Becoming a Relevant Part of the Conversation
Thought leadership is a term that gets thrown around a lot – every company wants to be considered a ‘thought leader,’ but very few go about it the right way. Thought leadership marketing requires a dedication to a topic or concept over time, and a concerted approach to weave it through all your marketing initiatives. And I say over time because it may take some time to gain traction, and if successful will yield long term benefit, but perhaps not an instant ROI. Thought leadership is not “selling” – it is establishing your SMEs and company as experts – trusted, and differentiated from your competitors; and maybe most importantly as peers to your customers, prospects, and the IT community at large.
Finding your Voice
Understanding what the right topic or concept is for your company requires an understanding of your goals, the market, and what topics will resonate with your key audience. Ideally you can identify an overarching “big thought” that essentially drills down to a narrow approach on a broad topic, with a unique perspective that you can “own.” Though leadership also requires the availability of your subject matter experts to deliver on that thought leadership messaging – and the higher up within the organization, to lend the clout of a title, the better. They need to be discipline in their messaging and approach, yet come across as credible, real, and likable – it is a fine line to balance to be sure.
Great ways to identify the right topic is through research, customer feedback and market feedback. And then focus the conversation on what is in it for your customer – what is relevant to them, what in your messaging will help them succeed, what will help them think differently, or provide ammunition to advance their own strategies internally. Ultimately though, thought leadership is about being a relevant part of the conversation and earning you the right to continue the dialogue with key contacts.
I have the great fortune to frequently be in the market speaking with both CIOs and tech marketers. What I hear is CIOs and IT leaders really do want to interact with and learn from the vendor community, however they want to do it in an interactive way that removes the buzz words and the feeling of being spoken at and sold to. When given the chance, a great approach is to lead with an open-ended question and then listen, and not a question like ‘what keeps you up at night’. Think about what CIOs and IT leaders are challenged with and ask questions that get into those challenges, ‘how do you evaluate new technologies today versus two years ago given the heightened focus on security?’ or ‘which business partners do you work with most often when deciding which parts of the business to transform?’.
Once you have the topic and messaging down, the distribution channels must align with the right level of audience. By-lined articles, social media campaigns, and event speaking opportunities are all great channels to distribute your thought leadership messaging, surround your target audience and create community and dialogue around it. Engaging through these channels will amplify the conversation – and make it a real conversation rather than just talking at your customers.
Because of my involvement with IDG events, this is a channel I have seen tech vendors be very successful with (and some not so successful, but we can take that off-line). It is important to choose events that have speaking opportunities that align with your thought leadership program. To engage a high level audience – say CIOs – thought leadership messaging is an excellent approach because they want to be educated on what trends in the market they should be keeping an eye one, what their peers are doing, what experts at companies are creating in terms of their product roadmap, etc. And as a side note, you need to match your SME’s stage presence, or speaking abilities with your event format and audience as well –their presence and the format of your session can make or break this opportunity.
A great example of this was at our recent AGENDA18 conference. Citrix, who happened to be one of our Strategy level partners, used their main stage platform to take the enormous topic of digital transformation and focus that down to its impact on the workforce – which of course aligns with their solutions. But it wasn’t a sales pitch. They put their SVP/CMO on stage, so they had the right person at the event. He shared key industry research, as well as his unique perspective on workforce challenges and then shared the stage with a customer– a CIO and CTO team – to talk through how they were dealing with this specific issue. Citrix understood that this was not the right environment to sell or to even talk about the technology itself – this was the right environment to educate and share – and by earning the right for follow up conversations, then they would be able to go deeper into the specific benefits Citrix could provide to organizations.
IDG has created face-to-face event opportunities in several different formats, for tech marketers to engage with customers and communicate a thought leadership platform. This is a win-win because event attendees want that interaction with vendors – in fact in a recent survey, 83% said they attend events with the opportunity to interact with vendors – and tech vendors because it allows them to become part of the conversation. Our most recent event launch, CIO Think Tank, provides an exclusive opportunity to share ideas about the leading edge of digital transformation with experienced IT and business leaders, editors, and industry analysts. Drop me a line if you would like to learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org.