I recently came across some research from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association and RainToday.com that offers great advice to thought leadership marketers: how successful firms fill their sales pipelines.
Successful firms know their prospects well: they’ve done their research so they know the names of the firms they should be targeting, the titles of the decision makers at those firms, and the actual names of the decision makers. Successful firms are knowledgeable about their prospects’ industries as well, especially the specific business challenges that they face. This knowledge is critical for creating the kinds of relevant value propositions that you need to capture the attention of your prospects.
Successful firms understand that prospects are looking for relevant content, content that directly addresses their business challenges. This means that you need to know what issues are important to your prospects and then develop great content that meets those information needs. In particular, successful firms stand out in their markets because they offer insight into emerging business issues and market trends, as well as insight into possible solutions that might solve their prospects’ business problems.
Prospects are never certain about what they’re going to get if they buy from you. So offering a taste of what you might provide them goes a long way towards making them a customer. Successful firms provide that taste by holding or sponsoring conferences and seminars, publishing articles or white papers, and engaging in truly consultative sales calls — all content heavy experiences.
Successful firms nurture leads over time, with multiple “touches” to help warm up the prospects to their sales message. Two tactics in particular are cited in the research as best practices — get your company thought leaders in front of prospects with an active speaker program, and have your marketing department nurture your leads before handing them over to sales.
Successful firms have a staff of dedicated sales professionals and not just experts or managers who take on the sales role. Success means having the right people in the right roles.
You don’t engage in social media activities for the fun of it (although it can be fun). You’re in business, and you have business goals to meet. You think that using social media will help you meet those goals — like making money — but how. You need a clearly defined social media strategy. Strategic clarity will guide you in meeting those goals. Without clarity, your social media activities become scattershot and vague. They lack energy because they lack focus.
Why are you engaging in social media? To build relationships, to position your company as a thought leader, to better understand your customers’ needs, to build credibility through word of mouth, for direct sales. Whatever your goals, you need to clearly understand them and focus your content on helping you reach those goals. Always ask yourself, what action do we need potential customers to take to help us meet our goals?
Who is your audience. Right now. In the particular social media channel you’re using. Are they people who don’t know you? Show them that you have insights about industry trends. Offer original research, link to other highly regarded sources of information. Are they prospects who know your brand but don’t know that you have a solution to their problem? Use customer stories that demonstrate that you’ve solved similar problems for others. Are they almost ready to buy but aren’t sure who to buy from? Use content that compares you to your competitors or content that implies a recommendation. Include case studies and examples of how your ideas were applied successfully.
When considering your content, your audience is asking themselves one question: Why should I care? They are only engaging with you because they believe there’s something in it for them. You need to make it clear that you appreciate that, and that your content has been created specifically because it has something in it for them.
When creating a thought leadership marketing strategy, you should focus first on three elements: customers, competition, and content. In this post I’ll give a brief overview on what you need to think about these elements and go into more detail on each one in my next three posts.
Who are your customers, and what are their information needs? I find that a lot of companies, particularly small and mid-sized companies, don’t have a really clear picture of their customers. By that I mean, what their title is, what their function is, what kind of people they are, what issues keep them awake at night — a really detailed description of their customer. I find that going through the process of developing buyer personas to create a clear picture of your customers to be well worth the effort.
Then once you’ve clearly identified your potential customers, you need to think about their information needs. What do they need to know, and when? There are various ways to determine this, but I find that having conversations with your salespeople (heaven forbid) about it can be a fruitful and inexpensive means for coming up with some answers.
Thought leadership marketing is actually a competitive positioning technique. By that I mean that what you are trying to do is position your firm as a thought leader on some topic or topics to set yourself apart from your competition in those topic areas. Of course, you want to choose a topic area that’s related to your core business goals. Never forget that your ultimate goal is to grow your business, and that positioning your firm as a thought leader is a technique to help you achieve that goal.
So, in the area you want to be a thought leader, who is your competition, and what are they doing to hold a thought leadership position? If your competitors aren’t doing much, it can be relatively easy to gain that thought leadership position. If they’re doing a lot, you’ll have to be prepared to make a concerted effort, or maybe you need to narrow the topic area in which you’re looking to position yourself. Either way, you need to know what your competition is doing and how they are perceived by the marketplace.
Thought leadership marketing is executed through content. You’re seen as a thought leader by what you’ve written in your blog or on your website or in magazines or books, etc. and by what you’ve said — in webinars or at events or even person-to-person. So, what content do you need to position yourself as a thought leader? The answer, of course, depends on what you’ve learned when you’ve determined what your prospective customer’s informational needs are and what your competition is doing.
Once you clearly understand your customers and your competition you need to determine the following:
By focusing on customers, competition, and content you’ll be well on your way to creating a great thought leadership marketing strategy. In our next blog we’ll go into more detail about what you need to do to understand your customer’s information needs.
No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. — Voltaire
It may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: One of the first things you need to do to build a thought leadership marketing position is think. Now most of us think on occasion, but for you to position yourself as a thought leader, you have to do a fair amount of it. And you can actually practice thinking — there are numerous tools and techniques that can help.
I’ve listed 10 books that offer great techniques for improving your capacity to think. So unless you’re already a great thinker, check out a couple of these. And remember to practice every chance you get.
Junta42 has done it again. If you’re not familiar with them, Junta42 is a content marketing firm that publishes some of the best information on content marketing in the profession. And they’ve just released a new white paper on engagement that is must reading. Written by Junta42′s founder, Joe Pulizzi, and Keith Weigold of Nutlug, the white paper tells you why engagement is important to you and your customers and how to use engagement in your marketing strategy and measure whether you’ve succeeded or not.
Engagement: Understanding It, Achieving It, Measuring It outlines a six-step plan for implementing an engagement strategy:
Effective thought leadership marketing requires that you create great content to engage your audience (prospects and customers). Engagement means that your content got their attention. Are you trying to educate them? Maybe you point out an industry trend so they’re better prepared for the future. Or are you trying to demonstrate that you have a certain expertise? Maybe you offer them a solution to a problem they face they hadn’t thought of. How you engage your audience should be determined by what you want to accomplish.
Whatever thought leadership content you publish, your audience will appreciate the value you’ve provided. They’ll usually show this appreciation by engaging with you in various ways—subscribing to your newsletter, downloading your white papers, buying your book, commenting on your blog, retweeting your tweets. You’ll develop a relationship that connects you. Eventually this connection, this engagement, will lead your audience to trust you, rely on you, and cause them to act in your favor (buy from you or recommend you).
Engagement is key to a successful thought leadership marketing strategy. So follow the steps outlined above and you’ll be well on your way toward building that trusted relationship you’re looking for.
Now that you’ve put all that effort into creating your great thought leadership content, what are you going to do with it? You probably published it originally to engage your prospects and customers. But to reach new and larger audiences you should regularly republish your content on a variety of online media sites. Your content will not only show up when people search those sites for your topic, but these postings can help you move to the top of general search engines as well. For example, when you search “thought leadership marketing” in Google, an e-book that I posted on Scribd shows up in the top ten listings. That’s higher than this blog!
So, where should you publish? Here are my top ten sites for repurposing your content (and I recommend that you use them all).
Do you have any sites you’d like to recommend?
The following 10 errors in grammar and style bug me. When I’m reading thought leadership marketing content and come across one of these, I stop reading. And I wonder why a “thought leader” is making this kind of mistake. I’ll continue to read, usually, but I’m now questioning the credibility of the author. There’s no excuse for making these mistakes. So just follow my advice and your credibility as a writer will go unscathed.
This one’s easy. Comprised of is wrong. Always. Just don’t use it. It drives me crazy when I read it. If you must use comprise, use it without of. Wrong: An office is comprised of desks, chairs, and computers. Right: An office comprises desks, chairs, and computers. Unfortunately some dictionaries are allowing the use of comprised of because it’s been misused so much it’s now somewhat commonplace and therefore somewhat “acceptable.” Not by me!
Place a comma before and when it introduces an independent clause but not when it separates two predicates. What’s that mean you ask? Notice that in “The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed” the group of words before the comma has a subject (records) and a verb (have), and the group of words after the comma has a subject (story) and verb (can) as well. In this case, use the comma. In “He has had several years’ experience and is thoroughly competent”, don’t put a comma before and because He is the subject of the group of words before and (“He has had several years’ experience …”) as well as after (“He is … thoroughly competent.”).
Don’t capitalize words willy-nilly. You capitalize a word when it’s a name or a title. It’s not good enough to just be a noun, even an important noun. So if you’re writing about a Marketing Department, don’t capitalize it, like I just did, unless you’re talking about a specific marketing department that’s officially named Marketing Department.
It’s means it is. Always. It’s a contraction like don’t (do not), shouldn’t (should not), won’t (will not). You get the point. Its is the possessive of it. It belongs to or possesses something. “My BlackBerry lost its connection.” We often confuse the two because most possessives use an apostrophe: “I lost my BlackBerry’s case. Yes, that’s right, I lost its case.” If you’re not sure, just read the sentence as if it says it is. If it doesn’t make sense, then it’s its.
Use then to refer to time. Use than to compare two things. If you’re not looking to know when (then) use than. Now isn’t that easy.
A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject. Participial phrases are short groups of words that often begin a sentence to add vigor to your writing, sometimes combining two short sentences or thoughts. The problem occurs when the phrase doesn’t modify what immediately follows. Wrong: “After rotting in the cellar for weeks, Jack threw away the oranges.” This sentence smells. The subject of the sentence is Jack, so the sentence is saying that Jack is rotting in the cellar. But you really want to say that the oranges are rotting. Right: “After rotting in the cellar for weeks, the oranges were thrown away by Jack.”
Enclose parenthetic expressions between two commas. Wrong: “Jane’s husband, Charles paid us a visit.” Put a comma after Charles as well as before. It’s called a parenthetic expression because you could also put parentheses around the expression: “Jane’s husband (Charles) paid us a visit.”
Different than, like comprised of, is wrong. Always. Just don’t use it. One thing differs from another, so use different from.
I often see writers use quotation marks to emphasize a word. Don’t do it. Use quotation marks around words or sentences because you are quoting something. Or you use quotation marks around a word or phrase when you are trying to imply so-called. In the first paragraph of this blog I referred to “thought leaders.” The quotes mean that I am referring to so-called thought leaders. Note that when I actually use so-called in front of the word, I no long put that word in quotation marks. You can also use quotation marks when you use words in special ways, like for irony or slang. Just don’t use quotes for emphasis. Good writing will take care of that.
Avoid starting a sentence with however when it means nevertheless. Wrong: “The roads were almost impassable. However, we at last succeeded in reaching camp.” Right: “The roads were almost impassable. At last, however, we succeeded in reaching camp.” It is proper, however, to use however to start a sentence when it means in whatever way or to whatever extent. Right: “However discouraging the prospect, he never lost heart.” Note that however in this sense is not followed by a comma.
I was rereading a marketing classic, Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and was impressed by how well their message still holds up (I guess that’s why it’s called a classic). It’s particularly relevant to those trying to practice thought leadership marketing.
Positioning is the process marketers use to try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for their product, brand, or organization [Wikipedia]. The subtitle of Positioning says it all — The battle for your mind: How to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace. Here are some of the key points the authors make that are especially relevant to thought leadership marketers:
How do you position your business? It’s not easy. The authors suggest that you begin by answering the following questions:
There are two general types of e-books, each with its own purpose. The first is the e-book that was originally a printed book that has been converted to an e-book (see ebooks.com for thousands of examples). These books are usually 100-400 pages long, almost all words, with minimal design — you know, a book. They are expected to be read starting at the beginning and continuing, reading page after page, until you’ve reached the end. These books are usually produced by publishers and made available for sale, just like traditional books only online. They are usually Adobe Acrobat files or in proprietary formats for e-reading devices like the Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, and others.
The other e-book type is primarily used for marketing, especially thought leadership marketing or content marketing. They are usually 24-60 pages long (some are longer, some shorter). They are designed specifically to be e-books. By that I mean they are designed to be read online. They often have extensive graphics, including photos, illustrations, graphs, sidebars, callouts, a broad range of type sizes. This type of e-book is often read out of order — these books are often reference tools with discrete sections that address specific topics of interest to the reader. The e-books are usually Adobe Acrobat files since the reader, like the e-book, is free. The following are a few bits of advice for creating a well-designed, effective marketing ebook:
The e-book provides writers and designers new opportunities to creatively engage their reader. Take advantage of those opportunities. There are thousands of free e-books available online for you to compare (although many, if not most, are poorly written and designed). Three of my favorites are The eBook eBook by Jonathan Kranz and designed by Ciano Design, MarketTech 08 by Dana VanDen Heuvel, and Lost Control of Your Marketing by David Meerman Scott. If you have favorites, let us know.
Most folks I meet say to me, “Well, I think I have an idea of what thought leadership marketing is, but I’m not sure, so tell me.” It’s a concept that’s referred to in a lot of business writing, today, but not often talked about in depth. It certainly doesn’t come up as part of your business education — there’s no scholarship at all that I’ve been able to find on thought leadership marketing.
So, how do I answer folks when they ask me what I think thought leadership marketing means. I’m generally long-winded, so first I like to put it into context. I like to talk about organizational functions and how thought leadership marketing fits. This is the story I tell.
First, you’re in business, generally to make money (even for non-profits, this is usually a major goal). You make money by selling products or services and marketing is the means you use to get folks interested in buying your products or services. You brand your company so your prospective buyers know what you do, what you stand for, and why they should turn to you when they decide to buy what you offer. They know to turn to you because you’ve positioned your company as the one that offers them exactly what they want and need. You did that by creating content — advertising, writing articles, speaking at events, writing books, blogging, hosting a website, and engaging in a variety of other tactics that clearly showed your customers that you know what they need and that you’ve delivered before. They trust you and know they can rely on your products and services. So they buy from you and you make money (the circle is now complete).
In short, I tell folks they’ve engaged in the following functions:
So, for me, thought leadership marketing is the active positioning of your company (or you ) as an authority, resource, and trusted advisor on issues of importance to potential customers. This positioning is accomplished using a variety of media, including books, newsletters, blogs, e-mail, events, etc. It allows you to earn trust and build credibility and recognition, differentiating yourself as one who clearly understands the business and needs of your audience. It’s a means of nurturing leads, improving customer retention, and expanding your market.
Let me know what you think about this argument. Have I missed something? Does it make sense to you?