The Issues with Thought Leadership
Think about why marketers invest in thought leadership. A thought leader is (according to Google Dictionary) “one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” By presenting yourself as a thought leader, prospects are more likely to trust your ideas and, as such, to buy from you. But thought leadership campaigns can crash and burn in spectacular ways, and you risk losing budget, or experiencing an active backfire. Here are a few reasons why thought leadership campaigns fail.
1. You don’t say something unique
Unique insights and messages are grounded in thorough research. Start by understanding what your competitors, partners, and peers are saying in their own thought leadership campaigns, then break those messages down:
- Are there obvious holes in their arguments?
- Are there ignored statistics or research?
- Is there an unexplored solution to a common problem, or a common problem that’s not being addressed?
It’s important to dig into platforms where you plan to post content, so you can ensure your message is particularly unique when placed in close proximity to your competitors’ message.
2. You mix product pitch with insights
We’ve said it before: good marketing content is useful first, promotional second. This is of paramount importance for thought leadership. The biggest mistakes we see are companies trying to mix thought leadership and product pitches into a single asset.
Thought leadership content needs to stand on its own. It needs to present ideas that apply to a larger problem or industry, and should only be tied back to the company’s specific solution after prospects have bought into the idea. For example, you need to sell the idea “dogs need space to be off leash” before proposing to build a dog park.
3. You present ideas in a bubble
As much as your ideas need to be unique, they cannot exist in a bubble. Every idea you present should have third-party evidence supporting it. Think about writing a term paper: you could present a beautifully written idea that bike lanes on campus reduce overall stress levels across students, but if you fail to include third-party research, you’re still going to get an F.
Leveraging Third-Party Content
Building a thought leadership campaign around third-party content (such as analyst or media content) directly addresses the issues we talked about above. Third-party content provides a grounding piece of evidence to pull your ideas out of your bubble and into the wider conversation. It eliminates the risk of mixing insights with product pitches, because the editorially independent content, even when sponsored, strives to treat all covered parties in a neutral fashion.
Finally, it ensures uniqueness because these content creators are the experts at creating one-of-a-kind, useful content for their audiences. Moreover, third-party content creators have already established a level of thought leadership that can positively influence your efforts.
Choosing the Right Content
Third-party content runs the gambit for options. It can include everything from content you pay for, own and have significant editorial control over, to content created completely independently from you, that you simply license. To build an effective thought leadership campaign, you’ll likely want to use content that falls in the middle: editorially independent content that allows you to have influence over topics and themes.The content should start the conversation, opening up prospects’ minds to a different way of viewing a problem, while your follow-up campaigns should drive home your specific ideas and conclusions.
Thought leadership campaigns are not one-and-done. To truly develop thought leadership, you need to constantly prove the worth of your ideas. Consistency is key. For example, publishing one eBook with a three-month supporting campaign is unlikely to foster lasting thought leadership.
Similarly, publishing two eBooks back-to-back with supporting campaigns over six months will not be effective if the content pieces do not complement each other, or worse, are contradictory. Each successive piece of content should build on the previous content, adding additional evidence to your argument.
Integrated Campaigns for Maximizing Success
While SDxCentral does offer one-off content creation that can be used to drive thought leadership, clients are unlikely to see long-lasting success in these short, singular campaigns. Instead, we recommend an integrated approach with a series of related content pieces that build on each other over the course of six months to a year. With this approach, we are able to help you build supporting campaigns that will ensure your content reaches the right audience — incorporating promotional activities such as targeted emails and homepage placement.
Seeing ROI from Thought Leadership Campaigns
It can be incredibly difficult to judge ROI on thought leadership campaigns. At SDxCentral, we like to pair thought leadership campaigns with demand generation campaigns, leading prospects through the first part of the buyer’s journey. This provides an easy way to track the overall effectiveness of the combined campaigns.
However, if you want to focus solely on thought leadership, tracking share-of-mind and brand value via survey is a common and effective approach. You can also map revenue growth against campaign timelines to seek out correlations.