21 Dec 2011
I asked 12 people who I consider to be leading global commentators on thought leadership as well as some who have produced some amazing thought leadership programs in-house over the years to comment on four critical thought leadership questions for 2012.
Inspired by their answers I couldn’t help chipping in with my own thoughts.
As a result of the overwhelmingly positive response, I have split the interviews into four different posts – one post per question.
In the New Year I will make available an e book containing all the answers.
Interviewees include: Bob Buday, Erica Klein, David Meerman Scott, Jeff Ernst, Rob Leavitt, Britton Manasco, Dana van den Heuvel, Matt Church, Fiona Czerniawska, Dale Bryce, Elizabeth Sosnow, Marte Semb Aaasmundsen and me.
This post covers their answers to question two:
Question two: From your experience, what are the biggest challenges in
getting a thought leadership program off the ground?
“It’s easy to get a thought leadership program off the ground. Many firms start by outsourcing a white paper to a third party like my firm and then do little else. In my experience, this rarely works because the expectations are so high (“We expect the white paper to generate hundreds of leads quickly”) and the understanding of what it takes to have an effective thought leadership program so low.
“These firms typically have little appetite for creating a thought leadership machine because that takes budget and time. Even more important, they don’t realize how much time that their internal experts will need to spend on the program – in writing, developing their ideas, presenting them publically, and in working with others to capture their ideas.
“So I’ll change the question slightly and then answer it: The biggest challenge to getting a highly effective thought leadership program off the ground (“effective” defined as generating leads and revenue) is a recognition by those who are funding the program that they will need to commit sufficient time (no quick miracle results) and resources (yes, budget, and as important people’s time to participate in it) to the endeavor.
“If they don’t, there will be initial excitement and eventual disinterest as they find “that thought leadership white paper didn’t do much.”
“As a thought leadership writer and consultant, I develop a detailed Project Brief for my clients upfront, something they generally don’t have enough time to do themselves, but which can serve as a solid foundation for every step of the process.
“The single greatest obstacle in launching a thought leadership initiative is not having a detailed document that clearly articulates the desired results, expected budget range, the list of key approvers and important influencers, content and graphics development stages, and realistic timeframes.
“Many a terrific thought leadership program has foundered on the rocks of project management and time management.”
Matt Church, founder of the Global Thought Leaders Movement and creator of the Million Dollar Expert Program. He is the author of 5 books including Thought Leaders and his latest Sell Your Thoughts http://www.mattchurch.com)
“A thought leadership program is not for the faint of heart, it’s not a short-term trend or cool idea. It’s about focussing on your best and brightest and communicating their uniqueness to the internal and external audiences. “
“Thought leadership projects almost always falter without a differentiated, actionable idea. It’s pretty simple. If you spend the
time to get your ideas in order, the rest of program falls neatly into place.
“Another frequent challenge – finding the right thought leader.
“A good program requires an articulate thinker who understands how to inspire their audience segment. Ideally, that thought
leader actually becomes the embodiment of the idea.”
Jeff Ernst, is the Principal Analyst, serving CMO and Marketing Leadership Professionals at Forrester Research and is probably best described as a thought leader in B2B marketing and sales strategy (http://www.forrester.com/rb/analyst/jeff_ernst)
“The biggest challenge my clients face is getting the commitment from senior management to make thought leadership a top priority and to allocate time from the subject matter experts in the company who are needed to define the thought leadership platform and develop the idea hierarchy.”
David Meerman Scott is one of the pre-eminent thought leaders on PR and marketing. He is a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, seminar leader, and author of the #1 bestseller The New Rules of Marketing & PR (which has been published in 26 languages) and the Wall Street Journal bestseller Real-Time Marketing & PR. He recently launched his new online book: “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage”. (http://www.davidmeermanscott.com/)
“Typically marketing people spend their time talking about products and services. The average marketing person is very good at
doing things like brochures and advertising but they have great difficulty in providing thought leadership-type content that has nothing to do with their products or services.
“In fact most of them are terrible at not talking about their products and services. Even a lot of the thought leadership campaigns out there currently contain too many product and service mentions.”
Dale Bryce is the group manager marketing for Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM), a global strategic consulting, engineering and project delivery firm. He has been instrumental in their successful ‘client first’ thought leadership approach (http://www.skmconsulting.com/Home/)
“The challenge in professional services is often to get the gurus to see the big picture. Ironic isn’t it?
“Why?” is always a great first question to ask, or to answer.
“It is a delight working with such brilliant people, in my case engineering and before that the law, but even brilliant people need context. And that context usually needs to come from a deeper understanding of clients and their business – their commercial and technical issues and personal needs too.
“We have been running a Client Insights program for a while now. Our clients are clearly telling us they want us to stay in touch, “not just take the order”. They want someone to bring forward valuable ideas. And, they actually want unsolicited proposals that solve their problems.
“So, in terms of thought leadership, especially in professional services, time needs to be spent on the “Why?”, before we launch into the “What?”. And that can be a challenge.
“Subject matter expertise is a given in thought leadership. The key is connecting the dots, for clients and our thought leaders too.”
Marte Semb Aasmundsen, graduated this month with her MSc Strategic Public Relations and Communications Management at The University of Stirling in the UK. Her thesis was on thought leadership.
“It is absolutely necessary to get backing from the board. Also, companies must understand that true thought leadership takes time to build, and needs a great deal of work and resources.
“It must be well researched and align with the perceptions and values of a brand and their stakeholders.”
Britton Manasco is the founder of Manasco Marketing Partners which specializes in creating thought leadership marketing and sales enablement solutions. Britton produces a thought leadership strategy blog Illuminating the Future and the executive journal, Elevation Quarterly. (http://www.brittonmanasco.com/)
“If I switch to the marketing perspective (as opposed to sales), I’d say that the biggest challenge is the creation of relevant, compelling and insightful content.
“It’s best if you are strong at drawing on outside and independent perspectives – whether they come from market influencers or buyers/practitioners. It takes rigor, discipline and a defined program to generate content that works in an ongoing fashion.
“You’ll probably want to hire empathic and proven content creators – people who can produce interesting content in many formats and for many buyers.”
Rob Leavitt is a B2B marketing strategist, specializing in issues-based marketing. He is currently Director of Thought Leadership at PTC, a $1 billion enterprise software firm. (http://www.reputationtorevenue.com/)
“I’m actually doing this myself these days so the question is far from academic!
“Three of the biggest challenges I’m facing right now are turning general interest across the organization into a focused program with agreed priorities, processes, and production; balancing the desire for ramping up content production with the need to build serious, deep, and credible points of view on key customer issues; and building a strong enough network of relationships with
customers and sales people to make sure the program is truly focused on what is most useful with those two key groups.”
Fiona Czerniawska is one of the foremost global authorities on thought leadership, particularly in the management consultancy space. She is the co-founder of Source, a company specialising in researching the consulting industry (http://www.sourceforconsulting.com)
“Where to start? The best thought leadership comes down to picking topical issues, researching them thoroughly to a point where you have something new to say, and then writing the results up in an appealing and engaging manner.
“The first of these (picking topical issues) depends on having a) a clear view of what your clients are interested in – ideally more than a vague sense, but something itself grounded in research – and b) a culture / decision-making process which makes it possible to make decisions. Many firms end up producing thought leadership on too many areas because they’re afraid to choose.
“The second (thorough research and new insights) comes down to what I term the ‘second day in the room’ syndrome: lots of firms are prepared to get their experts together for a day, but the firms that stand out in thought leadership terms are those who make them go back in for a second day – and that’s symptomatic of a commitment to research and investment.
“The third and final point (appeal and engagement) depends on recognition that there’s a lot of (too much!) thought leadership out there and you have to be brave if you’re going to stand out.
“So taking risks is a necessary part of doing thought leadership well.”
Dana VanDen Heuvel is a marketing consultant, author and speaker. He is a recognized expert on blogging, podcasting, RSS, Internet communities and interactive marketing trends and best practices as well as thought leadership (http://www.marketingsavant.com/)
“I have seen a few hurdles that typically keep an organization from thought leadership success:
“First, the confidence conundrum. In order to be a thought leader, an organization’s leadership must have the confidence that they can pull off the thought leader posture in the marketplace. If anyone on the leadership team feels that the organization is under-qualified, then the idea of thought leadership will smolder, so to speak, but never really catch fire within the organization. Moreover, if thought leadership can’t be sustained as an idea in the organization, it will never resonate with the
“Second, I’m not a publisher” mentality. In order to be a successful thought leader, organizations need to both think and publish. Yes, there’s more to it, but good strong content is as the core of a thought leadership program. I hear from countless organizations who would like to ascend to the “expert in their industry”, thought leader or “trusted advisor” status who just can’t get it together when it comes to creating content.
“Third, differentiation in the marketplace. Taking a position as a thought leader requires that you have true differentiation not only of products but more importantly of ideas. Organizations need to be “original thinkers” in order to manifest thought leadership. While I always believe that any business that’s been around for even a few years has found its differentiation, knowing that you’re different and being able to articulate that in a thought leadership position to the market remains a challenge.”
“Three things: if it’s not centred on your client issues and challenges it will fail or at best limp along; a lack of resources to properly plan, leverage and maintain your thought leadership point of view; and a lack of commitment from senior management.”
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