Revenue isn’t the only measure of ROI (but we do start there)
Careful readers of our blog over the years know that we often pound the table for measurement of results from all content marketing initiatives including thought leadership. In fact, I’ve been quoted saying that “thought leadership without measurement is doomed to face the budget ax when the original sponsor moves on.” And it’s not hard to find major thought leadership initiatives that have been shelved once the CMO leaves, only for the next marketing leader to define his or her own thought leadership program, and the cycle repeats. Perhaps it’s time to secure the buy-in of the CEO, CFO and sales leadership before your next thought leadership exercise is launched, but I digress…
When you’re in a crisis, seeking investment, supporting an IPO, consolidating an industry, challenging entrenched competitors, needing to catalyze organic (sales-lead) growth or attract and retain hard-to-find employees, thought leadership pays for itself many times over. So how can thought leadership contribute to objectives other than sales? Let’s explore each major business driver in some detail.
Thought leadership and crisis communications. The good news is that if you’ve developed a meaningful relationship with customers and partners, being a recognized thought leader can help attenuate the fallout from a crisis as your brand and products are highly differentiated and valued. The bad news is that you can’t spool this benefit up in the very short amount of time you have to manage a crisis as it unfolds. This is one of those preventative measures you need to have working for you well in advance. The 2020 LinkedIn / Edelman study on thought leadership reports that 88% of senior execs agree that thought leadership increases trust in an organization. The report also unearthed a striking correlation between solid content and revenue generation. Taking these insights to a logical conclusion, if your organization and brand are trusted, you’re more likely to be cut some slack when something bad happens and you need to dust off that crisis comms plan.
Thought leadership helps attract investment. You don’t have to Google for long to see there are plenty of resources making the case for leading horses to water through PR and content strategies. But it’s a lot harder to find the research to back this up. Not saying that there isn’t a correlation and even a causal relationship between publishing great content and attracting VCs or investors in the public markets to your equity and debt offerings, but it’s hard to dig up the data. Embedded in Stanford finance professor Ilya A. Strebulaev's research ranking factors VCs weigh in their investing decisions, being passionate about the business was in the top few factors (along with personal capabilities, experience and how well the team functions). While it’s not hard to draw a line between passion for a business and speaking out to evangelize your ideas, this might be one of the decisions that CEOs and CMOs need to make based on their gut feel. I know that if I was in the position of needing to attract and maintain investor enthusiasm for my company, I’d be all-in on thought leadership.
Even though the SEC has relaxed communications restrictions during the “quiet period” leading up to your IPO, your legal team will most likely recommend against starting major marketing programs right before you file – and take some time to build anyway. Thought leadership programs, therefore, must be in place well before your IPO. We often say you can’t cure cancer with marketing (though you can effectively fundraise for charity), and the same is true for poor historical financial results. But there is plenty of evidence, beginning with the LinkedIn study referenced above, that effective thought leadership drives revenue and profits for the firms that have these programs in place, so it can be argued that an investment in thought leadership can help propel a venture-funded startup or PE-backed scale-up to get to success in the public markets or acquisition by a strategic investor.
Challenging entrenched competition means making people make decisions that go against conventional wisdom. In “Crossing the Chasm,” the seminal work by Geoffrey Moore, we’re introduced to the idea that there is a limited pool of people (“innovators”) who will buy a product early in its development. How we reach these people is either through one-on-one sales (where we know a lot of the movers and shakers in a sector) or by making the proposition well known. The motivation of innovators is not often about features and functions of your product, but rather about how adopting and championing it will reflect on their reputation and self-image. This is also true for relaunches of products that haven’t fared well in the market but still address large opportunities. Imagine being a sales rep calling on major ad agencies representing Microsoft’s Bing search engine in today’s world. To be successful in this scenario, you’re going to need some help… and nothing’s more convincing than research-backed thought leadership to get the conversation started.
Revenue generation should be at the top of the priory list for every content marketing program, and thought leadership is no different. When I attend meetings of the Enterprise Sales Forum, I speak with SaaS sales development reps and their managers to get a pulse on how marketing can better support their efforts. The remarkable thing is how many tell me that marketing isn’t really driving any significant part of their pipeline… to a greater extent than is sensible, they’re selling without our support. I do hear that some are just starting marketing programs, but the majority of our front-line colleagues aren’t seeing the impact of marketing on their sales outcomes. This is a recipe for budget cuts and changes in the c-suite (expected CMO tenure is now often cited as less than two years).
The LinkedIn study cited above is really worth downloading, reading and sharing with c-suite colleagues to help justify the investment in thought leadership. But you’ll need more than a good kickoff and kumbaya to make it past the first budget cycle. A strong marketing tech stack integrated with sales CRM will help you make the case that your content is helping sales to do its job. The newest version of HubSpot’s Enterprise Marketing Hub, for instance, has great multi-touch attribution reporting, which helps you answer the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of the tootsie pop?” (This is a favorite expression of a dear friend that she uses to help colleagues visualize attribution.)
In addition to technology, you’ll need a methodology to help ensure that you have an idea that’s worth rallying your team around, a business model and plan to generate ROI, strategy to plan and source content, and a way to promote and syndicate content beyond your owned web and social properties. Our Content2Revenue model is proven to help B2B firms change outcomes and drive competitors off the playing field. Read more about it here.
Talent acquisition is a strategic objective that can be advanced through thought leadership marketing. I can’t say that I hear about this use case very often, though we have done some very cool video to aid recruitment on LinkedIn and YouTube. A recent Glassdoor blog posited that employees and consumers are the same people just in different roles. It goes on to make the case for building your brand to help drive recruitment and provides a roadmap for how content can be used throughout the recruiting and hiring process – and this looks a lot like sales and onboarding via customer success... hmmmm.
So there you have it. Seven ways that thought leadership drives value for your organization with links to some great resources to help you make the case at your firm. If you like, I’d be happy to speak with you for a complimentary 30-minute consultation on your situation and how you might use a thought leadership program to drive the results you seek. Just click here and request a free thought leadership consultation!