Branding through Thought Leadership

Depending on your industry, thought leadership can be an important component of your brand strategy.  My definition of thought leadership is applying your (or your company’s) unique thinking to solve a problem faced by your target market.  Thought leadership is not retweeting other people’s thoughts.  This shows me a person is well read (although I wonder if some people actually read everything they RT).  If something is worth RTing, tell your audience why.

Here are some types of thought leadership I have used effectively:

Original Research –  Original research quantifies a problem to demonstrate the dimensions and impact of an issue.  The thought leadership comes in when the company shows it understands the causes of the problem and offers solutions.

Contrarian View – When you do not have the resources for original research, taking a contrarian view to the recommendations in studies conducted by other organizations can help position your company.  You do not refute the findings, but you present alternatives to those recommended by the sponsoring organization.

Expand the Discussion – Some research produced by third parties merely provides statistics and does not contain a solution.  As a former colleague of mine used to say about research: “This is what they said. Let me tell you what they meant.”  This is your opportunity to put meaning into the findings and provide suggestions for how customers can overcome the issues surfaced in the research.

Case Studies – I wrote about case studies last week in a post about brand ambassadors.  Case studies also demonstrate thought leadership because they show how you addressed an individual customer’s issue.  If you tailored your product or service, it is even better because it shows you thought about the customer’s issue and did not just apply an off-the-shelf solution.

Here are some of the vehicles you can use to promote your thought leadership in the market:

White Papers – These allow you to present original research findings and lay out solutions to the issues.  Make sure you include a succinct and compelling executive summary to communicate your main points and entice your audience to read further.  Given the lack of time customers have to read the fire-hose of information coming at them every day, the executive summary may be the only chance you get to capture their attention.

Articles – Under your by-line or written by the media outlet, articles are effective for original research and case study communications.  The by-line article allows you to control the story and get it right (just make sure it is not a sales pitch), but articles written by the media outlet’s staff sometimes have greater credibility with readers, who feel an objective third party has produced the piece.

Speeches – Most trade associations host meetings on a national and regional/state level and are often searching for interesting information for their members.  These are effective for original research and case studies (especially if your customer is willing to co-present).  Often you have to start at the local level and prove your chops before being considered for a spot at the national level.  Also consider presenting to local business or civic groups that can benefit from your product or service.

Blogs – These can be your own blog, a guest spot on another person’s blog or commenting on blog posts.  This approach is often useful for the contrarian or expanded discussion types of thought leadership.

Hosted Events – If you have undertaken a large original study, you can host webinars or in-person events to discuss the findings and solutions.   Webinars provide time savings for participants and cost efficiency for you.  But in-person events can work if you have a concentration of customers and prospects in a city or if you can piggyback on a relevant national trade association meeting without conflicting with the official program schedule.


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