Thought leadership is one of the most effective techniques in public relations. By identifying an issue your customers care about, and sharing your insights into it, you can establish a reputation as an expert. Before you know it, new business can be beating a path to your door. And yet, so many businesses get thought leadership wrong. The secret is to apply four basic marketing principles.
1. Understand your audience. Decide at the outset who you are marketing to. For example, board directors have very different interests to IT project managers. If targeting CEOs, get into their mindset by reading The Economist on a regular basis, which can make it easier to spot topical themes in your field. For example, the plight of the ‘PIGS’ economies (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) is presently worrying many top executives, so any new insights you can offer here will fall on fertile ground.
2. Merchandise your ideas. Retailers know a thing or two about presentation. A product that is attractively presented and catches the eye can fly off the shelves. The same applies to your opinions. If you are writing expert articles for the trade press, think like a reader. Be topical, ban jargon and avoid unnecessarily long sentences. We are all busy, so write as concisely as possible: a 600-word article will comfortably fit on a single A4 page with an attractive picture; a longer article may obscure your central message and carries a greater risk of reader fatigue.
3. Offer the right features. Market research can be powerful for thought leadership, giving your audience authoritative insights into issues and trends. However, research can be expensive, so it is vital to include the features people want. It is a given that the topics should really interest the target audience. But, if you want the study to be newsworthy, think about the issues the media cares about too. Your audience wants to trust your findings, so your choice of polling agency also counts: to win over major corporations and national media outlets, choose a ‘name’ research agency, such as GfK NOP or TNS, and accept that this costs more. Lastly, make the conclusions unambiguous by applying your own interpretation in a compelling, succinct report.
4. Promote, promote, promote. A research report or white paper is a campaigning tool that should be exploited over a period of months. Maximise the return on your invested time and money with a properly structured plan. This might include press releases, articles, interviews, speeches, briefing breakfasts, email marketing, annual reports and client prospect meetings. By involving staff at all levels, this work can be shared in a way that makes it manageable for even small organisations.
Properly executed, thought leadership is a highly-effective way to increase a firm’s profile and top line. With the right approach and attitude, its benefits are open to almost anyone.