31 Mar 2010
David Meerman Scott is one of the pre-eminent thought leaders on PR and marketing. For those who are in the marketing or PR industry I can highly recommend his book “The New Rules of PR and Marketing”. I asked him six questions about his views on thought leadership and its role in building a brand. See what he had to say and the thought leadership case studies he nominates at the end:
1. David, when you were working for NewsEdge you ignored the advice of your PR and ad agency, in effect you ‘broke the old rules’ by publishing lots of free content online that resulted in hundreds of sales. Could you explain the link between thought leadership and sales?
“The Web gives everyone—B2B companies, consumer brands, consultants, nonprofits, and even rock bands, churches, and colleges—a tremendous opportunity to reach people and engage them in new and different ways.
“When you build content especially for your audience, you build a relationship with people before you’ve even met them. When it’s obvious that you understand your buyers and their problems, it jars your visitors into paying attention.
“You transform your marketing from mere product-specific, ego-centric gobbledygook that only you understand and care about into valuable information people are eager to consume and that they use to make the choice to do business with your organization. Instead of creating jargon-filled, hype-based advertising, you can create the kind of online content that your buyers naturally gravitate to—if you take the time to listen to them discuss the problems that you can help them solve. Then you’ll be able to use their words, not your own. You’ll speak in the language of your buyer, not the language of your founder, CEO, product manager, or PR agency staffer. You’ll help your marketing get real.”
2. You have written 5 books which have clearly driven a large part
of positioning yourself as a thought leader in your field but what advice would you give to companies striving to become thought leaders where books may not necessarily be appropriate?
“Now we can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable (call it thought leadership if you like) and then publishing it online for free: a YouTube video, a blog, a research report, photos, a Twitter stream, an e-book, a Facebook page. There are hundreds of different outlets for valuable information.”
3. Does content alone make a thought leader?
“The problem is that most organizations create content about their stupid products. What people need to realize is that nobody cares about your products (except you). What people do care about are themselves and ways to solve their problems.
“People also like to be entertained and to share in something remarkable. In order to have people talk about you and your ideas, you must resist the urge to hype your products and services. And you must resist the urge to “control the message.” Create something interesting that will be talked about online.”
4. Do you have any advice for companies who don’t share content and
hold their knowledge and insights close their chests?
“It all comes down to the goals. For decades, marketers have had a goal of collecting names (via registration forms) so they can then sell and market to those people. You are measured on the number of forms submitted.
“But I think for many people a better goal is to spread your ideas. How many people can your reach? A million? Ten million? You can measure how many people have downloaded your stuff. How many bloggers are talking about you.
“When you lose control of your marketing by opening up and not requiring a registration, as many as fifty times the number of people will download it compared to the form requirement.
“This is a difficult one for people to make the leap to do, but believe me, it works.”
5. In a world where content is readily available and easily
accessible at the click of a mouse what will be the key things that differentiate companies/ products/ brands in the eyes of their target audiences over the next decade?
“My most important aspect of creating information is to throw away your own ego and instead create content, what I call “buyer personas.”
“I think “buyer personas” are the king of marketing and a focus on buyer personas allows you to create the content. A buyer persona represents a distinct group of potential customers, an archetypal person whom you want your marketing to reach. Targeting your work to buyer personas prevents you from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office just making stuff up about you products, which is the cause of most ineffective marketing.
“Incidentally, my use of the word “buyer” applies to any organization’s target customers. A politician’s buyer personas include voters, supporters, and contributors; universities’ buyer personas include prospective students and their parents; a tennis club’s buyer personas are potential members; and nonprofits’ buyer personas include corporate and individual donors. Go ahead and substitute, however, you refer to your potential customers in the phrase “buyer persona,” but do keep your focus on this concept. It is critical for success online.”
6. What companies or campaigns stand out for you as thought
leadership best practice?
How Lisa Genova used social media to turn a self-published book into a NY Times bestseller http://www.webinknow.com/2009/01/how-lisa-genova-used-social-media-to-turn-a-self-published-book-into-a-ny-times-bestseller.html
Fun with Sharpies
Film producer builds pre-release buzz by making soundtrack available for free download http://www.webinknow.com/2009/01/film-producer-builds-pre-release-buzz-by-making-soundtrack-available-for-free-download.html
CENTURY 21 moves TV ad spend to online: Bev Thorne, CMO, tell us why http://www.webinknow.com/2009/01/century-21-moves-tv-ad-spend-to-online-bev-thorne-cmo-tell-us-why.html
How an active Facebook group drove 15,000 people to the Singapore Tattoo Show http://www.webinknow.com/2009/01/how-an-active-facebook-group-drove-15000-people-to-the-singapore-tattoo-show.html
Persona focused Web site leads to 4x conversions for RightNow Technologies http://www.webinknow.com/2008/12/persona-focused-web-site-leads-to-4x-conversions-for-rightnow-technologies.html
New marketing at work: BitDefender and the hip new Malware City site reach internet security geeks http://www.webinknow.com/2008/11/new-marketing-at-work-bitdefender-and-the-hip-new-malware-city-site-reach-internet-security-geeks.html
29 Mar 2010
I love what Chad and Linda Nelson from The Basis Group have to say about sales and thought leadership in their paper “Thought Leadership is the New Sales Pitch.” These guys absolutely get it. It is a must read for anyone in sales and marketing.
In my all my research and writings on the topic I have come across only a handful of people who can articulate so succinctly the impact thought leadership has on selling a brand, product or service . Dana vandenHeuvel and David Meerman Scott are two others who spring to mind.
Consumers actively seek experts
Chad and Linda point out that consumers no longer passively accept marketing information. Instead, they actively seek experts who have answers or insights into their world and who through these insights help them manage better this world and the issues and challenges they face. Consumers today crave relationships and resources in the form of knowledge and insights and herein lies the opportunity for selling differently.
While traditional marketing is still the bread and butter of many sales efforts, as the Nelsons point out: “When you begin your marketing efforts by establishing trust and demonstrating thought leadership, you create a new more effective entry point for your brand message.”
Stop pushing products and services
Very true. But before this happens, companies need to unlearn current habits of pushing products and services down their customers’ throats. Instead they should start demonstrating their insights, knowledge and expertise in their sector and in particular the issues and challenges facing their consumers.
Underpinning this approach is thought leadership. There are many positive outcomes of thought leadership, I have a table illustrating these in an earlier blog post, but the ultimate outcome should always be that your customers seek you out because they trust you based on the knowledge and insights you have shared so openly with them.
Thought leadership builds trust which underpins sales
While thought leadership may not result in a quick sell, what it will do is truly cement your brand with your publics in a way that has a far deeper stickability factor. But this is what most marketers and salespeople have difficulty getting their heads around – thought leadership does not primarily drive sales. Rather it builds trust, takes your conversations with customers to another level so that when the time comes to present your offering they are so vested in your brand that the sale is as good as done.
As the Nelsons point out: ”you need to be out in your marketplace talking to people, learning what they know, discussing ideas, taking the pulse of the industry to see where it’s going, responding to concerns and expanding your understanding of what is needed. This is the best kind of leadership because it demonstrates your intimacy with your audience and your industry.”
While there is nothing new in this and the best sales people will tell you that the best selling is all about listening, the difference is how you interpret, articulate and then package and share your insights and information.
Thought leaders have an abundance mentality. They share openly and freely and understand that it is not first and foremost about the sale but rather it is first and foremost about being available and being generous with your knowledge.
Only this way will take your place at the head of your industry’s table. The sales will naturally follow.
24 Mar 2010
There are divergent views about whether product, sales or market leadership equal thought leadership.
I don’t think they do. That said, there is no doubt that you are at a massive advantage if you own any of these spaces in your market. If you do it sets you up perfectly to take a thought leadership position to market.
In a paper by the Content Factor entitled ‘Is Anybody Following your Thought Leadership?’, Richard Currier is quoted describing the three stages of corporate leadership as:
1. Product leadership
2. Sales leadership
3. Marketing leadership
But I have bad news, none of these on their own or even combined equate to thought leadership.
Why? Because being a thought leader means sharing your ideas, your IP, your insights with the market so that you become the go to company in that market. It is one thing to lead in terms of product, pricing, service and delivery but quite another to lead the market in terms of ideas, thoughts and insights. In fact to many companies sharing this sort of information is an anathema to them.
I agree with Currier that market leadership is the only long lasting advantage. Thought leadership should be viewed as a way to turbo-charge this advantage thus further embedding the company at the top of its sector and owning an even stronger share mind among its publics.
Implemented well, good thought leadership can add enormous value to helping build a brand. It cements trust and loyalty in your brand by adding something of value to your clients or broader publics that goes well beyond selling them a product or service. It shows them that you have a deep understanding of the issues or challenges facing their business and their everyday lives and that you have the people and the expertise to deliver not only the insights but the solutions to address these.
In his new book Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about ‘shipping’. By this he means sharing your ideas, getting them out of the door and in the process not being afraid of failure. He maintains that if you do enough of it that over time your ideas will sharpen and you will eventually become indispensible to your market or your employer.
There is a very strong parallel between what Godin says and thought leadership and also a very nice play on the words if you look carefully. Thought leaders ‘ship’ – they ‘ship’ their ideas for all to see and in the process they become indispensible to their publics.
Building pre-eminence in your niche and being viewed as indispensible is the ultimate accolade for a thought leader. It should also be the ultimate thought leadership objective for your brand and its position in the market.
What do you think?
18 Mar 2010
There is a lot of a commentary flying around the web at the moment about content, optimising that content for search engines , content curation (filtering and aggregating relevant content) and how best to deliver content to your publics.
But…and this is a big but – content alone does not make you a thought leader. It may help a company’s publics, it may make their lives easier, it may drive traffic to a site and it may position that brand as a trusted source of particular information. But does it make that company a thought leader?
No it does not.
Let’s have a quick look at my definition of thought leadership: Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors
Key to thought leadership is innovative content
The key to being a thought leader is offering something of value, insights that position you as the expert in that field. By that I mean stuff which frames the debate and conversations on a particular issue or issues. Content that challenges the paradigms and the thinking of your own staff as well as your publics if not an entire industry sector, and content that delivers deep insights around a particular issue or sector.
Content that doesn’t do this cannot and should not be labelled as thought leadership. It is merely information.
This is not to say that it’s not useful but it doesn’t make you a thought leader.
HiveFire has produced a thought provoking e book on content curation. You can download it here : http://info.hivefire.com/eBook.html and I suggest you do. It is a good read and raises some very interesting questions about how you manage your content.
But as they say, competitors are drowning in a sea of information overload and they are challenged to decipher what information is relevant and which sources are trustworthy. My view is that it is particularly because of this that to be a thought leader, the content you deliver needs to differentiate you from the crowd, must be different and challenge insights and should position you as the pre-eminent company/commentator in that space.
The spin-offs of doing this right are huge as many marketers, particularly in the professional services arena will attest. True thought leadership is one of the most valuable marketing assets in which a company can invest. It inspires trust in your brand and in process imbues in your company and your people a perception by the marketplace that you are the ‘go to’ authorities and knowledge experts on that topic – a perception that no amount of advertising can buy. OK maybe a bucket load could buy it but it would cost a bomb .
Publishing alone will not help
Publishing on its own is not going to help. It’s what you publish and how you take it to market that makes the difference.
Before you become an aggregator or curator of content ask yourself the following questions: What is our thought leadership position? What do we stand for in the market place? What is our differentiator in terms of leading the market?
Only once you have established a position in this regard are seen as the go to place for insights in your area of specialty is it useful to become a content curator and specifically for content that relates to and helps inform that position.
Until then I’m afraid, you will just be a follower.
11 Mar 2010
I was reading an article penned by veteran marketing strategist, Rob Leavitt. Rob is the Principal at Solutions Insights and he specializes in issues- and content-based marketing. Rob helps companies distinguish themselves in the marketplace and advises them on how to have strategic conversations with their clients, prospects, and market influencers.
Rob gets thought leadership and I thought the six lessons he has for thought leaders at any level were well worth sharing. Here they are:
Six thought leadership lessons
Stepping back from the specifics of these two initiatives, I see six general lessons for thought leadership marketers at any level:
- Put Customers First. It sounds obvious to say that thought leadership marketing should focus on what your customers really care about, but far too many marketers take a product- or solution-first approach and try to fit some larger issue neatly around their offering. Buyers don’t care about your offerings by themselves; they have their own problems to worry about. Engage them where they live. IBM is trying to build relationships with CEOs, so they research and talk about what other CEOs are doing. Deloitte works especially closely with Boards of Directors, CFOs, and other C-level executives; it’s hard to think of a C-suite issue more pressing these days than risk management. What do your customers and prospects really worry about?
- Do the Research. Thought leadership without real research is just opinion, and opinions are a dime a dozen. Show buyers serious research, though, and they’re much more likely to pay attention. You might not be able to interview 1,130 CEOs around the world, but you can survey and interview your customers and prospects, produce serious case studies (not puff piece “success stories”), and comb the literature and online conversation to produce new insights.
- Say Something New. Thought leadership without a differentiated point of view is just an echo of conventional wisdom. Why should customers listen to your version then they’ve already heard it before — or if you’re only telling them something they already know. Smart customers want to be challenged. If you’re not sparking at least some disagreement and debate, you probably haven’t said anything new. None of IBM’s five attributes are themselves shockingly new but the synthesis suggests and aggressive and innovative approach that goes well beyond conventional thinking. Deloitte’s focus on the upside as well as the downside of risk clearly stands apart from the post-Wall Street collapse mentality of compliance first, last, and always.
- Build a Pervasive Presence. Long gone are the days when thought leadership marketing meant publishing a white paper, research report, or journal article and then moving on to the next project. Media fragmentation, information overload, and the power of social media make it critical that thought leadership marketers put substantial energy into getting the word out across a broad range of media and activities. IBM’s 360 degree campaign for the CEO study included traditional activities (email, Web, direct mail, advertising, press and analyst briefings, sales enablement, video, etc.) as well as a number of newer approaches (blogs, podcasts, online innovation jams, and branded content). IBM also produced 15 “flavors” of the main report for different industries and C-suite positions. Deloitte has similarly tapped a wide variety of media and activities to engage clients, prospects, and market influencers. For thought leadership marketing today, think multi-media, social media, and complementary online and offline engagement to build a strong presence wherever your stakeholders already spend their time.
- Stick with It. IBM’s CEO study is a two year project, and the 2008 version is IBM’s third such study. To maximize marketing impact, IBM organizes a “teaser phase” (outreach to build awareness before the formal launch), a “reveal phase” (a multi-faceted public launch to build buzz internally and externally), and a “sustain phase” (ongoing engagement to dig more deeply into the issues with customers and others). Deloitte launched the Risk Intelligent Enterprise effort in 2006 and has continued to explore the issues, refine the point of view, publish, and engage. The point is to pick a core issue for your customers and stick with it. Thought leadership takes time. It’s better to pick one or two issues and work them hard for several years than to flit from one issue to the next in a more superficial way.
- Confirm the metrics. Far from an airy initiative, thought leadership marketing can and should focus on core metrics essential to business development and growth. Objectives for the IBM initiative revolved around relationship building with CEOs, corporate visibility and interest, ongoing engagement with key contacts, and sales leads. Deloitte takes a similar approach, focusing on competitive differentiation, influencer relations, client connections, and business development support. Setting and gaining organizational agreement on clear marketing and business development objectives provides the grounding and accountability that marketers need to justify the necessary investments.
Serious thought leadership marketing is not easy, but taking these six lessons to heart will go a long way toward success. At least that’s my opinion! What do you think?
I think Rob is right on the money and would be interested to see whether anyone else has any more ‘lessons’ to add to his list of six?