“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”
This is a great quote and while its exact origin isn’t known, many people have used similar lines and for good reason. It’s true.
A good friend of mine has been talking about thought leadership portals and expertise positioning for a couple years now. I’ve always agreed this is important, and in some instances a strong marketing tool. I probably had the same reaction as you at first – ‘Yeah, but it’s not easy creating content and being a thought leader.’ I’ve come to realize it’s actually more feasible than ever before, and the reason is simple – rate of change. Think about how quickly the world changes. Sometimes with the adoption of one app we’ve created a new business model, new platform, or even developed a massive consumer habit. Being fancy I could say disruptive technology, but I hate trendy terms – even the ones that stick.
Thought leadership can apply to consumer brands, especially as related to brand culture. Think Stonyfield yogurt and green causes, BMW and women’s cancer, Tom’s Shoes and no longer barefoot children, Burt’s Bees and many more. That’s a unique type of standing for something. The thought leadership can be setting examples and embracing causes like these brands commit or the entire business model can have social responsibility at the core such as “buy a pair and give a pair of shoes” promised by Tom’s.
It’s probably easier for consumer brands to create this type of thought leadership or social enterprise, but let’s talk about business to business sales and marketing.
What’s your differentiator? Our people are the smartest, our technology is leading edge, our work is the most creative, our solutions are unique, our quality is the highest. Who cares? That may be true, but it just isn’t compelling.
Your company and your sales guys need something to talk about. Something different. Thought leadership and content curation will make this happen, but you need to have an opinion. You can’t worry about the 3% of your audience you may tick off. You need to think about the 97% you’ll impress or at least engage. Ironically, people won’t always agree with you, but they will still be interested in listening. Think about the plethora of radio hosts, especially political pundits who receive call-ins to their shows just to argue. They’re clearly listening – agree or not.
You make decisions in your business based on what you think your clients want and need to ensure your business will be successful. You must have a strategy. You must have an opinion. Couple that opinion with the rapidly changing world around you, and use that to drive content. Give them something to pay attention to, something to be concerned with, something to champion and drive. Emotion is a major motivator and it will serve you well.
Don’t focus on mini-trends like the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin and the Knicks or the affairs of Herman Cain. Focus on the major trends – like changing business models that develop recurring revenues, news and entertainment consumption moving to mobile – the big things that will change habits for a complete generation.
- What will be obsolete or unpopular in your industry in 5 years and why do your clients need to be concerned?
- What challenges will clients have evolving or converting to new practices?
- Why will your company still be relevant in 5 years and how do you know this?
- What clients in your industry have gone out of business and why? How can your company help prevent that?
- What’s the ultimate definition of success in your clients’ industries and why aren’t they all achieving this?
- What should your clients stop investing in and rethink for a longer term plan?
- What outside factors are affecting your industry short and long term?
Thought leadership doesn’t just happen, but answering these questions can help you get going. Once you’re moving finding support will make it easier. Content generation is tough. Content curation is easy. If you share a few original thoughts, and then curate content from other sources to support your opinion or at least to show activity and relevancy, you can be successful.
B2B markets have a greater opportunity to utilize this marketing approach than consumer brands. Businesses in the B2B space do have a more difficult time differentiating themselves, but thought leadership alone can be enough. We joke that clients may know just enough to be dangerous. If you can educate them further, then you can reap the benefits of a well educated, engaged and even an aligned client.
There are many tools that can help you aggregate content – Google News (alerts especially), news aggregation sites like Alltop.com, and of course social feeds likeTwitter. Take the time to organize yourself, determine the level of commitment you can make and then go for it. Don’t forget – rate of change – think about the trends you’ve experienced and what you see coming. Then chat it up with your opinion. No one expects your crystal ball to be perfect, but you’ll probably find you’re experience and observations create unique thought provoking content.
Another great technique is reaching out for commentators from within your industry or industry related partners. Any other party your target audience would be interested in hearing from will be great to curate content from. Support your opinions with this content or at least continue to position yourself strongly.
Be a leader. Gain followers. Make more sales.