B2B marketing leaders are striving to position their companies as “thought leaders". And why not? If you do not have a truly disruptive technology, product, service or idea (in which case you actually are a thought leader), being seen as a thought leader gives your company strategic differentiation. It helps you stand out in the cacophony of messages that your customers must sift through to find you. Given the complexities that B2B buyers face when making decisions for sophisticated solutions, your thought leadership might just be the most important part of your marketing program. It becomes part of your brand value. It converts you from a commodity supplier into a trusted advisor who can lead the customer to achievement of their vision.
Your thought leadership only matters if people read it, see it or hear it.
If every vendor in every market segment is pumping out brilliant thought leadership content, they will collectively create a tragedy of the commons dilemma. On the off chance that this did not capture your imagination—as it did mine— in university economics class, the tragedy of the commons refers to the depletion of a shared resource by individuals in a community acting in their self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests. This particular example of thought leadership was published in1968 by an ecologist named Garrett Hardin. Hardin got the metaphor from medieval land tenure in Europe, where herders shared a common parcel of land, on which they were each entitled to let their cows graze. It is, of course, in each herder's interest to put all the new cows he acquires onto the land, even if the quality of the common is damaged for all as a result, through overgrazing. Hardin presents this as an ethical dilemma, but it's a reality for the modern B2B marketer. The common is your audience. And your audience is overgrazing.
You need to market thought leadership like a product.
I joked with a client a few months ago that their thought leadership program needed a PR campaign. Then I came to see that it did—along with a marketing program; and a sales enablement program; and a road map. Your Thought Leadership Program (TLP) must be Tweeted, Pinned, Facebooked, webinared, and seminared. Your TLP must get coverage in vertical industry and business press. Some ideas:
- Amplify your TLP's voice with focus. Build your TLP as a complete intellectual platform under some big idea and 'roll it out' in serial form over the next 12 months.
- Target industry influencers to get your TLP in play socially.
- Institutionalize your TLP in ongoing client promotional events by creating easily executed marketing programs for your field marketers. For example:
- Build a webinar kit for “a key TLP idea". Include the presentation, the speaker notes, the webinar invite.
- Create a library of interactive emails that sales reps can easily to introduce a piece (or body) of content to an executive that he or she has not spoken to before.
- Find a champion in each geo/market to evangelize the TLP. Create a 'community' around this evangelical core to keep them energized.
- Create sales tools like a cool tablet-based app that allows sales reps to rather safely explore topics and send some 'thought provoking idea pieces' to follow-up with the exec.
What it Means
As B2B vendors relentlessly move up the values food chain to escape 'commoditization,' we end up commoditizing each layer through which we pass. In our 'scorched earth' progression, we have commoditized "leading edge," “product", “system" and “solution". The next layer to commoditize will be ideas, as we all start competing on our content management and thought leadership programs. Take action now to make sure you get your thought leadership program in play to make a difference to your brand.