A New, Tactical Model for Building & Promoting Thought Leadership
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the growing trend of both individuals and companies making the strategic decision to position themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries. Certainly names like Seth Godin, Brian Solis and Avinash Kaushik come to mind within the marketing, social and analytics realms (respectively). On the company side of the coin, such organizations as Razorfish, Marketing Profs, Brain Traffic and Eloqua have made significant contributions that are helping to push the marketing industry forward.
Now let me ask you a question…Do you think any of these people or organizations are struggling to grow their businesses? The short answer is no. The medium-sized answer is that they probably have more business and opportunities than they can handle, so they get to pick and choose who they WANT to work with and are in complete control of their growth. I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly where I want to be.
Who’s Leading in Your Industry?
But now let’s step outside of the thick, congested air of the marketing world. Can you name the people or organizations who are leading the charge in your industry or niche? Think beyond the 800 lb. gorillas. In all reality, many big companies are much more like 800 lb. dinosaurs. Think beyond the trade organizations that house and package the best of your industry. For the purposes of this blog post, they don’t count. Who within your industry is communicating original thoughts, asking (and answering) the tough questions, controlling the conversation online, doing new research and publishing all kinds of original content, all for the betterment of your industry? When we look at the things that today’s emerging thought leaders are doing, these activities show up almost every time. If there is no one filling these shoes in your niche…
Should That Be You?
Before going down this path, there are multiple things that you need to consider both internally and externally. For starters, thought leadership is much more inclined to benefit the B2B world vs B2C. Being a thought leader in the women’s socks industry may not help you sell more socks. Ask yourself, would this thought-leader position be a positive in the eyes of your current and future customers? Secondly, does a thought leadership position jive with the overall goals and objectives of your organization? If you’re a startup tech company looking to create a product and sell it in 12 months, this strategy is probably not a good fit. Lastly, you need C-level buy-in. This is a big, strategic decision and you’re going to need a variety of resources (people, time, money) to get it done. If they don’t “get it”, then move on.
A 7-Step Tactical Model
So I’ve kept my eye on many of today’s emerging thought leaders and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to dissect the tactical activities that have helped these organizations solidify their positions in their respective industries. Outside of writing a book on your industry niche (also recommended), here’s the model that I see consistently:
- Step 1: Original Research – Whether you commission a research project through a research firm, or you do your own internal research project (customer surveys, focus groups, etc), a quality, relevant research project is where it begins. The data and insights that come from it give you a foundation for new thought, or confirm existing theories, which is valuable as well.
- Step 2: The Full Report – Pull in a professional copy writer and designer to package the report with compelling copy and graphics. Open with an executive summary that delivers a few key findings and communicates a provocative point of view.
- Step 3: The Landing Page – Create a landing page on your site that gives interested parties the ability to download the executive summary for free, and then offers the complete report in exchange for minimal contact information (great lead-gen list!).
- Step 4: The Presentation/Webinar – Package your insights and graphics into a compelling presentation and then deliver it via a webinar. Save some of the juiciest nuggets for the webinar and promote that. After the webinar, post your deck on Slideshare.net.
- Step 5: The Infographic – Pull your designer back in to tell the visual story of your key insight/data points. Post it on your site and Visual.ly.
- Step 6: Promote, Promote, Promote – Go through our promotion checklist and hit it hard. Create a multimedia press release and spend a few bucks to distribute the piece via a wire service (PR Newswire, PRWeb, etc.)
- Step 7: Speaking – Submit/pitch your presentation to relevant trade groups and industry conferences. Get behind the podium and deliver the goodness.
Yes, It’s a Lot of Work, But…
Work this model consistently (at least once/year) and I promise you’ll see the payoff quickly in so many ways (press mentions, organic search rankings, backlinks, social mentions, brand awareness, lead gen, speaking opps, etc.) I can’t end this post without mentioning one particular company that inspired me to write it. A tip of the hat to Slingshot SEO for their Google vs. Bing studies (infographic is here). Those guys are definitely drinking the kool-aid. Oh, and their 3,600% revenue growth in the last three years ain’t to shabby (#58 on the Inc 500 Fastest Growing Companies List, 2011).