I’m finding that more and more my role here is going to be to point you to great thinking that’s going on about thought leadership. I didn’t know about Haydn Shaughnessy until this week, but I’m adding him to my blogroll today and suggest you do to.
Just this one quote from him is enough to make me appreciate his thinking:
Thought Leadership is not about controlling perceptions — it is about leading them. But leading them in tangible ways. It is not content fodder to bolster the brand. It is all about planning and advocating a route to a new way of doing business, and in ways that reflect well on everybody involved.
Shaughnessy is part of a group call the Next Generation Enterprise Think Tank. They focus on writing about the changing business landscape and how hyper-innovation is going to be critical to your business growth. Check them out.
I’ve recently read some blog posts and news items that I found valuable as a thought leadership marketer and thought I’d pass them on to you.
It’s Time to Take a Stand
Jeff Ernst, in B2B Magazine, blogs one of the clearest and succinct definitions of thought leadership marketing that I’ve come across:
We define thought-leadership marketing as: The process of formulating big ideas and insightful points of view on the issues your buyers face, capturing those ideas in multiple content vehicles and sharing the ideas with prospects and customers to enlighten them, engage them in a dialogue, and position your company as a trusted resource.
Jeff goes on to make a great case for holding a thought leadership position to differentiate your firm. Read the blog.
On the Value of Thought Leadership
Jason O’Donnell, The Wayward Celt, asks and answers the following questions in his blog:
How can you effectively measure thought leadership and eminence in the industry? Or rather, and perhaps more importantly, is the value of being a thought leader more important than the simply monthly indicators of engagement and content consumption?
They are questions that we all seek answers for. I’m not going to give his answer away, but I like it. Read his blog and let me know what you think.
Four Ways to be a Thought Leader with Your Writing
In her blog, Content Mastery Guide, Linda Dessau offers great advice on how to write a thought leadership blog post. She first discusses four different types of thought leadership posts you might write:
- Propose your own theory
- Take a stand on an issue
- Present a puzzle
- Put your own unique take on an established principle or solution
She goes on to discuss what makes a thought leadership post and gives advice on how to write one. It’s a great blog post that I encourage you to read.
Content Marketing News
Content Marketing Institute News is a new online channel offering the latest information on content marketing practices. Content marketing practices are the primary techniques you’ll use to create a thought leadership position. The site was launched July 5th in partnership with PR Newswire and features original and curated content from across the web on how marketers are thinking and acting more like publishers. Be sure to add it to your blogroll.
Thought leadership marketing may be hitting the big time. Forrester Research just published a paper entitled Thought Leadership: The Next Wave Of Differentiation In B2B Marketing. Jeff Ernst, the author of the paper, says:
Business-to-business (B2B) marketers need to position their firms as thought leaders on the issues their buyers face. But most firms don’t have a process or framework for managing thought leadership marketing initiatives, so they push out product brochures and white papers disguised as thought leadership content.
It’s a great endorsement for thought leadership marketing. I don’t know Ernst and haven’t read the report (at $499 it’s out of my price range), but if you have a Forrester account be sure to check it out.
Ernst is pushing the new Forrester platform for thought leadership marketing, which at first blush obvious (but who am I to complain about publicity for the cause). Forrester’s IDEA Platform for Thought Leadership Marketing consists of these four steps:
- Identify your target audience, their issues, and the sources of information they trust.
- Develop your thought leadership platform: the ideas and content that express the company’s positions.
- Engage your audience through a considered mix of digital, social, and traditional channels.
- Assess the impact on your business and revise or reinvest.
One thing I see missing from these steps is a consideration of the competition from a thought leadership perspective. Like in any market, if there are already lots of folks vying for a leadership position in an area, you may want to avoid that area. You at least have to determine whether or not you can compete. It doesn’t do you much good if you have ideas and content on positions where others are clearly in the lead.
Ernst also has some good stuff to say about thought leadership marketing in his blog. In It’s Time to Take a Stand … In Your Marketing, he says:
Marketers have to realize that in the age of the customer, business buyers don’t “buy” your product; they “buy into” your approach to solving their problem. Read that last sentence again. Your products aren’t as unique as you think. In fact, in most markets, the products and services are fairly commoditized. Buyers want to do business with firms that share their outlook on the world and have philosophies on solving key problems that align with their own. Yet so many marketers only talk about their features and benefits.
What do you do about it? Establishing a position of thought leadership in your market is becoming the next arena for differentiation in B2B marketing. When done right, thought leadership marketing is a way to stand out from the competition, create interest, and earn the trust of potential buyers early in their problem-solving process.
In checking out this information I came across Forrester’s CMO and Marketing Professionals’ Community where there have been some great conversations on thought leadership marketing that you should read.
Well, enough selling for Forrester today. Keep thinking.
I was recently reviewing an IT software company’s website homepage and saw quickly that they were doing things right and wrong at the same time.
When a prospect comes to your homepage three things have to happen in less than 10 seconds. They have to realize quickly that they’re on the right website. They have to get a sense that there’s something of value for them there. And they have to know what to do next.
That means that first your brand has to be clearly recognizable. In this case, the company’s name, logo, and selling sentence or tagline under the logo were the first items you see when you come to the homepage. I knew right away I was in the right place. So, they met the first hurdle with flying colors.
Next, my eye went from the brand information directly to a value proposition statement. The statement told me quickly that this product could meet a need that I have. That means that I saw right away that there was value to me in continuing to read the homepage. So the website quickly lifted me over the second hurdle.
From the value proposition, I was quickly drawn to the button that said “Download trial version of software.” Whoa! In a sense, the website was doing something right – it made it extremely clear what to do next. But I felt like I was on a first date and the first words out of my date’s mouth were “Hi, would you like to get engaged?” I tripped on the third hurdle and fell on my face.
So, what should have been done? I needed time to learn to trust the company. I needed to learn a lot more about how the firm’s software has been used to solve the problems I face. What I needed next was some information that showed the company understood my needs—maybe a white paper, or a video, or research, or a case study. I needed some nurturing (and thought leadership marketing is one of the best strategies I know of for nurturing leads). Like most people I’m really busy, so I’m not about to download trial software and spend time setting it up and playing with it without knowing (and feeling) beforehand that this product is a likely fit. Just like my date metaphor, I needed more dates before I was about to commit to serious time and effort.
Bottom line, don’t try to rush your sale, you’ll just chase your prospects away (same goes for personal relationships).
I just got an invitation to a webinar that you should all attend: Blogging for Thought Leadership by Dana VanDen Heuvel, May 3, 11:30am CDT. He’s one of the best in the business. It got me to thinking about how few opportunities there are to learn about thought leadership marketing, so I thought I’d put together a brief list of resources (blogs and books) that I use. There are, of course, lots of learning opportunities for related topics like content marketing, social media, B2B marketing, etc., but there’s not a lot that speaks directly to thought leadership. If you know of any others please add them to the list—I love to learn.
- Dana VanDen Heuvel – Marketing Savant
- Craig Bradings – Thought Leadership
- Britton Manasco – Illuminating the Future
- Bob Buday – The Bloom Group
- Tim Parker – The Bloom Group
- Jim Pennypacker (yeah, me) – Thought Leadership Marketing
- Sari Aapola (2009). Sustainable Thought Leadership: How to Build Awareness and Credibility to Support Business. BookSurge Publishing.
- Craig Badings (2009). Brand Stand: Seven Steps to Thought Leadership. Bookpal.
- Robert Buday and Bernie Thiel (2008). Thoughts on Thought Leadership: Insights on Creating Demand for Professional Services. The Bloom Group.
- Mitchell Levy (2009). 42 Rules for Driving Success With Books: Success Stories of Corporate and Author Thought Leadership. Super Star Press.
- Jan Phillips (2006). The Art of Original Thinking: The Making of a Thought Leader. 9th Element Press.
- Robin Ryde (2007). Thought Leadership: Moving Hearts and Minds. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Steven Van Yoder (2007). Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort, 2nd Edition. Bay Tree Publishing.
As I’ve gotten older, the things I see in the marketplace bother me more and more. Since there needs to be some benefit to getting older, I’d like to think that I’ve earned the right to curmudgeonhood. That said, here are a few things that I wish you’d just do differently.
- You call yourself (or your firm) a thought leader. That’s just chutzpah — arrogant, self-serving, and self-defeating. First, you don’t get to make the call, your audience does. When your audience sees you refer to yourself as a thought leader they react negatively — just like they do when you say you have the best software or the best services. Why should anyone believe you? Don’t self-promote.
- You don’t think. Well, maybe not you personally, but you publish content with no evidence that original thinking ever went into the creation of that content. Stop with the “me-to” marketing. Thought leadership is a competitive positioning strategy. That means you need to think up something better than your competitors. And that means that you, as the marketer, have to get some folks in your organization to make the effort to actually think.
- You don’t focus. You (well, again, maybe not you, but certainly your boss) want to be seen as the big thought leader – the IT thought leader, or the cloud computing thought leader. Well, if you have gazillions of dollars to spend, that might work (and if you do, please give me a call). But most firms need to focus narrowly on some aspect of their business so they can legitimately position themselves as thought leaders to win that business. That takes focus, a really clear understanding of your audience information needs, and a well-thought-out thought leadership strategy.
- You say we should stop using the phrase thought leadership. You claim it’s become overused, meaningless, a cliché, whatever. Well, all the alternatives I’ve seen are far worse. And it’s a perfectly good phrase that’s simply misused. So let’s define it clearly so folks agree, generally, what it means and use it right. Next thing you know you’ll want to stop using the word marketing (the same criticisms apply, you know).
- You call your white papers thought leadership. There’s far more to thought leadership than a white paper, or even a series of white papers. If you think that publishing a few items will make you a thought leader, you will fail. You’ll have to follow this blog over the next year or two or three to see what I mean.
If you agree with me, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you’re one of the folks I’ve described above, I’d love to hear how you’re going to change. OK, if you disagree with me, you can respond as well, but you better have a good argument.
More to come…