Head of Marketing and Communications at Atlas Renewable Energy.
Companies in every industry continue to position their opinion leader figures in their B2B digital marketing strategies. As an approach to exchanging knowledge from the perspective of experienced leaders, thought leadership also provides platforms for the conveyance of best practices, communication of practical knowledge, and the sharing of hard-earned experiences, success stories and social responsibility. Thought leaders can be valuable resources for driving the growth of their own organizations and helping to facilitate community-building within their fields. As with novel products and services, I believe the company first to market in thought leadership stands to benefit greatly from this public currency, along with gaining greater attention and the effects of marketing goodwill.
Thought leaders are not easily replaced.
While many B2B companies and brands offer high-quality goods or services, only a few of them will become thought leaders. Why do some pursue this approach while others ignore it? Why become a thought leader at all? Sustained client loyalty is difficult to attain. It’s no surprise that clients will simply move on to the next best (or fastest, most efficient or most scalable) solution to their problems. Too many businesses are fundamentally replaceable with another of their kind. Thought leaders, on the other hand, are typically not.
This is precisely why businesses today stand to gain so much from incorporating thought leadership into their B2B digital strategy. Companies that elevate their individual brand to the level of thought leadership can accrue much more than notoriety: They can become a trusted source of information in the minds of their clients and prospects.
As a company builds trust in the eyes of its B2B partners and the public, it can increasingly become a necessary part of others’ growth. In doing so, it can drive itself to the top of the food chain and into a position of overall market leadership, as well as that of a trusted authority.
Becoming a thought leader requires leverage.
To reach this pinnacle, a company doesn’t just need to succeed with its primary deliverables. It should also perform at the highest level across a range of visibility factors that build leverage: contributing to industry best practices, sharing practical guidance and first-hand experience and, increasingly, pursuing corporate social responsibility. In Bloomberg (paywall), Dambisa Moyo writes that executives “must be prepared to lead not only in business, but also in society.”
Thus, in order to become thought leaders, CEOs and other executives should not only lead their own companies with precision, efficiency and a moral compass but should also become trusted sources within the broader community in the eyes of the public and those with whom they do business.
Thought leaders should follow a set of guiding principles.
To do this, companies would do well to mirror a version of Digital.gov’s guiding principles like the modified version below:
1. Elevate corporate literacy within the industry.
2. Prioritize the human element over “corporate identity.”
3. Leave fear behind.
4. Pursue collaborative efforts.
5. Listen as much as (or more than) you preach.
6. Work openly and seek outside participation.
By following these foundational principles, executives and corporations can use their own online platforms to spread positive and accurate information that actively seeks to help others and provide useful industry practices and success stories.
Additionally, companies can enrich their content marketing by focusing on the human side of their work, as opposed to spreadsheets and bottom lines. By removing fear (of failure, censure and so on) and listening to clients and others in their field, brands can do more to pursue difficult subject matters and bring to light the important human factors that affect us all.
Thought leadership can be a marketing strategy.
Any brand capable of reaching thought leadership status stands to benefit substantively from increased attention. In my experience, this can translate into a kind of currency that enables thought leaders to achieve more than their competitors on a number of levels.
To begin with, thought leadership can drive growth more “organically” than many other avenues (pay-per-click, for example). That is, a trusted source is typically sought out for their knowledge rather than seeking out customers or clients through various forms of advertising, whether online or in the “real world.” More public awareness does not make traditional forms of marketing irrelevant. (Even established industry leaders like IBM and AWS run ads). Instead, it can add to their value while increasing organic exposure and reach.
The difficulty, as it were, is that executives may find the path to thought leadership to be more of a winding road than straightforwardly logical. The path toward thought leadership is not through brute advertising force but in an extreme generosity of spirit. Therefore, measuring its ROI might seem difficult and intangible, but I’ve found that it can certainly elevate the company’s brand to new heights.
In business today, thought leadership plays an increasingly public role. A CEO’s response to societal issues will naturally appear to reflect their company and its goals and values. As others in their space (and in the public sector) take note, the business could grow organically if the thought leader’s message leads customers to stop thinking of their goods and services as replaceable by the next best thing.
As go-to experts, brands that climb to this level of authority have quite a lot to gain in terms of “share of mind.” Current customers may tend to stay put, while other companies in the same field might lose clients as they are drawn into the fold of the thought leader. Sooner or later, a handful of companies in each field are likely to be considered the trusted and indispensable giants of their industry. With this in mind, I believe companies and their executives would be wise to turn up the thought leadership dial in their B2B marketing strategy moving forward.