While some product marketers might confuse a one-off thought leadership content piece with a full thought leadership marketing strategy, an effective strategy can be the first step in getting customers into the marketing funnel. In fact, a Gartner survey showed that 30% of respondents indicated that a form of thought leadership is the single highest driver of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs).
“Thought leadership marketing, if done well, can build trust by showcasing an understanding and vision for the future of the market you serve, differentiate you from your competition and lead to increased awareness,” says Christy Ferguson, VP Analyst, Gartner.
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But all thought leadership is not created equal. Technology marketers can only drive results with a fully developed thought leadership strategy that differentiates the organization and sets the business up to be a market visionary. Five key factors should be considered.
Factor 1: Customer-centric mission
It may seem obvious, but thought leadership marketing must be directly relevant to the target audience and directly related to your value proposition to the market. The key is to offer advice the customer can or should act on, and present your organization’s point of view as it relates to the buyer.
Thought leadership marketing shouldn’t include product content explicitly; instead, it should offer value to readers regardless of whether they become buyers. The ideal content sets up a problem or complexity buyers face and eventually leads them back to your product as the solution; it doesn’t position your product front and center in the moment.
Factor 2: Cross-functional strategy
The most effective thought leadership marketing cannot live in isolation and isn’t just used for marketing. Coordinating its use across the organization will drive credibility, amplify its message and shorten time to market.
For example, thought leadership can be extremely useful for sales and other customer-facing teams, but they may need to be trained on the content to articulate the overarching storyline and messages effectively. Stake out a thought leadership position in marketing that can be carried through sales.
Factor 3: Long-term play
Don’t let thought leadership marketing stagnate. Good marketing establishes a point of view that differentiates the organization from competitors in the moment, but also has a roadmap to evolve and change into the future. The most effective thought leadership marketing has a clear message and point of view throughout all delivery channels, rather than ad hoc or one-off pieces.
It’s key to have a senior executive lead the program, along with a group that can identify topics and a group of content producers. You’ll also need to identify domain experts to serve as key spokespeople.
Factor 4: More than content
Thought leadership content is not the same as thought leadership marketing. The latter requires a long-term roadmap and a unique POV that is integral to the product and can evolve over time. Also, don’t confuse a thought leadership program with content marketing. It must include quality content, but where content marketing might demonstrate the business impact to existing business models, thought leadership marketing presents a vision of the future state of those business models.
Factor 5: Own intellectual property
If you outsource your thought leadership marketing, it’s not your thought leadership. The intellectual property aspect of thought leadership marketing must remain internal to the organization. However, it is possible to outsource some of the writing, editing or proofreading of the insights, as well as design work, external PR or even market research.