Thought leadership is a mercurial currency. It’s subjective; though there are some measures we all rely upon — like the number of followers on social media or views on YouTube. Some thought leaders are widely acclaimed and acknowledged (think Simon Sinek or Seth Godin), but most B2B thought leaders confine their remarks to a vertical market they’ve served for some time, offering unique insights and experience to a smaller yet no less loyal following.
There’s pressure on thought leaders to drive revenue.
And then they need to sell products. Their megaphone (blog) and inbound marketing programs are measured by how many leads they generate. And the temptation, if not explicit direction to de-content their blogging and public speaking kicks in. Buy my stuff!
Thought leadership is a matter of trust.
The problem with a thought leader focusing solely on the stuff that’s for sale at his or her company is that true thought leadership at the vertical market level is not about products or services per se. It’s about trust. When you write or speak as a thought leader, the implicit bargain is that you’re telling the truth, and you cover the waterfront on issues that matter to your audience. You stretch them to imagine the future and plan for it — insist on a fundamental vision for achieving their objectives, even if your company cannot serve all of them. The true thought leader is setting the agenda for the industry, challenging conventional wisdom and expanding the value of the work of his or her peers.
If you’re the CTO at a software company that sells energy management systems, should you only blog or speak about things your software touches? Or should you address the larger issues that are in play, like energy policy, building standards such as LEED, emerging technologies that may improve energy efficiency, etc.? Communicating your passion and vision for a vertical market, whether it’s energy, finance or IoT (or even content marketing for that matter) is what attracts people to your writings and speeches. Once you’ve roped them in, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sell them.
So should I write about problems my company can’t solve?
Most software vendors attack vital business problems, but oftentimes their solutions are only part of what’s needed. Their go-to-market strategy really calls on the customer to build a best-of-breed solution made of a few software products to meet their complete needs. Should these vendors with partial solutions ignore the issues they don’t address? Or can they gain credibility by describing the complete problem and perhaps even offering insights into how to solve for it? My vote is for the latter (you knew that, though).
How can we monetize thought leadership?
Solid thought leadership attracts visitors to your website and crowds to your talks at industry events. On your website, you can make offers to personalize the experience of the reader. An offer of a consultative briefing is a great way to drive from a description of a larger issue in the industry to a specific discussion about the problems at hand at a prospect’s company or organization (this is a lot like the line that forms to speak with a presenter at trade shows where business cards are exchanged).
In my experience with public speaking, the line is longer the less the speaker tries to sell. This phenomenon is similarly present on the web properties we build for our clients: the more we tell (versus sell), the more people engage with the content and resources on offer.
Consider writing the book of best practices for your industry, or publishing an online magazine.
Most B2B content marketing programs focus on blogs, white papers, eBooks and webinars. These items are fine for lead generation. But positioning your company as a driving force in its field likely means going a step or two further. Two of our favorite strategies are to writing a book and publishing your own magazine on the web.
Firms that are on the vanguard of a technological change often have to convince senior executives that the vision they have is credible and achievable. There’s also a likely change to organization or ways of doing business that must be accommodated. These prescriptive texts need to be longer than a white paper; in addition to setting a theoretical and operational framework, they must provide the reader with the constructs to implement the ideas or at least sell them into their organizations. Publishing a book is a great way to open doors at the very top of client and prospect org charts and start a conversation.
Extending a thought leadership conversation over time requires a continuous approach to creating and publishing your content. Before the internet, this was the domain of custom publishing. You’d write a few magazine articles and print them up each quarter in a glossy magazine. The smarter sales reps in the company would use these magazines as door openers with their top prospects. In today’s world, we’ve moved this content to standalone publications on the web and made the content more relevant and optimized for the buyers’ journeys that matter most. This strategy makes real the disintermediation of the web; brands can now build their own audiences and drive business results more efficiently than if they relied solely upon advertising-supported media of old.
Creating value from thought leadership starts with a conversation.
Want to learn more about how you can position your executives as thought leaders and capitalize on their efforts? Let’s connect and talk about your specific situation and the possible ways to preserve the credibility of your subject matter and industry experts while increasing the value of their efforts to your firm.
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