The late 20th and early 21st centuries saw major social, economic and political change. After thousands of years of being defined by agriculture and hundreds of years of being defined by industry, society has now firmly arrived in the Knowledge Age. Ideas and information have replaced land and labour as major sources of economic growth.
Our quantum leap into an Era of Information is having a direct impact on all areas of business, including sales and marketing. Potential buyers no longer make purchasing decisions based on slick adverts and overzealous sales pitches. Instead, decisions are well-informed and based on research, rather than razzmatazz. Our perception of value has evolved and in our quest to select the right products and services, we are subconsciously drawn to expertise. For your business to excel in this brave new world, it’s critical that you assume the role of thought leader.
If you work in marketing or sales, you probably can’t get through the day without hearing the words ‘thought leader’ at least a dozen times. It’s a phrase that’s bandied about a lot without much contemplation or understanding. Thought leadership should not be considered an abstract theory, but a quantifiable business programme; and you can’t implement a programme simply by clicking your heals together three times and repeating the words ‘I am a thought leader’. It requires funding, strategic planning and a complete understanding of your customer and their needs.
Let’s go back to basics. What exactly is a thought leader and what does it take to become one? A commonly accepted definition…
Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise.
The truth is, you are already a silent thought leader. Every single successful business on the planet has subject matter experts in its ranks (if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a successful business). The problem is, that your expertise rests between the ears of your employees.
Almost all purchasing decisions are made via digital, social and mobile channels and therefore the challenge is to devise a thought leadership strategy that can capture this expertise, and share it in a way that influences prospects and even the wider public.
Too many companies (and marketing agencies) are under the impression that ‘thought leadership’ is the same thing as ‘content marketing’, or worse yet, ‘storytelling’. They believe that by creating an abundance of content, they will automatically be viewed as thought leaders.
Many agencies will tell you that creating content is a ‘top of sales funnel’ tool that will ‘position you as a thought leader’. They’ll show you a pretty picture of a funnel, with content at the top, sucking in potential customers, and pound signs falling out the bottom. If only it were that simple.
The funnel analogy stems from the traditional marketing concept of AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). The model is not without merit; but the truth is thought leadership cannot be distilled into a two-dimensional drawing. A thought leadership programme requires significant investment, a top-down shift in business culture and a comprehensive strategy. Without these three things, you can blog and tweet until the cows come home – it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your top line growth.
Prospects aren’t looking for half-baked blogs. They are looking for genuine, in-depth insight. Companies like IBM, Gartner, PwC, and McKinsey pioneered the notion of thought leadership-based marketing. Their ‘content’ commands the respect of customers, analysts and journalists the world over. These companies didn’t achieve their thought leadership status by hiring content monkeys to add a few thousand words to their website every day. Instead, they built data-driven insight into their overarching business models; they found a way to productise their knowledge and they hired world-class copywriters to produce content based on that knowledge.
Thought leadership has the potential to become the most powerful weapon in any organisation’s marketing arsenal. The sad reality is that most businesses aren’t willing to invest the resources needed to truly propel themselves into thought leadership territory; and most agencies don’t have the expertise needed to create the depth of insight that prospects are looking for.
If you are tired of simply paying lip service to the notion of thought leadership, and ready to fully demonstrate your expertise to the world, but don’t know where to start, get in touch – we can help.