Thought leadership is a powerful asset for any company to have on its side, especially when your technology company is operating within a specific niche market. While a content strategy can garner engagement, ads can generate traffic and in-person events can build rapport with your audience – the value of thought leadership can really become evident within all of your ongoing marketing efforts.
What is a definition of thought leadership?
Thought leadership means that your consumers, peers, and others view you as the expert. When potential customers are in a quandary, they come to you for advice. When they want to innovate or improve their business processes, they look to you first. Therefore, it’s not at all surprising that according to one study, well over half (55%) of B2B decision makers “use thought leadership to vet organizations they may hire.”
“Is this partner I’m going to work with – do they know what they’re doing? Are they at the top of their game?”
VP Product Management & Marketing
So if thought leadership is such a key driver for your target audience, how can B2B brands make a conscious decision to create the type of content that establishes authority? As a marketer, how can you effectively position your technology company as a thought leader in your specific industry? And if you’re not viewed as an authority in your space right now, what are some of the actions required to start to build a foundation of thought leadership?
In order to become an influencer and have a point of view that is respected in your space, there are certainly some key steps to take. Here’s a breakdown of five major steps your organization can take to solidify a thought leadership marketing strategy.
1. Clarify your unique value proposition
The first step that you must take is to clarify your unique value proposition (UVP) within your particular market. What is it that makes you an authority within your industry? How does your company stand out as different from the competition? What is your specific niche? What pain points do your consumers have, and how can you help to resolve them? And…most importantly – how can you empathize with the audience that is a part of your specific niche?
There are several factors that can help you to identify, refine, and effectively present your UVP as a thought leader in your industry. Here are 3 major elements that you should pay attention to:
- Expertise. In the majority of cases, it is extremely helpful to have direct, hands-on experience with whatever niche you want to talk or write about. For example, if you want to present yourself as an expert in the field of venture capital, then you’ll certainly enjoy a higher level of credibility if you actually owned a startup business at some point, or were/are a venture capitalist yourself.
- Ongoing involvement. Even if you have years of experience in a certain field, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest trends and developments affecting that particular sector. Instead of being tethered to the past, you must stay connected to the present. Taking our venture capital example one step further, perhaps you discern a major shift towards investment in startup fintech companies, and stay involved in the conversation surrounding that trend. It’s crucial to not get stale within your industry and to constantly engage with those who are a part of your domain.
- A clearly delineated perspective. Finally, in order to offer a truly unique value proposition to your readers/listeners, it’s important to provide a specific, insightful, even controversial take on your subject matter. When developing a content marketing strategy, include different angles or takes on key trends within your industry. Take a stance on current issues facing your industry – are shifts in the marketplace good or bad? Why?
There are quite a few examples of organizations that I feel are solid references for inspiration. In the world of B2B research, SiriusDecisions (acquired by Forrester Research in 2018) has always been top of mind by covering key topics like Account-Based Marketing, Content Strategy and Operations, Demand Generation and others.
Are you looking to follow some major technology disruptors? Then check out what First Round puts out on their Review site. The site provides a way for technology thought leaders to come to the forefront through a range of long-form content. Topics cover management, marketing, engineering, design, venture capital and sales.
2. Identify your core audience
As you clarify your UVP, it’s also important to clearly establish who you want to engage with – first and foremost. In the B2B world, you’ll likely need to define which target accounts would offer your company the highest value in the event of a partnership. Then, identify their most pressing needs and concerns. What solution does your product or service provide? How does it deliver higher value compared to your competition?
It’s important to ask these and related questions in order to establish a “launch-point” for your thought leadership strategy. Your insights as a thought leader may be penetrating, and your suggestions extremely tactical, but if you’re targeting the wrong audience then your ROI will remain low overall. In contrast, a narrow focus on the ideal customer profile usually leads to faster growth.
Perhaps the single most effective way to identify your core consumers is to develop a buyer persona and even go through an empathy map exercise. It works for content marketing, and (by extension) it works for a thought leadership strategy as well. You’ll need to answer such questions as:
- What is my target consumer’s age, level of education, and yearly income?
- In the B2B setting, what title, job duties, and decision-making authority does my target have?
- What is his (or her) position within the company?
- What are his goals, both professionally and personally?
- What are his biggest challenges?
- How does he consume information, and from which sources?
- What correlation is there between my ideal client’s major problems and my technical solution?
- Why would he be interested in my product/service?
- What objections might he raise?
- How would my product/service solve his problems – if my technical solution is not implemented?
- What external factors are also influencing the overall success of my target customer?
- What industry trends are impacting my target customer?
These and other questions will help you to laser in on the B2B consumers that will find your insights most helpful. In turn, these consumers will form the nucleus of your nascent following, and help to validate and solidify your position as a thought leader.
3. Create a distribution strategy
With your UVP and core audience in hand, it’s time to develop a content distribution strategy. You want to create a vehicle that will allow you to share your insights on a consistent basis, but will also align with your target consumers’ habits and preferences. Moreover, any platform that will enable you to pull in 3rd party support (e.g., guest posts, interviews, etc.) will add an extra layer of value to your distribution network.
For example, many thought leaders are leveraging podcasts to grow their audience. As of 2019, there were an estimated 86 million podcast listeners in the United States, and that number is expected to balloon to 132 million by 2022. The increasing popularity of the podcast format has opened the door for thought leaders from Tim Ferriss to Guy Raz to Courtland Allen to grow their brands by means of regularly aired episodes, informative and entertaining insights, and guest appearances.
Whether you decide to use a podcast as your main distribution vehicle, keep the emphasis on your blog, or use a multi-tiered approach that allows you to periodically repurpose and repackage content, it’s imperative that you deliver thought leadership pieces through the channels that will have the greatest impact on your core audience (and enable engagement/interaction!).
4. Share and engage on LinkedIn
Social media plays a huge role in just about any effective thought leadership strategy; and in the B2B realm, LinkedIn is an essential medium for sharing valuable insights and engaging with prospective clients. Not only does LinkedIn have a huge following (some 590 million by the end of 2018), but its reputation and functionality as a “business-first” social media platform makes it an excellent channel for cultivating professional credibility.
One of the best features of LinkedIn is the ease of access that it affords for connecting with high-level decision makers. Granted, these executives will have their shields up from the horde of aggressive entrepreneurs and salesmen that want them to purchase some product, or invest in some venture. However, your thought leadership content is 100% free, with no strings attached. That means that you can promote your expertise without worrying about the pressure of a “sales pitch.”
Furthermore, one of the best parts about LinkedIn right now is that the organic reach is still quite impressive compared to other platforms like Facebook or Twitter. The Facebook feed is littered with sponsored posts and unrelated ads – making engagement quite difficult. With LinkedIn, it’s still very possible to engage with other thought leaders in your space AND to even create an active dialogue on the platform. When you’re on LinkedIn, it’s important to note that you should just be yourself – take a stance if you must or just offer different perspectives.
Leveraging your LinkedIn presence in this way will put you in a good position to simultaneously position yourself as a subject matter expert, and forge professional connections that could pay dividends in the future.
5. Provide help without asking for anything in return
It’s important to remember that a B2B thought leadership strategy is definitely not about immediate sales. Neither does it have to necessarily involve lead generation. The goal of your thought leadership strategy is to ultimately position your B2B brand as a helpful expert that has the solutions your prospects need.
With that goal in mind, provide assistance at every appropriate opportunity with no strings attached. For example:
- Your content itself should provide actionable value to your readers/listeners. True, they don’t have to pay a single dollar for its consumption; but they should walk away with increased knowledge and a deeper understanding of your subject, and some practical suggestions to implement. In this case – think about providing extreme value without even asking for an email in return. Why even “gate” the content – just provide the material directly to your ideal customers and allow them to access it when it is convenient for them.
- In most cases, you’ll see comments come through (perhaps on a LinkedIn post or in a group). If a user leaves a question on a post you’ve put out there, answer it as thoroughly and as promptly as possible. This will show your audience that you are not just another talking head, but someone who is really interested in engaging with his/her followers, and providing practical assistance to everyone who seeks insights. If you spend a lot of time creating content – engagement is what you want, so make sure to jump on it as quickly as possible!
- Link to other resources that you’ve found in your own research. If you’ve found a great post (even if it’s from a competitor) or online resource (podcast, video series, etc.), make sure to reference this for your audience. This type of action will indicate that you’re not seeking to just promote your own material, but are simply willing to share the same information that has helped you to become successful in your area of expertise.
In summary, thought leadership is really a long-term investment that, when properly developed and executed, can yield enormous dividends. If you follow the 5-step process discussed above to build your B2B thought leadership strategy, then you’re sure to build your brand and really impact all areas of your marketing efforts.
Written by Tristan Pelligrino
Tristan Pelligrino is the Co-Founder of Motion. He’s a serial entrepreneur who started his career as a consultant with large IT companies such as PwC, IBM and Oracle. After getting his MBA, he started and grew one of the fastest video production companies in the country – which was listed on the Inc. 5000. Tristan now enjoys leading the content marketing strategies of some of the most innovative B2B technology companies in the country. You can find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.