Marketing used to be about “getting in front of” prospects. But in the era the empowered consumer, traditional marketing methods like advertising, direct mail, cold calling -- or just sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring -- just don't work anymore.
Today, customers are in charge. In an Internet-driven age, consumers expect to find companies on their own terms, often through a search engine, and actively seek solutions to their own problems. We live in an era of increasing buyer distrust, where everyone finds marketing “claims” suspect, or meaningless.
In this new marketing environment—where the old rules of marketing no longer apply--businesses are increasingly turning to thought leadership marketing— a marketing mindset based on earning trust, credibility and cultivating recognition as a trusted resource.
Thought Leadership in a Virtual World
In the Internet age, prospects often find you (instead of the other way around). Prospects now “Google” around to find someone with your skills. Your prospects expect your business to be “findable,” and to demonstrate a proven, credible record of demonstrating results.
Many of us now form “virtual first impressions” of people and companies via our Internet browsers. Impressions about your business are formed in a few seconds. Prospects take note of how often your business appears, and how high it ranks, in a web browser.
Online prospects expect you to make a virtual “case” for yourself. If you don’t pass the test, or make a bad impression, or appear lackluster compared to your competitors, you will lose the potential client or customer as they click away to more credible competitors.
The Internet has created a new marketing reality that affects every business, regardless of size or industry, presenting both challenges and opportunities.
Show, Don’t Tell
Consumers increasingly expect businesses to show--not tell--when making a case for their abilities, expertise, products and services.
At its core, thought leadership centers on providing useful content, information and resources that not only attracts prospects actively seeking information related to your business, but that makes them receptive to your marketing message.
Thought leaders write articles, give talks, circulate white papers and reports, and contributor generously within their target market. Thought leadership is an effective strategy to get noticed in today's increasingly competitive marketplace. Thought leaders market themselves by providing information that helps prospective clients and customers make informed choices.
Thought leadership works because it gives consumers what they want: useful, relevant information, not a sales pitch, a chance to engage in a two-way dialogue with companies they consider doing business with.
Elements of a Thought Leadership Program
As a thought leader, you put your clients’ and customers’ needs first, and cultivate the very real perception that you profoundly know your business and grasp the needs of your target market. Like David Silverstein, you too can pursue a thought leadership marketing strategy to contribute to your industry and communities where members of your target market congregate.
Thought leaders position themselves as centers of influence. Centers of influence are always "present" within their target markets. Visibility is part of their formula, so they cultivate opportunities to be seen, read, and heard by the people who matter most. They make sure their prospects hear from them on a regular basis.
“Thought leadership requires a spirit of generosity - generosity of one's time, intelligence and knowledge,” says Elise Bauer of Pacific Group. “It requires a trust that by being open with what you know, and by sharing your time and knowledge, the world will reward your efforts.”
Identify trade shows and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending and get on panels or lead workshops. Find out about the local associations that host speaking events and submit yourself for giving a talk. Again, focus on providing useful information.
David Silverstein, for example, is a sought after keynote speaker and chairs numerous high profile industry events. He appears annually at the International Society of Six Sigma Professionals Leadership Conference, alongside speakers such as Jack Welch, Stephen Covey.
Thought leaders establish relationships with editors and publications in the trade, local, and national media to enhance their credibility. They see themselves as partners in the news making process.
Silverstein frequently comments as an expert on topics of interest to business leaders in a variety of publications. His efforts have resulted in coverage in Business Week, Executive Decision Magazine and Healthcare Strategic Management. Consistent media coverage has built name recognition for BMG in a variety of fields ranging including financial services, healthcare and manufacturing.
Thought leaders factor the Internet into their marketing plans. Your website should be a source of useful information for customers, potential customers, and influencers. Blogs are an effective tool for practicing thought leadership. A blog puts a human face on a company and signals to your target market that you want to engage with them.
Write and Publish
Thought leaders create and distribute information that educates their target market about issues related to their business. White papers are great thought leadership vehicles that educate prospects by appealing to their need for information and to help them solve problems.
Today, a "white paper" can take many forms; increasingly, white papers are downloadable pdf files that serve as online "bait pieces." When done correctly, a white paper can not only serve as the vehicle for a thought leadership marketing strategy, but can attract prospects via search engines and other online channels.
Many of my future posts will discuss thought leadership: defining it as a concept, highlighting what works in pursuing a thought leadership marketing strategy, and its overall role in the Get Slightly Famous marketing model. I'll also be profiling companies of all sizes and industries who are living the thought leadership mindset. Stay tuned!