29 Jul 2010
I am excited.
I have just read Rob Leavitt’s article based on his impressions as a judge at the ITSMA’s Marketing Excellence Awards, for submissions in the Thought Leadership Marketing category.
If you only read one article on thought leadership this year , this is the one to read.
You can view his full article here http://www.reputationtorevenue.com/2010/07/strengthening-thought-leadership-marketing-five-steps-to-excellence.html but I do cover all his points below because I believe they are worth repeating.
B2B thought leadership gains pace
Most marketers know that while thought leadership is a massive opportunity in the B2B space they also know that what constitutes thought leadership varies widely. Rob points out that until five years ago thought leadership marketing was mainly the domain of the top consulting firms,. Few B2B firms took it seriously.
But based on what Rob has seen judging the entries at the ITSMA awards this year, this has changed dramatically.
Not only does he say that the thought leadership submissions reflect a substantial increase in spending but more importantly that there has been a significant shift in the application of thought leadership as a discipline which is reflected in its impacts on customers and market influencers alike.
He goes on to identify five areas in which the best thought leadership campaigns stand out.
The 5 steps to thought leadership excellence
The reason I am so excited about his analysis is because they reflect what I have been saying on this blog in various posts for over a year. They are:
1. Focus and depth: As Rob points out there are lots of companies out there who practice “random acts of content”, including sending out the occasional white papers, articles, videos, blog posts. His concern is that with little focus or depth they are really providing little value. Companies or individuals serious about joining the ranks of truly helpful thought leaders need to pick one or a few issues, stick with it, and go deep.
I would like to add to this by saying that to be truly successful, thought leadership should become part of the culture of an organisation. If one looks at companies who are innovative or have research as their backbone – they don’t bolt these on. Rather, they are an integral part of who they are how they think and it consumes the entire organisation every day. Thought leadership should be no different.
2. Do the research: As Rob points out, a lot of the so-called thought leadership we see is merely opinion based on experience. However, customers want evidence, and evidence usually requires research.
From what Rob has seen in the entries he concludes that the best thought leadership programs are built around serious research, including things like an analysis of existing literature, new customer surveys, and in-depth case studies.
3. Engage and empower internally: Your organisation and your colleagues are one of the most important keys to your thought leadership campaign. They are and should be its best ambassadors.
Given the pervasive nature of social media, more and more of your employees are engaging directly with customers, prospects, and other stakeholders online. By engaging and empowering these employees with your thought leadership position you give them something valuable to talk about over and above the obvious product or service specs and sales pitch. More importantly if you have done your homework you are providing information and insights that hit the right spot with your prospects.
4. Leverage your best content: Market engagement today is about pervasive presence and ongoing conversations, not just traditional publishing and speaking. Rob says that customers want to chew over and debate your ideas, often without you and often in the virtual room. To help make this happen, he points out that you need to leverage your best thought leadership content by publishing compelling and appropriate formats across the networks and channels where your customers congregate.
He gives the example of a white paper and how you could leverage that into a short video, a blog post, an article, a customer briefing, etc.
5. Invest in expertise: Great thought leadership programs are built around experts in the subjects at hand but also experts in research, analysis, publication, social media, and collaboration.
Rob believes that the most successful programs invest in their people in at least three ways:
· Funding full time staff positions
· Recruiting for necessary skills and helping existing staff develop the right skills
· Investing in partnerships for complementary capabilities (including brand recognition, as with prestigious academics, universities, and/or outside media and research organizations).
Finally, and this is something I have trumpeted for a long time, building a successful thought leadership marketing program is a long-term process.
Rob uses the examples of McKinsey, Accenture, IBM, Deloitte who have spent years doing the research, building market presence, and refining what works. The common theme among them is that they pick key customer issues and stick with them.
They dive deep on these issues. And they invest in their people and programs.
Rob, thanks for some of the best insights on thought leadership I have seen for some time. I can’t wait to see the ITSMA results for the best thought leadership campaigns.
26 Jul 2010
For those of you who have never read My Name is Scott I suggest you do. Scott has some refreshing views on the world particularly when it comes to marketing oneself.
In one of his recent posts entitled the ‘Approachable Leaders Handbook to being heard Vol 2’, http://www.hellomynameisblog.com/2010/07/approachable-leaders-handbook-of-being.html he gives six key tips to how you would go about being heard. The beauty of these tips is that there are some real gems for aspiring and current thought leaders.
Scott makes the point that the world is not waiting to hear what you have to say. And therein is the rub for thought leaders and it is why I constantly go on about thought leadership being a long-term commitment by the business or thought leader. To be successful you need to make it part of your corporate make-up and you need to constantly work on your thought leadership position always looking at ways to share your insights.
Let’s look at what Scott had to say. His five suggestions are as follows:
1. Align your petitions with the self-interest of your audience. Find out what their success seeds are.
Absolutely – in fact one of the critical success factors of any thought leadership campaign is to understand the interests of your target publics. Without these insights you run the risk of missing the boat.
Once you have this understanding, you need to identify how you are going to add value to their current understanding/knowledge. In doing so you should strive constantly to stretch their minds and stimulate new thoughts, views and perspectives.
2. Give clear direction of what you want people to follow. Make the audience your accomplice.
Absolutely. Clear, definitive perspectives or insights about your topic make it a lot easier for your audience. Furthermore if they are involved in the process, the stickiness you create with that target public is enormous – they feel vested in it and thus part of the journey.
3. Build a listening platform. Demonstrate to the people you want to hear that they have been heard first.
The whole idea of thought leadership is to generate discussion and interest in what you have to say. To test whether your thought leadership is being received in the right manner so that you can tweak it if needs be, you should, where possible, have a platform for two-way feedback. This could include: one-on-one or group presentations; feedback forms; independent research; online polls; chat forums on line; feedback mechanisms online; round tables and the like.
4. Create a dialogue that draws people into the cause. Say things you haven’t said elsewhere.
Thought leadership is exactly that – leading with your thoughts. That implies they should be new, fresh and provide interesting insights that no-one else has previously given. To do so, thought leaders need courage, they need to be aware that not everyone will agree with their point of view. But that’s OK because as a thought leader you want to provoke discussion and debate.
5. Invite layers of interpretation around your message. Allow people to add multiple dimensions to your ideas.
The whole idea of thought leadership is to seed an idea, insight, interpretation and then watch and participate as others get involved and share their views. By provoking and promoting healthy discussion and at times heated debate, it serves to air your ideas and spread the conversation across multiple, interested audiences. With the power of the web these ideas are global instantly.
Scott concludes by saying that if you follow this process your voice will be heard. What do you think?
20 Jul 2010
In this thought leadership interview I speak to marketing consultant, author and speaker, Dana VanDen Heuvel. Besides writing regularly on thought leadership topics, Dana is a widely recognized expert on blogging, podcasting, RSS, Internet communities and interactive marketing trends and best practices. He speaks regularly on these topics at industry events around the world. You can read more about Dana’s views on Internet marketing and other marketing related topics at his blog www.danavan.net
Q1: Dana you have successfully positioning yourself as a thought leader in all things marketing. Given your experience of positioning yourself in this space, what are your tips for aspiring thought leaders in other industries?
Thanks, Craig. There are many thought leaders in marketing, and it seems, to those of us peering in, that they’ve all just arrived one day. In reality, this is something that I started working on in 2002 and have followed a very deliberate plan to sharpen my expertise and position myself as someone that (I hoped) is worth listening to in the market. Here are a few things that have helped me along the way.
1. Have a plan. I know, that sounds really basic and boring, but for the last several years I have set plans and goals in place for publishing, speaking and other presence opportunities that were based on a long list of things that I thought made up the right moves for an emerging thought leader.
2. Speak. Speaking and presenting is the #1 tool for business development and thought leadership advancement among those considered thought leaders. There’s nothing like being on stage to elevate our position. I could not be where I am without speaking. It also helps that I love doing it!
3. Keep an idea file. I keep several files for article ideas, speaking ideas and blog post ideas that help me stay on top of publishing as consistently as possible. Keep the ideas flowing and make sure that they’re useful to your audience and you’ll see yourself rise quickly.
4. Participate. Thought leaders are only thought leaders if they’ve amassed a following. You need to be involved in a community of peers in order to be seen by anyone as someone who might be useful to them.
Q 2: What are some of the benefits you have experienced of being perceived as a thought leader?
I used to be able to calculate the ratio of blog posts written to inbound leads for consulting or speaking that I received. I loved those days! While it’s a bit more challenging today, due in large part to the sheer volume of peers in the space, there are still many benefits to being considered a thought leader in any realm.
1. Awareness and ease of business development. Whether you call on someone out of the blue or they find you, your efforts in thought leadership make that first conversation a higher-level discussion based on how you can solve their problems vs. them trying to figure out just who you are.
2. Thought leadership begets opportunity. If you’re considered a thought leader in any right, it’s easier to get articles placed, become a guest blogger or get in front of an audience for a speaking engagement.
Q3: You have written a lot in the past about thought leadership particularly in the B2B space, from your experience, what are some of the barriers that hold corporations back from becoming thought leaders and what would your advice be to them to overcome these?
You know, I find that it’s usually about a company’s culture and mindset about becoming a thought leader that either position it for success or keep it from getting off the ground. I see a few things holding companies back.
1. Lack of belief in the thought leadership model. It’s a mindset and way of conducting business and you need to get that before you get to become a thought leader.
2. It’s (usually) not an ‘overnight’ marketing tactic. If you want that, try direct mail. Thought leadership takes a bit of time BUT is cumulative in effect. The more you do, the better it gets and if you’re in it for the long haul, thought leadership is going to be a big win for you.
Q4: In building your thought leadership position, what has been your key differentiating factor and what has been most effective in getting this to market?
Early on, I was the ‘B2B marketer from the trenches’ and that was a great position and differentiator. As things have moved forward, I’ve diversified my differentiators, but I tend to do a few things consistently such as bringing in multiple disciplines in my writing which helps to showcase a depth of perspective not found with some others. I’m an adjunct professor and love the academic side of things so I find that bringing in the academic perspective and melding it with the real-time and practical issues is something that can really help to set my ideas apart.
Q5: You talk about the thought leadership marketing equation: Point of view leads to share of voice which leads to share of mind and ultimately share of market. In your experience how do companies wanting to do this get there and how long does it typically take?
The equation looks simple, doesn’t it! In reality, there are several steps in each bucket. For instance, share of voice includes a research phase, to determine their current share of voice, a planning phase to determine what they need to do in order to achieve the desired level, and an implementation phase to put the plan in play and get themselves into the marketplace.
It all starts with a plan, in my opinion, and that plan can take anywhere from six months to six years. Realistically, when you’re pursuing thought leadership, depending on your industry and niche, I normally tell people to give the endeavour a year of consistent effort to get some really solid, consistent and sustainable results. That said, I’ve had clients where we went from somebody to perceived thought leader in about 60 days. In fact, that last case has one of the most sustainable thought leadership efforts of anyone I know.
Q6: You deliver a lot of interesting and informative content on your site. What are the benefits of providing so much content and what’s your advice, in particular to companies, who seem to think that giving away too much content is a sin?
Content is the medium of exchange for thought leaders. Now, there are nuances to this that I won’t go into, but on the surface, the more content you have, the more currency you have in your marketplace. If it’s you, with a content rich site sharing information that’s deemed useful by your audient (usefulness is key here), vs. a competitor with less content and fewer shared ideas and concepts, I’ve found the prospects like the person or organization that’s given them more currency and gives them a larger base perspective from which to make a decision.
For those averse to this, I don’t really have a lot of great advice. I’ve beat my head against the wall with organizations who have asked me to come in to help them with that problem and it never ends well. Thought leadership requires commitment and a corporate DNA that’s open to accepting the responsibility of thought leadership. Sure, it can be learned and organizations can change, but it’s almost always an uphill battle.
14 Jul 2010
Thought leadership is not and should not be a marketing or PR tactic – rather it is a culture. Like companies who innovate, thought leadership too should be a way of doing things.
If it is not a function of corporate culture I can guarantee that most long-term thought leadership positions will not get across the starting line. Alternatively the company produces one or two ‘thought leadership’ campaigns a year that become part of the marketing team’s annual list of objectives and kpis and are ticked off as thought leadership but are really just PR campaigns to drive coverage.
The true test of thought leadership
The true test of a thought leadership campaign is to ask the following six questions. Does your thought leadership campaign:
1. Add real value to your public’s lives/decision making/business
2. Position you as a trusted advisor engendering trust in your brand as the leader in that particular sector/area
3. Help underpin sales
4. Provide a content rich platform from which you can write, talk, publish online and share with clients valuable insights
5. Position your people as the experts and ‘go to’ people in their field
6. Move your brand from product and sales leadership to market leadership and in the process delivers long-term, sustainable advantage over your competitors.
If not you should be going back to the drawing board.
Thought leadership tops focus for B2B marketers
In 2009 thought leadership trailed behind email as the area of most significant focus for B2B marketers according to MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog. If marketers are recognising the power of thought leadership and the management consulting industry has been using thought leadership as one of their most important lead generators for over a decade, why haven’t other companies jumped on the bandwagon?
From my experience it comes back to the question of whether it is part of their culture or not. As I have indicated in previous posts, true, long-term, thought leadership campaigns need to align closely with the values of an organisation and needs to have the buy-in and ownership of senior management. Historically, the campaigns that do this fly and those that don’t fail, or at best limp along, never quite realising their true potential.
Thought leadership is about long-term reputation and trust
Unfortunately the pressure on CEOs, marketing directors and the corporate relations team to produce immediate, measurable results is a big dampener on deep-seated, long-term thought leadership campaigns. The longer-term reputation and trust building resulting from this type of campaign does not satisfy the need for immediate results.
Ask any company which as at its heart a focus on innovation or research and they will tell you that the return on this investment takes years. A culture of thought leadership is no different but the rewards are immeasurable. Ask the multinational management consultancies, they know too well.
6 Jul 2010
Every now and then someone stands out for delivering a clear, compelling thought leadership position. Booz & Company’s thought leadership position on innovation is one such instance.
I need to state up front that I have not met anyone from the business nor have I chatted to anyone in their corporate communication or innovation team – all I’ve had to go in is what I discovered on their website. This in itself is interesting because I have always been an advocate of openly sharing information with your markets. The web is a great way for people to find that information and Booz & Company has done just that for me.
Thought leadership in action – the Global Innovation 1000 study
According to their website, the company has conducted the Global Innovation 1000 study every year since 2005. The research investigates the relationship between how much companies spend on R&D and their overall financial performance. Every year, they reinforce the conclusion that there is no correlation between the two. You can see the research here http://tinyurl.com/25yz5rz
These findings as well as their analysis of what makes the most successful innovators led The Economist to call the Global Innovation 1000 “the most comprehensive assessment of the relationship between R&D investment and corporate performance.” Tom Peters called it a “provocative, research-based article that is sure to get you thinking.”Thought leadership = conversations and coverage
Unfortunately I cannot tell you how Booz has used it internally or how they have leveraged it with customers and prospects. No doubt there are some examples of how powerful it has been in these instances. What I can gauge is that since its inception, the study has been mentioned in more than 150 publications in 27 countries, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. It has also received numerous awards and has no doubt been presented at numerous conferences.
Every year the study has produced quantifiable insights and lessons for companies so that they can make more productive use of their R&D dollars. How this translates practically is supported by a page of case studies that outline how the company’s innovation insights, advice and solutions have helped clients.
On the face of it Booz is using this thought leadership position to good effect. They are sharing it online, they are giving it to clients and prospects to help their businesses and they are no doubt leveraging it to great effect internally and with their clients and prospects. Importantly, they continue to build expertise around the topic for the company and for the team involved.
The innovation experts
For example Barry Jaruzelski, who leads the company’s innovation practice is frequently quoted in publications like The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Financial Times, and The New York Times on the technology industry and the challenges of innovation. He often appears as an expert commentator on ABC News, CNBC, NPR and the BBC.
What a great position to be in to be able to share insights and knowledge that will benefit your client or prospect instead of having to try and ‘sell’ to them. What a great way to build trust and confidence in your brand and your people’s expertise. What fertile media material to generate coverage and what a superb platform and position – the innovation experts.
This is thought leadership that ticks just about every box.
More importantly, innovation is a wonderful value with which to be aligned as a business and because of the work they have done in this space, Booz & Company has achieved just that.