All decision makers want to conduct business with brands they trust. It’s no different for a consumer deciding between competing brands in a grocery store aisle… or a purchasing manager evaluating proposals for building products. Certainly, brands don’t become “trusted” overnight. They accomplish it — by earning that favored credential — through a disciplined process… that can be integrated into sales and marketing planning.
What is thought leadership marketing?
Simply put, thought leadership is cultivated trust. In fact, continually building trust is at the core of any strong thought leadership strategy.
A thought leader is an individual spokesperson who is viewed as an expert in a specific field or on a particular topic — and someone who exudes authenticity and credibility. Thought leaders can introduce new ideas and influence others to make decisions. Or to take actions.
For building product brands, a well-planned and executed thought leadership program can prove instrumental as a marketing tool. And an invaluable part of the promotional mix.
Thought leadership can take many forms. For example, it could be expertise shared by an industry professional such as an architect or contractor “ambassador” through their engagement on social media platforms. Or a brand sponsoring specialized trade show programming. Hosting a series of streaming webinars. Perhaps an executive presenting at an industry event. Or publishing long-form articles and consistently posting on blogs. Each strategy helps to build credibility… and, in turn, trust.
Thought leadership marketing, by extension, is the process of developing expertise — and then leveraging that expertise — to influence target audiences and gain preference for a building product brand and its offerings.
Does thought leadership work?
In 2020, global communications firm Edelman partnered with LinkedIn and published a Thought Leadership Impact Study. They surveyed 1,200 US business decision-makers, content creators and salespeople to better understand thought leadership as well as its impact… throughout the customer journey.
The study validated that B2B decision makers are investing significant amounts of time-consuming thought leadership content. And that such content — when delivered in relevant fashion — can significantly influence brand perception and buying behaviors.
Highlights from the study:
- Almost half of decisions makers who engage with thought leadership spend at least an hour a week doing so.
- Yet, relatively little high-quality content currently is being produced.
- Producers of thought leadership content are not investing the resources necessary to do it well… or developing processes, to measure its ROI.
- When executed correctly, thought leadership will positively impact brand perception and sales.
Tips for Developing a Thought Leadership Program
A thought leadership program is an intentional campaign undertaken to put forth a brand’s expertise in a specific area. It’s critical to be mindful that thought leadership is not about shameless self-promotion. Rather, it should provide educational value and position the thought leader as a trustworthy resource to turn to, for important industry updates and information.
Following are five steps to help guide a process for developing a successful — and highly impactful — thought leadership program.
Determine where potential decision makers are and how they are getting information.
The key to success with any marketing tactic is to first “know thy audience.” Discover what questions customers and prospects are asking. And which channels or forums they’re currently using to engage. And determining how much we already know about their needs and pain points.
To better understand audiences, we comb through social media feeds to see what people are talking about. And conduct interviews with existing customers — as well as “lost leads” — to get a sense of what their needs and concerns may be. Once key points have been identified, it’s time to start brainstorming and construct focused topics for thought leadership content development.
Establish a strong social media presence.
Having an active presence on social media gives building product brands an opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders and increase awareness. After all, audiences are already engaging on a variety of social media sites… often, daily. We speak directly to those audiences by promoting our client’s thought leadership content on those platforms and responding directly, as target audiences interact with the content.
Identify the key thought leaders and subject matter experts in the organization.
Of course, the chief executive is typically the primary thought leader for a brand, but — as part of an integrated thought leadership program — it’s important to ensure that other stakeholder voices are heard too.
Who in the organization is knowledgeable enough to be considered a “subject matter expert”… and could garner credibility? Would that person be comfortable with the idea of being positioned as a spokesperson? Providing interviews and commentary? Participating in bylined articles, whitepapers or other types of content?
Study what the competitors are doing to create thought leadership.
It’s possible — and likely — that your competitors are already creating thought leadership content. We study what they’re doing and when and where they’re publishing their content. How frequently they participate in thought leadership activities or share content. Which topics they write about. Then, we determine how your building product brand could do it better. And use what we learn to help develop themes for a content calendar… suitable for deployment.
Adapt, monitor, and then do it again.
Like any strategic marketing plan, thought leadership efforts should adapt to ensure they stay on target with industry trends, evolving audiences, new topics of importance, and changes to products and services. It’s critical to pay attention to the feedback received and let that guide future endeavors in thought leadership marketing.
Most importantly, a plan needs to be put into place to measure return on investment. Spend time on the front end to set up web analytics so that metrics can help gauge how well thought leadership content is being received by audiences. Include calls-to-action and embed links and tracking codes so the analytics can accurately track how many people are acting upon the suggestions.
A Worthwhile Endeavor
Embarking on a cohesive, clearly-defined and measurable thought leadership program — and developing corresponding content — requires planning.
Consider partnering with an agency who can do a great deal of the heavy lifting for you. And who can deliver “best practice” advice. For example, an agency can do a deep dive into who — and where — your audiences are. Arrange for your brand’s thought leaders to speak at industry events and on podcasts. Line up press interviews. Write bylined articles. Set up and script webinars. Ghostwrite blog posts, and much more.
If you’d like to pursue some ideas on thought leadership… and ways to set your building product brand apart from the competition, send an email to Steve Kleber at firstname.lastname@example.org.