Thought leadership as a marketing discipline has been around for several decades. Some credit large consulting firms that published research (e.g. The McKinsey Quarterly, Deloitte Review). Defined as positioning a company or individual as an expert through current, relevant and valuable content, thought leadership marketing (TLM) is intuitively appealing because customers seek information, education, and expertise when evaluating options, or making important decisions.
Another TLM definition references the need for expertise when a high degree of financial or emotional risk is involved. That said, TLM is likely important for a broad range of categories including information technology (IT), software, consulting, big ticket purchases, new technologies, and complex products or services.
As you might expect, there are many challenges to effective thought leadership marketing including a growing quantity and quality of competitors, and the consequent oversaturation of marketing, communications and sales targeting the same executives. No question time and resources are always a consideration when implementing a new marketing program.
Marketing and Sales Challenged More Than Ever
Many of the categories identified above are witnessing tremendous growth in the number and variety of competitors. The software category, as an example, is witnessing rapid growth of Software as a Service (SaaS), coupled with stratospheric valuations that attract new entrants. Channel partners and consultants add to the shear number of competitors.
At the same time, marketing has evolved dramatically to a focus on digital tactics (websites, search engine marketing, social media, content, lead generation, email, etc.). Today, these digital marketing tools and techniques are more widely available, leveling the playing field, and allowing smaller brands to compete against the giants. What’s more, in most categories, there are portals or directories that rank high in search results.
Intuitively, this combination of increased competitors and incremental marketing and sales—all targeting the same prospects—leads to communications overload. Prospects often tune-out or ignore marketing, and avoid sales personnel.
Of course, one option to compete has been to spend more than competitors on marketing, which favors larger brands and is not practical for most. However, if vendor marketing and fatigue exists, more marketing or sales may just further annoy prospective customers.
Besides these effects on prospective customers, journalist targets also experience a similar over saturation of vendor communications, and increasingly avoid or ignore such efforts.
Faced with all these challenges, how can a company be effective in marketing and sales? No question, traditional marketing and sales are declining in effectiveness. Let’s get to those tips and trade secrets.
A Marketing Silver Bullet
Yes, the above statement suggests that there is one thing you can do to achieve great success, which is usually never possible, especially in marketing. So put aside everything you have learned about marketing for a moment, and consider that while your prospects are truly oversaturated, fatigued, and even avoid vendor marketing and sales, the same prospect seeks information and education regarding new and changing technologies, significant investments, and complex alternatives.
These same prospects will seek information and training from associations, publications, conferences, professional communities, and peers. These same prospects often understand that analysts, directories, and even review sites are often paid by vendors, and therefore might not be credible.
Enter branded thought leadership (BTL)–an educational entity that leads with information, resources and training, but is sponsored by the vendor or company. Won’t prospects be skeptical? Not if well-executed with excellent content that addresses their information and education needs, and avoids aggressive sales pitches. Not if content addresses key questions and information requirements. What’s more, the branded thought leadership entity and company can be cross-promoted for maximum exposure and engagement (more on this later). The illustration below shows how branded thought leadership marketing does not experience vendor fatigue, and communicates directly with prospective customers.
So how does it work? To Find out, download our Thought Leadership Guide.