A couple of years ago (early in 2010), research giant Gartner, Inc. published a report from Rolf Jester, one of the company’s vice president’s and distinguished analysts, that noted that thought leadership marketing (TLM) was a powerful tool for multi-channel marketing communications success.
Jester said that while it was once the province solely of consulting firms and service businesses, where it typically accounted for as much as 20 percent of marketing expenditures, it was emerging as an important tool for other businesses, too. In just two years, what was once an emerging discipline has become a major part of nearly every digital marketer’s toolkit.
What changed in two years? For one thing, the percentage of companies on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites has soared. So has the number of blogs like this one that offer “best practices” and tips around a specific market segment. Both social media and blogging are important parts of multi-channel marketing communications efforts today, and both are critical in effective thought-leadership campaigns.
More importantly, marketers paid attention to Gartner and others who used their own thought leadership marketing platforms to build their businesses. You don’t have to be Leonardo da Vinci, thinking 500 years ahead of your time to be a thought leader. You simply have to be able to articulate what you know in a way that captures people’s interest and imagination.
It’s a simple idea. You give away a little valuable intellectual property to establish your potential usefulness to prospective customers, in the expectation that they will eventually pay for your expertise by purchasing a product or service from you.
Multi-channel marketing communications for thought leadership marketing ins’t quite so simple in practice. There are three basic kinds of thought-leadership campaigns, which (in large distributed marketing organizations) are usually driven by the corporate public relations or marketing communications team.
- Opportunistic. This type of program tends to be short-term and promotional-campaign focused. It boosts interest in and therefore sales of a specific offering.
- Door-opening. This type of program can help establish or expand permission to play and is ongoing, although it evolves as acceptance grows to build visibility and credibility in the market.
- Brand support. This is the most sustained type of TLM program and is used to reinforce the brand promise and image.
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
Be honest: if you came to this blog after seeing one of our tweets, and found that every post you saw was a repeat of something you’d seen dozens of times before, how likely would you be to come back? There’s nothing wrong with repeating valuable information you learned elsewhere, but in order to be a real thought leader, you need to have some original information, too. Or, if the information isn’t original, you need to present it in a new way that’s easier to understand, clearer, or better organized.
And don’t stop by delivering the information through just one channel, such as a PDF, white paper, or blog post. Write a press release and distribute it through an SEO-smart press release distribution service. Turn it into a by-lined article that becomes a guest post on a popular blog or in a trade publication. Create a PowerPoint presentation that’s available for download on SlideShare. Using out-of-the-box PR to deliver your message to a larger audience maximizes the value of thought leadership campaigns.
Become Vertically Famous
Step one is picking the vertical market niche you want to focus on. “Social media” isn’t a vertical niche anymore. “Social media for the highly regulated financial services and insurance industries”, on the other hand, is a niche market where you stand a chance of building your reputation. This is one case where it’s better to be the big fish in a small pond than to be an invisible minnow trying to challenge the whales in a huge ocean.
Exercise Your Voice
Take a stand, develop your style, and build an online persona. It’s been called many things, but whatever it is, it’s critical to branding yourself and your company as a thought leader. Sometimes the “voice” is a single executive within the company – sometimes it’s the brand itself – and sometimes it’s a created spokesperson like Betty Crocker. Sometimes the voice is hard-hitting, no-nonsense, and a little outrageous. Other times it’s the voice of calm reason, always professional. Think about what you want to achieve, the demographics of your target audience, and make a conscious decision to use and develop the voice that you think will work best over the long term.
Don’t forget to protect your “voice”, by having a social media and intellectual property agreement in place with anyone hired to help with your thought leadership campaigns. Litigation over the ownership of social media accounts, created “characters” who blog, and other thought-leadership factors is increasingly common. So tie up all the loose ends about ownership and expectations before you get started.
Talk More, Listen More
Part of becoming a thought leader is talking more – not just writing more, but actually becoming a public speaker. And as you become better known, and are asked to talk more and more, don’t forget to stop and listen.
Did you ever meet an honest-to-goodness industry guru face-to-face? Chances are, if you did, you were struck by the amount of time they took to ask you questions, and listen to your answers. That’s because they know the value of connecting with real people. For some, it’s a matter of good manners learned as a child – but the real experts know that face-to-face chemistry is simply priceless.