As we are in the throes of a knowledge economy, simple value messages and mere visibility of a business is no longer enough to hold your ground in the face of increasing global competition and volatile markets. Your business (or it’s leaders) needs to establish itself/themselves as thought leader(s) in the identified area(s). Gartner has identified thought leadership as a major business trend that has rapidly become an established field in marketing and a basis of differentiation across sectors. So what is thought leadership? Simply put, it is about becoming an authority on specific area of expertise by consistently delivering high quality knowledge to your target audience. It is the net outcome of investing in a structured manner over a period of time in high quality content in that identified areas. The content can range from authored articles, white papers, videos, video blogs, infographics to blog posts and speaking engagements among others. Today, as perception matters more than ever, it is no wonder that thought leadership has become a critical piece in the marketing and communication strategy of any company.
Thought Leadership helps
Besides differentiation and building affinity for your brand, thought leadership helps in multiple other ways. Through Thought Leadership, you become part of a conversation early as your target audience seeks to know more about the area you are positioned as a thought leader. In complex or nascent areas, thought leadership builds the critical awareness necessary for the customers to even understand or appreciate the relevance and significance of the new concept, technology or solution. Which is critical to sales and marketing as without this awareness, there is no way even a conversation can be initiated with prospects. The better and more in-depth you do it, it also elevates the brand and makes the audience sticky, resulting in higher customer loyalty and retention. It can thus generate leads or new business opportunities besides making it easier clients to refer new qualified prospects. More importantly in the era of search where search engines prioritize unique and popular content in an area, thought leadership is just the right recipe to get that added advantage. To summarize, thought leadership:
- Makes you the go-to source for information/expertise in the identified area
- Establishes your authority in the identified area
- Helps build trust and confidence with the target audience
- Increases customer/brand loyalty besides retention
- Aids marketing in creating the critical awareness in new/complex areas
Having set the context for thought leadership and it’s importance, let us now focus on thought leadership branding and why it has become increasingly important for PR.
4 reasons why thought leadership branding is the next big thing
Media has shifted its focus to consumer more than ever
Mass media across it’s genre’s has clearly shifted it’s focus in the last few years to consumers. In that it prioritizes content or determines news value increasingly based on interest areas of its readers. A clear validation or indication of this was the visible shift across Indian media to start-ups/entrepreneurs as media outlets recognized a growing public interest in that area. What this means is that however good the company is, if the content is not aligned to the larger macro trends at that moment, it will be logically difficult for messaging or communication from that company to be picked up or be visible.
Search and its love for content
Let us face it. B2b or b2c no firm or brand can ignore search today. You don’t need to be a maven to figure search engines of all hues will and always seek unique and compelling content. Which means any company or brand which creates such content in a consistent manner over a period of time will automatically start ranking higher in search results.
Increasing pressure on RoI for marketing investments
Talk to any marketer and they will admit to increasing pressure on RoI for spends. What this means is prioritization of tools, platforms and areas of focus. Beyond what is basic and hygiene, most marketers will seek to focus large part of spends on what they see as working or is critical to business success. Content marketing is up there and thought leadership is one of the largest focus areas in content marketing. Or thought leadership makes for a good content marketing focus.
Consumers disregard for sales content
Forget content clutter and lack of attention spans. Today’s audiences or consumers are fundamentally not interested in sales content or promotional collaterals – the staple of marketing of yesteryears. They seek content that is useful and interesting. And if your brand is seen as a thought leader in an area of your target audience’s interest which will only happen if there is enough content out there which led to it, it automatically means your firm or brand gets embedded in the customer’s mind over other firms/brands. When your sales knocks, the customer is already aware and influenced.
… More on Thought Leadership and PR’s role in Part II.
Disclaimer: I am the sole author of this article. This has been originally published in PR Communication Age Magazine, December 2016 issue