3 Barriers to Beginning a Thought Leadership Program

I was told last week by a B2B conference organizer (named Susie) that thought leadership is the biggest new thing in B2B marketing. I cite her as an authority because she has no reason to be biased on the topic – whereas I clearly do. She asked me what I saw as the biggest barriers that companies taking on thought leadership marketing for the first time could confront. That’s really a great question because the barriers are substantial. Here are three of the most significant ones we see.

1. Knowing what to write about

Let’s say your business provides technology that helps small law firms organize their time and bill their clients. What are you going to write about? You could write about law industry events; your clients will be interested in that. You could write about changes to laws that affect their practices. They have to pay attention to that. You could provide advice on how they should run their businesses more profitably. Who doesn’t want that? You could write about new, promising practice areas that could spur growth. Interesting stuff, yes? Or, you could write about technological advances that might help them run their businesses more efficiently and increase their billings.

You know a lot about all those topics and more. But which ones will help your prospects and your business? Since you sell technology, technological advances that might help them run their businesses better would be a good topic to write about (so long as it’s not too promotional). Many of the other topics – even though you know a lot about them – would not be good to write about because they won’t do anything for your business. They won’t bring you new clients.

Few companies coming new to thought leadership run topics through the right filters. Consequently, a large proportion of what they produce does them no good. Eventually, they notice that, and conclude that thought leadership does not work for them. They’re wrong. The way they’re doing it doesn’t work for them. Without the right topics, it doesn’t work for anybody.

2. Knowing who should be the author

Any sizable business has many potential authors for its content (quite aside from who actually pens it). Bylined authors might include the business head, other management team members, key account managers, product developers, industry experts, even customers with a passion for the topic. Anyone’s name could run on an article, but the most important question to ask is, “Who does it most benefit the firm to position as the expert on this topic?”

Thought leadership not only emerges from the thinking of experts, it creates experts by exposing and marketing their thinking. And once your expert is identified as such, people will look to him or her when they need help. And where will they find this wonder-worker, this thought leader?

At your business.

But the byline is too often left to chance, or to politics. When that happens, companies end up thinking that thought leadership is not raising their profile, or reputation, or establishing their authority. Again, the problem is not with thought leadership.

3. Having a process

You can’t produce a respectable volume of good quality thought leadership without a process. Continually badgering employees, customers and industry experts to submit material isn’t a process; it’s a punishment. Most companies don’t need a big process change, or marketing automation software or a large editorial department. But they do need something that’s been thought through, properly funded and organized. They need someone, or some committee, to take responsibility for producing content. And yet most companies rarely take the time to put a process in place and one poor soul who has a full-time job doing something else ends up scrambling to fill a rapidly emptying pipeline. Ultimately, the company concludes that thought leadership is too hard.

Despite all the excitement about thought leadership marketing, the uptake in industries outside of management consulting and IT services is actually pretty slow. When a firm tries to do it and fails to see a result, it gives it up as a bad job and goes back to the tried and trusted approaches of advertising and sales calls.

But let’s not waste time worrying about them. Instead, let’s start thinking about how their failure is an opportunity for you to take a thoughtful and deliberate approach to thought leadership, an approach that’s not really that hard, and will work.

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