As many of you tech marketers understand at this point, building credibility can positively impact the activities of your sales force. With a company wide effort to publish important and relevant content the sales process can be shortened by ensuring the tech buyers perceive your organization is leading the market and has deep expertise around specific issues. To be most effective with thought leadership, the marketing team needs to have a plan in place. I have suggested before that your team should think like publishers and put together an editorial calender outlining the topics to be covered throughout the year.
There is a large quantity of information regarding thought leadership on the web and I recently came across an article in marketing profs authored by Paul Mckeon the president of The Content Factor. In the article, Paul outlines five best practices for generating thought leadership. He takes a different approach in terms of identifying the mind-set your organization should be focused toward to ensure a succesful thought leadership approach.
1. Clearly define your own brand of thought leadership
Before you embark, be sure you know where you are going. That means having a clear understanding of what thought leadership means in general, in your marketspace, and for your company. Such clarity will ensure that other key stakeholders in your organization follow you, and it will help them understand what it takes.
Experts agree that thought leadership is one of the most misunderstood, overused, and abused terms in business.
“Thought leadership is one of those terms people throw around with no idea what it means,” said Beverly McDonald, former chief communication officer at Infor, a $2 billion software company.
“People think it means repeating what has already been said in the marketplace and if they do it with more frequency they’ll rise above the noise. Or they think it’s an alternative way to get their name in the press when they can’t get attention with any real news. The bottom line for me has always been that you can’t be a great thought leader unless you have great thoughts.”
2. Be guided by generosity
Thought leadership is a commitment to a grander goal than lead generation.
On her blog, elise.com, Elise Bauer says that a spirit of generosity is essential to thought leadership, and it’s a good summary of the shift in mindset that should occur when a company makes the transition from business leader to thought leader.
“Thought leadership requires generosity of one’s time, intelligence and knowledge,” Bauer counsels.
Consider the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” as a mantra for your thought-leadership efforts, and understand that with a little patience your company will benefit from your work. Companies will look to you for insight and innovation. The media will quote you, and analysts will respect you. And rest assured that your brand will have earned a new credibility and glow that, although difficult to quantify on a spreadsheet, will build your company’s success over the long term.
3. Tell, don’t sell
In our post-credit meltdown marketplace, the consumer—whether B2B or B2C—is more skeptical than ever and can spot an insincere bit of “trust me” marketing a mile away. That is all the more reason for companies to exercise due diligence when starting a thought-leadership program. Be sure it is more “chalk talk” than “pep talk.”
For example, if whitepapers are part of the program, be sure you understand that they should offer objective analysis of an industry issue or problem, not promotion or technical documentation of your products. A whitepaper should accomplish the following:
- Justify why the problem must be solved
- Objectively explore alternative ways to solve the problem
- Logically lead the reader to the conclusion that your organization has the knowledge, expertise, and tools required to solve the problem
4. Take yourself out of the story
Ken Anderberg, publisher and editorial director of Health Management Technology magazine, looks for people who take a bold stand on the issues when he selects contributors to the publication’s regular “Thought Leaders” column.
“The contributors should be presenting an overview that is not self-serving,” he said. “We’re looking for information that is useful for your readers, not a self-serving discussion of a company’s technology.”
5. Take risks; be visionary
Many companies measure a marketing effort’s success solely by how many leads it generates. That shortsighted view doesn’t take into account the longer-term return on investment of a thought-leadership program.
They are also apprehensive about sharing information that goes beyond what is contained in corporate collateral or on their website.
What they don’t stop to consider is that all organizations have a “secret sauce” or “family jewels” that set them apart, and keeping them locked away in the far corners of the organization is not the behavior of a true thought leader, especially not in today’s connected world.
Bottom Line: With the right mind set and expectations, your thought leadership can build your organization’s credibility and truly position itself as a thought leader.