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:
- Business (a means of making money)
- Marketing (a means of getting leads that will turn into business)
- Branding (a means of making prospective leads aware of the unique aspects of the company)
- Positioning (a means of differentiating the brand from competitors)
- Content marketing (a means of positioning the company)
- Thought leadership marketing (one type of content marketing).
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?