Thought leadership has led more than half (over 60%) of decision-makers to award contracts and businesses to other brands.
The interesting fact is that some of the brands that got the contract were not initially considered for the project. It is, thus, little wonder why we have discussed this line of B2B marketing extensively on this blog.
There remains a gap, though.
With content marketing, the focus is usually to look outside for what can be brought in. That same idea is what many thought leaders apply to their campaigns. That is why many thought leadership campaigns end up coming across as mere content marketing.
In this piece, we discuss the top things to know before embarking on a thought leadership program. In hindsight, we hope that you see how this is much of looking inwards for what can be taken out.
1 Vision and Mission
Your brand can have different thought leadership campaigns focused on different aspects of the market.
Forbes is a nine embodiment of this example.
The company behind this publication has its hand in the cookie jar of everything from finance, entertainment, and celebrity lifestyle to technology. Every single part of this brand image is aptly represented with thought leadership content that is often hard to miss.
Today, it is impressive how they have almost become the gold standard for estimating the wealth of certain public figures, among other things that they are known for.
This is what should fuel every thought leadership process.
Knowledge of your mission statement and vision should lead you to the kind of content you will put out there. Every thought leadership content that makes its way to the public should always be in furtherance of the brand goals.
Let’s get one thing out of the way:
B2B marketing is one of the most challenging forms of marketing we have come across.
We tell you that so that you can brace for what’s to come and plan well enough to have a good marketing process in place.
What makes it so challenging, though?
For one, you have a smaller audience base to market to. For every business in the world, there are probably 1,000 human beings. That is why B2C marketers seem to be getting all the high numbers.
That is not all, though.
The business that you are marketing to also has consumers of its own to cater to. Thus, your marketing should NEVER be aimed at satisfying the needs of your target audience. You should also be interested in helping them create value for their target audience too.
In other words, your thought leadership should not start without an understanding of your desired consumers – and their desired consumers too.
As impressive as thought leadership is, it is not something that every brand just gets into.
There is a reason why we, and many other top brands around the world, seek out the CEO Outlook from KPMG every year.
This thought leadership concept has been running for multiple years now. The success of the content which KPMG puts out this way is explained in the increased reach they get. That, and the inclusion of more players every year.
KPMG was able to make this happen by building capacity. In other words, thought leadership challenges you to rise above mediocrity and leave average in the dust. It makes you bring something more out of yourself so much that the audience wants to listen to what you have to say.
If you want to know where an industry is headed, a nice indicator is following the money. With years of tax, auditing, finance, and accounting experience under its belt, KPMG has built the capacity to follow that money. This bested trust is what they leverage to promote their thought leadership.
Chris Koch, a director in the Colorado Thought Leaders Forum, believes that “thought leadership is a way to build a relationship with prospects based on knowledge – not on products and services”
There are three insights to be drawn from that alone. That:
- The proper thought leader seeks to build relationships, leaving sales to the other departments
- Thought leadership is not the job of the guys in sales. It is great if you have a thought leader among them, but the focus should not be on sales of products and services
- The thought leader should be knowledgeable.
It is often disconcerting to find many brands treat their thought leadership as a title; yet another position. The last thing that you want is for your thought leader to have ego attached to them.
In fact, the ideal thought leader is the one that knows a lot about the industry. This person can also tie in that industry knowledge to your firm’s products, mission, and values. This affords them the unique insight to see all possible angles in different conversations before they often play out.
This doesn’t always mean the CEO.
Thus, choosing the right thought leadership champion is very important to the whole process. That is the only way you are bound to get a steady supply of unique knowledge and insights that can be passed on to the desired audience.
When we say the word ‘business executives’ or ‘decision-makers,’ the mind is tuned to look to the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the world.
These are the older generation of decision-makers, and they are still very much present in the business sphere today. However, a new shift is making its way into the industrial landscape. This is where we see the Jack Dorseys and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
Don’t get us wrong. Those people are not exactly young, but they are younger than the average top exec of their status from about a decade or two ago.
Startups are springing up daily with young execs filling the big shoes and doing that well.
All of the above is more reason why you should never assume what channels to take for content delivery.
The industry you cater to and the distribution of top execs in that industry should inform your choice of content channels. There should also be a buildout of omnichannel integration for a seamless process across diverse channels.
Content marketers know that they cannot leverage just one kind of content for success.
There was a time when only text-based content would do the magic. The world started developing a bigger appetite for visuals, paving the way for infographics, graphs, charts, etc. The advancement of that is what we saw with the explosion of video content – and those who love it dearly.
Thought leaders are not left out of determining the right content types for them.
Again, this is where an understanding of the industry – and players within – come to the surface.
Some of the best content types that we have seen work best for our diverse thought leadership campaigns are:
- In-depth blogs
- Infographics and
- Podcasts, among others
We rarely use ALL of the channels for any one campaign, though. That every one of these platforms is strong on its own does not mean they should all be used. Sometimes, too many cooks truly do ruin the broth.
Knowing which best appeals to the target audience and throwing all our weight behind those proves to generate the best ROIs in time.
7 Content Mix
We have penned down a thorough guide to the right thought leadership content mix on this blog.
Without mixing up the content, things can fast get boring. We are not talking about the audience alone here but for the thought leader too.
The right content mix means that the thought leader can stay focused on internal messaging, promoting brand culture, keep an eye on industry happenings, and also push the product without sounding forced. Knowing the right content mix before you start could help you with a perfectly timed message whenever your message goes out.
Likewise, a knowledge of the right content mix keeps you on your toes. Nothing ever goes past your head and you are always ready to advance the latest discussions in your industry. This is the consistency that has made the best and brightest thought leaders in the business today.
8 Research Methods
Even if not from us, you have heard it before that data and quality research is at the heart of every thought leadership campaign. That is why we won’t talk about that anymore.
What we will rather spend time discussing is your choice of research methods.
At iResearch, we have spent close to a decade doing rigorous market research in diverse industries and countries. If there is only ONE thing that we picked up in all that time, it is how no one size can fit all in this business.
The way that you collect your data says a lot about your results and what you are feeding the target market. We will give you an internal example to make this stick.
Let’s say we were conducting a target market research to understand the rate at which businesses could grow faster if only they got access to loans.
First, it would be wrong to get out there without knowing who we were getting at. Of course, we have an idea – but we are not a financial service. The best place to start will be sending surveys to financial service providers with questions aimed at the business population which they are less inclined to grant loans to.
That helps us define the target market better, rather than just acting on a hunch.
Of that target market, we identify the ones doing well, the struggling brands, and the ones just managing by. These brands will have different research questions sent to them to understand:
That way, we can have a broader overview of the market. We can generate better insight into the topic this way than treating every one of these businesses generically.
Choosing your research methods right, your audience can trust your data and act on it. Otherwise, they will dismiss your findings for fear of causing more harm than good.
A popular African proverb goes “A single tree does not make a forest”
Thought leaders are not made in isolation. They are formed internally and externally. One of those external factors is the strategic partnerships you make on the way to the top.
Many thought leaders do not do as well as they have projected because they did not seek out the right partners. Some of them do not even choose partners at all until it is too late into their campaigns.
Your content alone cannot bring in ALL of your intended audience. A good chunk of that audience is on someone else’s platform, and you have to expose your content to them. This is one area where partnerships bridge the gap.
Once you identify these partners – made up of influencers, guest speakers, authority bloggers, etc. – at the start of the campaign, you can start setting the ground for acceptance.
Follow them from the start of your foray into thought leadership and keep up with what they do. See if you would like to be associated with such a brand/ entity in the long run. Also, look through their audience and engagement to confirm that your target market trusts them too.
When the time comes, it will be easier to build a rapport. As long as you have great content, these partners should also be willing to promote you to their audience. After all, your content is helping them add more value to their audience too.
10 Team is Everything
Remember how a tree does not make a forest? Well, allow us to repeat that.
The thought leader is only as good as the team that they have around them.
All of the things that we have suggested on this list CAN be done by one person. But does that mean it SHOULD be done by one person? Absolutely not!
The high performing thought leaders have an effective team around them to get things working.
While the thought leadership champion comes up with insightful content, they should not have to worry about the graphics, content promotion, keyword research, seeking out influencers, etc. There should be a dedicated team for that.
Why we love this approach at iResearch is because we know there are diverse talented people out there who know their specific stuff. It is, thus, better to leave influencer/ partner scouting to someone who is 100% talented in that, than make our thought leader try that with their limited experience in such matters.
When there is a team of people who are great at what they do individually, the efforts combine into one explosive thought leadership presence.
- How they were able to get where they were without financial support – for those that are doing well
- The rate of financial aid rejections, and for what reasons – to the struggling ones; and
- How best they can get their business from where they are to where they want to be – for the ones just getting by.