TL in 4D: Four dimensions for thought leadership success
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B2B marketers know that thought leadership is essential, especially when selling high-value solutions. Business buyers tune out most traditional marketing, but they are always looking for new ideas. If we can produce interesting and useful content, and use social media and other platforms to spread the good word, we at least have a chance of getting into the conversations that our customers and prospects actually want to have.
Perhaps not surprisingly, thought leadership topped the list when ITSMA recently asked marketing leaders at big tech and IT services firms which tactics will be more important in 2010. According to ITSMA, 77% of respondents cited thought leadership development as a priority, beating out references and testimonials, senior executive programs, and social media.
For most B2B firms, however, thought leadership is getting a great deal more lip service than investment. Other than top consulting and professional service firms like McKinsey, Deloitte, and Accenture, few B2B firms have yet created a focused and well-organized thought leadership marketing program. My own recent review of 72 corporate members of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, for example, found that only 24 of these manufacturing, industrial, and technology companies even had a link to thought leadership content on their home page.
All too often, thought leadership in B2B is thinly funded (if at all), episodic, and superficial.
To make a real impact with customers and create real distinction in the market, thought leadership needs focus, depth,and continuity.
Consider, for example Accenture's years-long in-depth research on high performing companies. They focus on strategic challenges facing each industry the company serves, orient primary research and publications to different executive roles among their client base, and deliver insights across a wide range of online, face-to-face, and social media platforms.
Not every company has Accenture's deep pockets, to be sure, but the lessons are clear. And it's not just a matter of blogging more and getting more content onto Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube -- although social media clearly IS critical for thought leadership dissemination and engagement.
At a more fundamental level, companies looking for greater impact with thought leadership need to consider four essential dimensions of program development:
Based on our own research and experience working with thought leadership programs across the IT and professional services sectors, Solutions Insights has developed a four stage roadmap for thought leadership program development, as you can see below. It's a simple model that necessarily abstracts a great deal of nuanced reality, but it should be useful in evaluating your own programmatic maturity and considering next steps for improvement. We'd love to know what you think of the roadmap -- and please weigh in with comments on your own approach and experience. We're still learning, too.