Recently, I downloaded a white paper called “B2B Marketing Trends and Predictions for 2012” published by Forrester Research. One of the insights included, “Thought leadership becomes the core marketing platform.” In my industry (HCM software and enterprise solutions), thought leadership is old hat. Everyone has it. Tying thought leadership to the core marketing messages for a brand is already built into the DNA of these companies.
But is thought leadership its own platform?
That’s another perspective. Thought leaders are often people or organizations that are innovative and share these ideas through publications, presentations, and social media. They are considered an authority on a specialized topic area, either by possessing great expertise or having become the leader in a segment. This post at Forbes as a pretty neat break down of the definition.
The concept of building thought leadership as a platform for marketing is strange because so many companies use thought leadership as a complement. “Here’s why we think we’re experts, so we wrote about it.” Shifting the mindset to using thought leadership as a foundation means that you’re developing expertise at the core of your business: through your products, service, technology, and more.
Thought leadership is suddenly intentional, not an afterthought.
In school, you learn marketing should be integrated throughout the business. How you ship something is a marketing opportunity. How customer service answers the phone is a marketing opportunity. Where you source your goods is a marketing opportunity. The reality of business is that we hardly ever think of marketing in such a holistic manner.
Here’s an example of when market and business align: When Amazon launched the Kindle Fire last year, recipients knew they’d get free shipping and the device would show up quickly after launch date because UPS is pretty reliable. Amazon made a marketing/logistics move to ensure that Kindle Fires were delivered the day of launch, not shipped that day. You have to have a solid logistics partner to make that happen, but you also make a decision like that because it’s on brand for you.
We all know businesses don’t always have perfect examples like the one above where there’s a chance at holistic marketing. In fact, the role of CMO is still considered fairly new in industry, so many decisions are made without marketing consideration. If thought leadership is supposed to be a platform for a firm’s brand and position in the marketplace, you have to start thinking about the holistic approach.
To make thought leadership a platform for marketing, here are my tips to get started:
- Revisit your brand: Is your brand saying everything you want? Is it clear? Has it changed over time?
- Do an audit: Look at your assets, everything from website to packaging, and see what you have. Catalog what you’ve been producing and start categorizing the messages.
- Begin to calibrate: Did someone push out an infographic cause it might be cool? Has your twitter account been closed down for days? Do your luxury products get delivered in dented boxes? Assess how far off from your desired brand your assets currently are.
- Develop thought leadership everywhere: Make your big ideas central to the business, not just messages to share quarterly.
Thought leadership encourages you to take a position on something, and so it’s an opportunity to implement that through the business. Be the authority, don’t just tell us. Follow a few of my steps and start seeing how you can build a thought leadership platform for your marketing.