Fundamentals of Thought Leadership.

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

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