Most B2B firms see the value in thought leadership; I’d venture to say that the vast majority wished they demonstrated more of it. But there are many self-imposed barriers that get in the way of achieving thought leader status.
If your business is successful, chances are, you have already laid the groundwork and have a wealth of knowledge that you can share to elevate your public profile, allowing you and your company to be seen as a thought leaders.
What are your customers’ pain points? This should already be a regular topic of discussion for internal meetings at all levels within your organization. Isn’t the ability to solve a problem key to any company’s success?
But way too many companies stop there. They come up with these insightful and industrious solutions, but then they don’t talk about them publicly.
I find this to be especially true in technical B2B industries. Why aren’t companies shouting their insights and expertise from the rooftops?
The excuses vary: “Nobody has the time,” is the most frequent. Followed by, “We don’t want our competitors to know what we are doing.” A less-touted one I heard the other day was, “We don’t like being criticized.” This was from a company in a very small “community” that found a better way of doing things. Going against the grain would be a scary proposition for them. This is a common underlying reason that just isn’t often acknowledged.
I get it. Self-promotion takes a certain level of commitment – not only in dedication of resources, but also as a shift in mindset. You have to be willing to take on a bit of pain in order to reap the ultimate rewards.
If you don’t put yourself out there, how else will potential customers understand what makes you special, what problems you can solve for them? Especially since sometimes you may be solving a problem that customers don’t even know they have. It’s important to start the dialogue, and sometimes change the conversation.
Thought leadership is also important to employee recruitment, retention and morale. Even the most conservative brand can see how big of an impact that talent cultivation has on your company’s success.
Once you make the decision to “talk the walk,” how do you get started?
Identify your voice. What is your brand position? What makes you special? What is your tone, manner, and personality? Who are the subject matter experts in your organization? Do you leverage them, as well? Or stick with a single voice?
Analyze Your Audience. Who are your target publics, and how can you help solve their problems? How do you best engage and influence them?
Prioritize the issues. What is timely and relevant? What are your customer’s most critical pain points? Decide up front what issues you are going to tackle, and when. Which channels are most appropriate to deliver those messages? This doesn’t have to be a complicated process, just a quick exercise to ensure you have a solid launch strategy.
Tell a story. It should have a cast of characters, a hero and a villain, a problem and resolution. This is all figurative, of course. The villain is usually a function of time and/or money; the hero is your company, and the cast is made up of your client, project partners, and impacted community. Make sure you hit on your key messages, and do it frequently. Develop content that shines, and makes an emotional connection with your audience.
Build your digital and social networks. It’s no new revelation that – while still important, traditional media readership and viewership has seen a sharp decline in the past decade – a trend that will certainly continue. Today, successful companies are using many tools including blogs, podcasts, email newsletters, and the ever-expanding roster of social media channels to broadcast their messages and influence their target audiences. Analyze your audience and determine where you will see the greatest ROI.
Engage the media. A well-placed earned media hit will give you a lot of credibility, but then you need to re-broadcast it through your own media channels to amplify your reach and build a following.
Take your show on the road. Speaking at trade shows and conferences can propel you to the top as an industry leader.
Be bold. As a thought leader, people will expect it. If taking a strong position is not in your comfort zone or is not appropriate…be the loudest. Case in point: take a company that is very innovative, but divulging too many details about their innovation would disclose trade secrets. The “safe” topics they feel are common practice in the industry and not worth talking about, so they don’t strive to be a thought leader. Some of their less capable competitors, however, are highly visible and spend a lot of time broadcasting their ideas about topics the innovative company sees as mundane. Who is coming out ahead, here? If you can’t talk about the more innovate qualities, you can at least strive to be the loudest. That’s not technically thought leadership…that’s PR…but taking a strategic approach to how you communicate those more mundane topics can make all the difference as to how the information is being received.
Becoming a recognized thought leader in your industry takes a fair amount of planning and commitment, but once you make the decision to take the leap, you should quickly begin reaping the rewards.
For more advice, here is a great article from Inc. with 9 Ways to Create Winning Thought Leadership.