Archive for September 2009

Fundamentals of Thought Leadership.

September 11, 2009

cogiTo-250We all want the same thing as marketers: to establish our company as a trusted adviser, so when a prospect is ready to buy, he or she will think of us first. Part of this we accomplish through traditional marketing communications, but integrating thought-leadership content is also essential to reaching our goals.

Further, it is altogether possible—and terribly important—to differentiate your company by the way it thinks and not just by the products and services it offers. Building your business today is as much about being ahead-of-the-curve as it is about the four P’s of price, product, place and promotion.

Thought leadership is all about building reputation. Consider what Brian Carroll, the influential blogger, author and lead generation guru had to say in a RainToday.com interview: “I found that when you’re selling something that is more complex and intangible, reputation is more important than your brand, because your reputation causes people to make conclusions about your brand. Questions in people’s minds are, ‘Have you done this before’?, ‘Have you helped companies like me’?, ‘Can you do it’”?

Size Really Doesn’t Matter.

You’re dead wrong (and probably dead in the water) if you think thought leadership belongs to the big players. So whatever you do, don’t dismiss your company’s thought leadership potential based on size. Here are four good reasons why:

  1. Thought leadership is more time intensive than dollar intensive.
  2. Being quick, nimble and aggressive is a big advantage.
  3. New channels make it easier than ever to connect your thought leadership messages directly to your targeted audience.
  4. Not every idea has to be original. You can also develop thought leadership by advancing and establishing emerging ideas.

What’s more, when your company establishes thought leadership, you level the playing field. People seek your company out when they have problems. It’s the number of cells in your corporate brain, not the number of employees on your payroll that counts.

Start With Customer Education.

If you’re still lacking confidence about climbing into the thought leadership ring, start by establishing a really good customer education program. One of our smallest print customers has done a great job for years by presenting live seminars on timely topics with a follow-up print newsletter that offers additional insights. In between, they offer informative e-newsletter blasts on a variety of subjects with links to more information.

One of the keys to any successful customer education program is the timeliness of the content. Look for gaps in your customer’s knowledge that your competitors aren’t addressing. For example, another one of our customers made a big hit by publishing a white paper that discussed design trends in a segment the company serves.

The firm also establishes a lot of credibility by publishing newsletters and white papers on industry-sensitive issues while offering a fair and balanced approach. Too risky? The issues don’t go away because a company chooses to ignore them. And their customers go elsewhere for information and ideas, thus ending the dialog.

We also helped another company secure a speaking engagement at a major trade conference by carefully matching its content to typically underserved segments. In this case, it involved a presentation geared toward smaller players and startups, which played right into the company’s strengths and flew under the radar of big competitors seeking audiences of big potential customers.

Be Strategic.

The worst (dare I say dumbest) thing you can do is to try establishing thought leadership with a haphazard approach. You and your team must carefully research your markets and identify your opportunities. If you have a great topic but lack the time or internal expertise, hire it out.

And don’t forget to develop a multi-channel distribution plan. Take a simple white paper, for example, which could be:

  • Announced to the media through a traditional news release.
  • Tweeted to your followers.
  • Announced at business social networks such as LinkedIn, both on your company profile page and through group discussion posts.
  • Linked from a company newsletter, blog or e-newsletter.
  • Used in sales presentations.
  • Presented at industry gatherings or at your own customer event.
  • Posted at your company website.
  • Converted to a PowerPoint presentation and offered through SlideShare Presentations.

Want Expert Advice?

Bauer Associates can help you develop cost-effective thought leadership strategies and provide the tactical execution. For more information, email Print Strategist Larry Bauer.

You can connect with Larry Bauer on LinkedIn. Or follow him on Twitter.

By Larry Bauer

Do’s and Don’ts of Thought Leadership Building.

September 11, 2009

erGo-250Being known as an authoritative resource is powerful in today’s marketplace. The more recognition your company gets, the more powerful it becomes. With so much at stake, it pays not to make missteps in the thought leadership arena. Here’s how to get your strategy off on the right foot.

Do

  • Establish goals you can reach—then move on to bigger things.
  • Immerse yourself in your professional domain.
  • Look for topics that your competition misses.
  • Encourage thought leadership development among your staff—thought leadership isn’t a one-person show.
  • Search for new things to say and add value through what you offer.
  • Be willing to risk rejection in the interests of finding better ways to do things—admit if you’re wrong.
  • Keep customer needs at heart—thought leadership shares the selfless characteristics of servant leadership.
  • Employ leadership vision—point toward a new future or a change in direction.
  • Deliver thought-leadership messaging that is actionable.
  • Ensure that ideas are relevant to your peer base—know your audience.
  • Present solutions grounded in experience.
  • Invest in good research.
  • Be fair and balanced in your presentations.

Don’t

  • Confuse being a thought leader with being a pundit.
  • Forget that you need to earn the trust of your audience.
  • Lose patience—your company won’t establish instant thought-leadership status.
  • Fear being a little controversial if you’re making a bold projection—just back up what you’re saying.
  • Use a voice that doesn’t match your company’s personality.
  • Fail to communicate thought leadership through multiple media—newsletters, by-lined articles, blogs, social media networks, webinars, symposiums, panels, white papers, case studies, surveys, research studies, speaking engagements and road shows.
  • Neglect to seek an outside perspective before publishing any thought leadership piece.
  • Trip customers’ “BS” meters with your content—demonstrate your desire to help them by being authentic, genuine, generous and accessible.
  • Obsess about giving away too much information—you’ll get more benefit from leveraging your knowledge than trying to horde it in today’s fast-moving markets.
  • Make thought leadership purely a marketing responsibility.
  • Forget that thought leadership still needs to be part of a larger marketing strategy.
  • Get sucked into believing that thought leadership requires being big—quickness and agility can be huge advantages.

How Are You Different?

Gary Stang, Sales Consultant & Trainer

Is there a salesperson whom hasn’t had that question fired at them? It’s usually a pass/fail question. Your best response utilizes the “boomerang” technique. It returns the question to the sender or proposes a different approach.

It goes like this: “We are different from different printers in different ways. It would depend upon which company, or what type of printers, you are working with now. There are always some differences. We’re not identical to anyone.”

You might add: “It would also be helpful to know a little more about the nature of your business. Then we can limit it to the points that are relevant.” Follow this with a softly asked question: “Would that be okay”? I can’t remember ever getting an outright “no.” Try it. The pass/fail question falls to the wayside.

The buyer has now discovered an important difference, too. YOU! Your handling of this question set you apart. It may be all the differentiation required – at least for now. They are talking with you!

By Larry Bauer

Boosting Your Brand With Thought Leadership.

September 11, 2009

suM-250Being a thought leader in your industry is critical to supporting and expanding your brand. The strongest brands are those owned and managed by thought leaders. That’s because thought leaders understand that there are key building blocks enabling their position.

Thought leadership building blocks:

  • Design & engineering (product/service, process, store, graphics, interactive)
  • Marketing & sales (multichannel media, sales methodology)
  • Service (phone, online, social media, mail, in-person)
  • Operations (raw materials, manufacturing, warehousing, delivery)
  • Ethics (your brand’s moral compass including aspects such as fair trade, labor practices, environmental responsibility and community support)
  • Empowerment (employees, vendors, partners, customers)

thought-leadership-circle-LG

The strength of the Thought Leadership Circle is only as good as its weakest link.

A solid network of thought leadership building blocks enables trust in the reputation of your brand. Imagine a perfect circle made of building blocks surrounding your customers. As the thought leader in your category, you must continually excel at all of the above to prove your leadership worthiness. Any misstep impacts your position and ultimately, your brand’s integrity.

In this article, we’ll review the design component of thought leadership.

Using Design As A Thought Leadership Building Block.

Looking the part of the thought leader ensures your customer pays even closer attention to what you say and do. For example, let’s look at IKEA, arguably THE thought leader in the modernist home furnishing market.

IKEA spent the past 50 years building its reputation as THE expert in affordable modern design for the home. Going way beyond just designing modern products, IKEA modernized the process of buying home products and designed stores that include everything for the home. They managed to instill a global and modern design sense in every aspect of their business, thus building the ultimate modern brand. IKEA is the thought leader of modernist home furnishings. It is the go-to expert if you want affordable, cool, modern stuff for your crib with that special IKEA shopping experience.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but,’ right?

Very recently, IKEA enlisted in a rebranding project and as a result, changed its corporate typefaces from their customized versions of Futura and Century Schoolbook (a.k.a. IKEA Sans and IKEA Serif) to Verdana. The objective was to unify the company’s online and print typefaces to save costs on global implementation. While a respectable goal, this brand maneuver is resulting in a huge outpouring of criticism in the blogosphere, Twitterverse, newsfeeds and online forums, ultimately questioning their future position as thought leader for modern home furnishings.

Why Is This Even an Issue?

On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal. But what IKEA failed to take into consideration is that the typography component of design is a method by which we express the brand’s voice, and a significant portion of their customer base is design-centered. Most of the commentary critical of this change focuses on the future:

What does this mean for IKEA’s position as modernist thought leader?
Who will they turn to for leadership in affordable furnishings for their homes?
Whom do they trust?

To better understand why this venture is risky, let’s first review a little background info on the three typefaces and their applications:

  • Futura is a modernist typeface designed during the Bauhaus years and uses the perky geometric forms of that day. Because of it’s geometric and modern design, Futura is often used for both display and body text applications. IKEA Sans is a slightly customized version of Futura designed by Robin Nicholas.
  • Century Schoolbook is a serif typeface based on research that showed young readers more easily identify letterforms that used contrasting weights. It also has a larger x-height and slightly increased tracking to further improve readability at smaller sizes, making it perfect for body text where it enhances communication. This feature is so critical that the Supreme Court of the US requires briefs to be typeset in Century.
  • Verdana, designed by Matthew Carter in 1994 for Microsoft, served a very specific application: on-screen use in websites. Verdana includes features that make it more legible on backlit monitors including: larger x-height, added tracking and enhanced pair kerning. It is the extra tracking and padding that make Verdana inferior for print use. As a display headline, all that padding and special kerning requires adjustment downward to increase readability. Thus, using Verdana in print actually makes more work for the print designer.

Typeface usage falls within two traditional categories and one new one: display, body and screen typefaces. Display fits larger needs such as headlines in ads and text on outdoor billboards. Body faces are appropriate for smaller text such as paragraphs and captions. Screen faces are exactly that, faces that increase readability on computer monitors or overhead projectors.

Yeah, Yeah—Get to the Point.

Most consumers don’t purposefully think about the exact ingredients that go into the products they buy or the brands they love. They don’t think about the thickness of steel on the body of a Mercedes or the method by which Mercedes applied the paint. They just know that it’s the color they want, it looks good and they trust that the engine won’t fail them. But if the paint job were flawed, you can bet they’d notice it immediately, and the integrity of the Mercedes brand is then open to debate. This is a great example of the invisibility of good design and engineering.

Likewise, Futura reflects the modern IKEA product ‘design equals function’ aesthetic and reinforces their modernist thought leadership position even though consumers don’t directly think about it each time they open the IKEA catalog. Century Schoolbook reinforces that modernism while increasing readability in body text and again, consumers don’t directly think about just how easy it is to read the tiny type in the catalog. It all just works and looks good.

Verdana is arguably the best sans-serif typeface for use on websites, its specific design purpose, but it has no basis in print. Typeface selection, along with color, imagery and other seemingly aesthetic design choices, directly affects functionality and has the power to affect our emotional connection to a brand, thereby playing a key role in maintaining the thought leadership position of a company.

While functionality is obviously measurable, the emotional connections are harder to attribute to design. This is why corporations, even IKEA, so often overlook them.

So, is IKEA thinking ahead of the curve or are they driving blind?

“Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners.”
Bruce Nussbaum
Editor, BusinessWeek’s innovation and design coverage

Very few corporations understand that good design plays a key role in building a thought leadership position. For example, companies like Apple, Target and Trader Joe’s all use design as a method of creating and retaining their respective leadership positions. Companies that pigeonhole design as marketing department fluff are not taking full advantage of their thought leadership tools.

IKEA became the thought leader in modern home furnishings by integrating design as a key brand-building component. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

By Julia Moran Martz

Upcoming Newsletter Topics.

September 11, 2009

Just a few of the topics we’re working on for future newsletters:

  • Thought Leadership Series Part II: White Papers
  • Thought Leadership Series Part III: Seminars/Webinars
  • Thought Leadership Series Part IV: Social Media
  • Using research to improve your bottom line.
  • Choosing the right personalization strategy.

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