimed at companies and their corporate social responsibility programs, she inadvertently delivered a message to prospective thought leaders and company thought leadership programs - have a genuine story to tell.
True thought leadership absolutely is about being genuine. The quick-fix research packaged as thought leadership in order to drive a bit of media coverage really isn’t going to cut it in the long run. It may help drive a great PR campaign but please don’t label it as thought leadership.
There are some excellent examples of companies that have well and truly integrated their thought leadership into their businesses, aligned them with their values as an organisation and importantly linked them to the needs of their customers. They do it because they genuinely care about the issues and challenges their customers face.
In the process they take one step ahead of the competition and set themselves apart as the ‘go to’ experts in their field.
Without a genuinue story to tell, this very quickly falls short as the conversations you, your business leaders and your sales staff have with your customers will not reflect the depth that a true thought leadership position should deliver in the chosen topic in your sector.
Those campaigns with genuine intent reap real, long-term benefits:
They gain a unique position in the market and create excellent word-of-mouth.
They help mitigate brand risk
In a crisis, customers tend to give you the benefit of the doubt for longer
They cement your position with your customers and create better brand stickiness
They can even act as a great talent magnet as your brand becomes synonmous with innovation
Think long and hard about any thought leadership campain upon which you embark and ask yourself:
Is it genuine i.e. goes it go to our values and what we want to be as a business?
Is it compelling for our customers/clients i.e. does it deliver them insights to help them?
Is it compelling for our own staff?
Will it differentiate our brand from our competitors?
Is it something on which we can deliver?
Does it have senior management buy-in?
Does it have a champion/s?
Can we put budget behind this?
What are the measurement criteria?
18 Oct 2010
Your thought leadership campaign should comprise four sides. Tick the box on each and like a cube, your thought leadership will present a complete and strong face.
The four sides should include the following:
1. It should be eye-catching and topical
2. It should say something new
3. It should be founded in some sort of research i.e. be evidence based
4. It should create a link to your brand
This is a short post so I am not going to go into huge detail on each but will cover the key points briefly.
1. Thought leadership material should be eye-catching and topical
How much thought leadership material do you see that is eye catching or topical?
Why not? I think it is for three reasons:
· Not enough thought is put into it
· It is often merely regurgitated, repackaged content
· Some companies believe their own PR, think their stuff is great and don‘t give enough thought to the audience and how they will benefit from it.
2. Thought leadership should say something new
Very often this is because not enough attention is paid upfront to researching the client or their issues and challenges. The deeper you understand your client’s issues the more likely it is you will provide something that means something to them and adds value to their lives new insights.
In the process you should also be researching what else is out in the market so you don’t already enter a crowded space.
3. Thought leadership should be evidence based
Everyone can have an opinion. There are thousands of companies out there sharing their opinions based on their knowledge and expertise in a particular sector. Nothing wrong with that, many companies are paid top dollar for their insights. However, to truly offer something valuable to your clients and prospects, insights should be supported by robust research – preferably third party research.
Think about your business – it is a lot easier to make decisions or convince your board about decisions based on evidence or strong research as opposed to opinion.
4. Thought leadership should create a link to your brand
Be warned. Don’t get this one wrong.
Your thought leadership campaign is not an excuse to talk about your products and your brand too overtly. In fact the opposite applies – you should avoid pushing your products and company in the early stages of your thought leadership campaign. Only talk about it once the prospect starts opening the door to chat to about their issues and specific solutions off the back of what you have presented.
Remember the mere fact you, your colleagues and your brand are associated with the thought leadership piece means that you are aligned with it anyway. The psychology of this is that if you are perceived to be deeply understanding of your chosen thought leadership field you must be the expert and ‘go to’ company in that space.
Make sure though that your thought leadership material is clearly branded with your company and contact details and try wherever possible to get in front of your prospects to share the information.
5 Oct 2010
I need to declare up front that the thought leadership case study I am about to share was run by two sister companies in the Ogilvy Public Relations stable in Australia, Howorth and Parker & Partners. It is a great example of thought leadership in action and it recently won the WPP Communications WPPED Cream award for best PR campaign.
In late 2008, Australia’s leading telecommunications and information services company, Telstra, approached the team at Ogilvy PR Australia to devise a communication strategy to support its reinvigorated business-to-business offering.
The ensuing ‘Telstra Productivity Indicator’ campaign, not only successfully generated positive coverage in target business news and technology media, but the communication platform laid the foundation for all of Telstra’s marketing collateral: internal communications, website content, existing customer communication, advertising material and sales tools.
The successful execution of the brief was demonstrated through increased sales figures and improvements in independent brand and media audits. Telstra’s positioning was so relevant to target business and government audiences that the then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, quoted key research findings developed for the campaign during a national press conference in April 2009.
Telstra’s largest division is Telstra Enterprise & Government (TEG), which provides network based solutions and services to organisations across Australia and New Zealand.
In a crowded marketplace, Telstra was finding it difficult to achieve neutral or positive media coverage, despite its world leading information and communication technology (ICT) offerings. The Ogilvy team wanted to present TEG as a leader in ICT and an expert in productivity. It followed research which showed that while Telstra’s competitors and other key stakeholders in the ICT space were all fighting for a share of the ‘innovation’ space, everyone was ignoring the driving force for potential customers – productivity.
There was a distinct lack of conversation around the topic presenting an ideal opportunity for TEG to embrace productivity and use it as the platform for the campaign.
The target publics
In order to communicate with their tier one target audiences: senior decisions makers, key influencers and IT executives within Australian business and government organisations, the campaign first had to reach business and technology media, industry associations, business groups and government stakeholders.
1. Research – Survey Report
An independent research company was commissioned to conduct a survey of senior decision makers at Australian business and government organisations on their approach and treatment of productivity and how it was defined, measured, managed and funded. The findings were compiled in a report titled: ‘The Telstra Productivity Indicator: A Report on business attitudes towards improving productivity in Australia’.
2. Research – Whitepaper
Supplementing the report was a 36-page white paper, commissioned from a second independent organisation. The paper, ‘ICT as a driver of productivity’, examined in detail the impact of ICT on productivity and economics in Australia and around the world.
3. Branding the insights – identifying Australia’s ‘productivity gap’
The research not only provided interesting content for media engagement, but uncovered insights to underpin the campaign. Critically the results showed that while 78 per cent of Australia’s largest organisations said improving productivity was a high priority, only half had any systems to measure improvements or set targets.
This was termed the ‘Productivity Gap’ – the gap between the importance placed on productivity improvements and the lack of measurement and management around it. With productivity a large part of the rationale for ICT investment, the findings provided framework for new conversations with Telstra’s target audiences.
4. Key messages identified, spokespeople briefed
Senior spokespeople were comprehensively briefed on the research with a series of key messages designed to deliver the productivity story.
5. Direct mail to business and government
A personalised letter from the CEO detailing research findings and implications was sent to government officials and the heads of leading Australian business associations.
6. Strategic media outreach
An extensive media outreach plan was implemented including:
· Embargoed media interviews with Telstra’s most senior spokespeople and tier one media
· An embargoed media release distributed to IT and telecommunications media the day before the launch
· A general news release distributed on launch day
· Targeted, long-lead media outreach with tailored byline articles for vertical press
7. Speaking opportunities
Speaking opportunities were set up at corporate events for senior Telstra spokespeople.
8. Employee Communications
The research was launched internally to employees through Telstra’s intranet.
9. Sales Tools
The sales teams were armed with new diagnostic tools to present to existing and potential clients to quantify areas for productivity improvement.
The insights were supported by an above the line campaign including print, outdoor and online with a budget edition wrap of the Australian Financial Review newspaper.
An independent media analysis company compared the analysis to Telstra’s competitors across reach, impact and favourability. From January to March 2009, TEG significantly increased its share of voice over competitors, holding 55 per cent of the brand mentions (with 96 per cent favourable). A spike in coverage was traced against the launch of the productivity campaign.
The Telstra Productivity Indicator dominated media discussion, with 29 per cent of coverage directly related to how Telstra could help enterprise and government improve productivity through the innovation and functionality of Telstra services. The analysis tracked an overall increase in the number of key messages appearing within campaign coverage. More than 60 per cent of TEG coverage featured at least one of the pre-agreed key messages.
Importantly, the PR campaign set the foundation for all of TEG’s marketing and communications collateral and the messaging was adapted seamlessly for internal communications, existing customer communication, website content, an advertising campaign and sales tools.
The campaign drove online traffic to Telstra’s productivity website, becoming the second most visited site after the Telstra homepage. At the time of the campaign, Google click-through increased by 72.3%. There were 178 whitepaper registrations and site interactivity (clicks, print-outs and forwarding of content) increased by 200% month on month.
Over the campaign, Telstra sold and activated thosands of new PDAs and smartphones, migrated thousands of 2G devices to the NextG network and sold a number of fleet deals. The campaign elevated the Telstra brand to one synonymous with improved business productivity that in turn has driven demand for its product and services.
The integrated campaign directly affected perceived brand value. Telstra outperformed competitors in the ‘Customer Value Analysis’ brand positioning benchmark study in May 2009 on all performance drivers (service delivery; product; brand; Account Executive performance) showing a significant spike in approval. ‘Brand’ recorded the largest increase (up 11%). Besides improved buyer preference, Telstra was able to focus customer discussions away from price and towards value.
21 Sep 2010
The article on thought leadership which appeared in the Economist fascinates me – read it here http://tinyurl.com/2acq8gk I first heard about it as a result of a reader’s comments on this blog – thanks Tom.
The journalist who penned the article questions why consulting firms provide what they ‘annoyingly call thought leadership’ and also whether it is worth it.
Nothing wrong with questioning its worth but what the author neglected to do is ask even one client what they think of the thought leadership material provided to them by their consulting firm.
The first irony in the article is that the author inadvertently stumbles upon the very essence of thought leadership albeit in a negative sense: “Their reports (and increasingly their webinars and podcast) are an excuse to contact potential clients and a way of boasting about the brainpower they can apply to problems.”
While it is stated in kind of a negative way that is precisely it – absolutely your thought leadership material should be getting you in front of your clients and prospects. Importantly it also enables you and your team to hold discussions with your prospect on issues of importance to them while sharing your insights about their sector or industry. If this boasts your brainpower fantastic – through these insights, you want your prospects to realise that you have a deep understanding of their challenges and are therefore in a position to help solve them.
If these are the sorts of opportunities and conversations thought leadership delivers isn’t this far less ‘annoying’ than trying to ‘sell’ a product or your service?
The second irony is that The Economist has a number of its own thought leadership platforms i.e. The Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist Debates and The Economist Conferences and there may be more but I’m not aware of them.
Maybe they don’t overtly call any of these thought leadership and maybe the author has a point because the loose use of the word thought leadership is annoying because a lot of it doesn’t come close. But where I do take the author to task is on measurement.
A true thought leadership campaign should have very firm business metrics in place. Among others these could include:
· The number of prospect meetings
· The number of returning clients
· The number of appointments and incoming, qualified leads and the conversion rate
· The number of attendees at thought leadership seminars and the resultant follow up and conversion
· Delivery of key messages through identified and targeted media
· Effective leverage of content across all client and prospective client touch points
· Research, preferably benchmarked annually of your brand against others in the market place
· Research internally of what the thought leadership material delivers to your sales and marketing team as well as the consultants, engineers, accountants, etc in the business
A fellow writer on marketing and thought leadership, Dana van den Heuvel has also taken issue with The Economist article. You can read his blog on the topic here http://tinyurl.com/25nykgr
I’d be interested in your views. Please share them.
13 Sep 2010
This is the fourth in a series of articles on how thought leadership underpins the new sales approach.
Type ‘sales mistakes’ into Google and it will spit out close to seven million articles. Everyone, it seems, has advice on how to avoid the many and various sales traps that await the unwary sales person.
There is a way to avoid these, have your company develop a strong thought leadership point of view. Below I touch on some of the more popular sales pitfalls and identify how thought leadership can overcome these:
1. Not understanding your prospect – is the death knell of the sale, however, used properly, thought leadership can take you well beyond a superficial understanding of the challenges and issues your prospects face and provide you with deep, evidence-based insights into these and other aspects of their business/sector they will find very useful.
2. Not offering real value – A thought leadership campaign, one that really does aim to provide your customers and prospects with valuable information, overcomes this very easily. In the process it positions you as the ‘go to’ expert in your field. Ultimately prospects seek you out for your knowledge into their issues. There’s no better way to fill your pipeline with qualified leads.
3. Not providing them with enough information – if your sales team is only relying on product or service information they’re going to face an uphill battle. On the other hand your thought leadership strategy should generate focused, customer-centric content to help you avoid introducing product or service talk too early in your client conversations. Providing them with insights into an area of their business or sector positions you as a trusted advisor in that area. Only once you have chatted about these issues do you need to provide the solutions-based product and sales material.
4. Talking too much about your product or service – we all know that feeling, the more you push your company, your product or your service the more you see your prospect’s eyes glaze over. Why? Because it’s not about them it’s all about you.
Good thought leadership content, on the other hand, will arm you with insights about their sector or an issue/challenge in their business that can become a game changer for them and for you. The conversation is all about them and how you can help solve their issues.
Many experienced sales people do this as a matter of course but there aren’t many that do it as part of a larger company-led thought leadership campaign.
5. Not asking the right questions – we all know good selling is about getting them talking. Here’s the great thing about good thought leadership material – if it has been properly researched and if it touches the lives of your prospects you will have wealth of discussion points and areas around which to ask questions. Not only will this display your deep knowledge of their sector but you will learn a whole lot more about the company which will help further for relationship building as well as identifying potential weak spots to assist you closing the sale.
6. Not building a relationship before trying to ‘sell them’ – you can easily kill the sale by rushing the ‘sell’ before you have built trust. Fortunately, if you have developed great thought leadership content and you shared it readily, you would have established yourself as an expert in your field. This investment in establishing trust through thought leadership will help underpin all sales into the future.
7. Not maintaining the relationship – how many times are customers left to their own devices post the sale? The great thing about good thought leadership content is it is regularly updated therefore enabling you to keep in touch with your current and past customers with stuff they find useful. When they are ready to buy again you are their first port of call and they are psychologically vested in your brand already.
While I know there are many more deadly sins for sales people, I wanted to focus on what I believe are some of the key ones. Ones where a strong, customer-centric thought leadership campaign can make a massive difference to a company’s sales approach and the relationship it has with its customers and its prospects.
Elsewhere in this blog you will find articles offering advice on how to arrive at a thought leadership position as well as how to take your thought leadership proposition to market.
If you have witnessed the power of using thought leadership as your sales driver, please let us know how it worked/is working.
7 Sep 2010
This is the third in a series of articles on how thought leadership underpins the news sales approach.
Over the past few years, there has been an understandable spotlight on the sales pipeline. Companies the world over have sent their employees on refresher and extra training courses while executives have focused intently on the health of the pipeline.
The same questions have been asked over and over: “What is the best way to fill our pipeline?”; “How do we interest our target publics in our product/service during these tough times?”; “How do we get in front of our clients and prospects and have conversations with them?”; and so on.
None of this is new. Filling the new business pipeline is one of a company’s biggest challenges.
Most of us are aware of the 20-4-1 rule – for every 20 prospects you call, four will entertain your proposals and only one will bite. When it comes to pipeline, we all know the drill – keep one step ahead, know your audience, have conversations, know the sector, find solutions, listen to the client, etc, etc.
The problem is that there is a new marketing and sales malaise – people are tired of being marketed and sold to in the traditional manner.
Thought leadership will position you as the expert
What price then to have your prospects already vested in your brand because they recognise your company as the expert or ‘go to’ source for information in their sector? This is probably not going to happen through traditional sales or marketing channels. Rather to achieve this outcome you need thought leadership.
Thought leadership is about arming your team with the relevant insights about your or your prospect’s sector so that you can hold in-depth conversations with them about the most important challenges they face. These conversations should be backed by a feast of interesting and relevant content backed up by supporting collateral as well as presentations, one-on-one meetings, roundtables, forums, etc.
Thought leadership is about valuable insights
What better way to drive your pipeline than by offering your prospects something they really value – information and insights about their sector, their issues, their challenges. How refreshing to them and to your team to be able to drop the ‘hard sell’ and to have conversations that you know really matter to them and that develop even deeper insights of their business.
This is thought leadership in its truest form.
For 10 years or more, management consultancies have filled their pipelines and generated interest from their target publics through clever thought leadership. I’m not talking about putting out a bit of content here and there but rather through targeted thought leadership strategies that receive the right amount of senior management input as well as resources and budget.
Thought leadership delivers six key things
A good thought leadership campaign can deliver the following to your business:
1. An alignment of your interests with your prospects showing your deep understanding of their issues
2. Differentiation from the competition
3. Increased credibility and an enviable position as a trusted advisor
4. Less resistance to pricing and a vindication of their purchasing decision
5. Creates brand evangelists from within your own customer ranks
6. Delivers a longer-term, thought leadership conversation platform beyond the sale
Any business looking to fill its pipeline should think about taking the time and effort to invest properly into a long-term, strategic, thought leadership campaign.
A well-packaged, well-presented thought leadership campaign will deliver a refreshed and more relevant way of engaging with your clients as well as your prospects. More importantly it will deliver a more sustainable and authentic way of filling your pipeline pre and post the sale.
Let me know if you have had any success changing from a traditional sales and marketing approach to one which is thought leadership led. I’d love to hear from you.
1 Sep 2010
This appeared on the RainToday.com site and is an interview with me on my favourite topic – thought leadership. You can click here to listen and this is what they had to say as an intro:
Effective thought leadership—the kind that attracts prospects that eventually become clients—requires a strong platform that your entire company adopts, not “random acts of content,” says Craig Badings, author of Brand Stand: Seven Steps to Thought Leadership.
It’s about delivering new ideas and content to your target audience based on insight into the issues and challenges they face, he says. It’s also about differentiating you from competitors, establishing you as the go-to expert, and positioning you as a trusted advisor. And to make that happen, firms must have an organized and concerted effort that involves everyone in the organization.
“To truly take hold, [thought leadership] has to become part of the culture of the organization. In fact, I’d be as bold as to say that companies that have a sales culture should really be trying very hard to replace it with a thought leadership culture because in my view the sales pitches we know are really dead. It’s no longer good enough for companies to flog their products or services,” Badings says. “If thought leadership is not a part of corporate culture, then that thought leadership campaign is going to limp along and will never really achieve any great height.”
Listen as Badings, who also blogs at Thought Leadership, discusses:
- The four things that make a successful thought leadership campaign
- Firms that are excelling with their thought leadership campaigns
- How sales teams can incorporate a firm’s thought leadership platform to win more deals
- His methodology—START IP—for developing and implementing a thought leadership platform