You have the flashy website, the glossy marketing campaigns, and a company you’re passionate about – but you are never the go-to brand. What you need is a bit of thought leadership. Rhian Morgan looks at PR expert Tim Prizeman’s book The Thought Leadership Manual and offers some tips for success for making maximum impact
You may have heard of thought leadership but have dismissed it as marketing jargon. Maybe you looked into it and thought it would require too much expense. Or perhaps you’re hazy on the details.
If you haven’t implemented it, however, your competitor will have, so it’s time to get on board. Thought leadership, in a nutshell, is having a powerful message or policy to grab the attention of clients, making you the go-to expert, and the market leader.
Armed with an original or current idea, with important implications for the industry, you market this idea so that your voice is heard loudest among the chattering masses.
Or, as Accenture’s UK head of marketing Peter Thomas puts it: “Thought leadership positions a company around a topic that is interesting, market relevant, that other clients and influencers want to read, delivered in a form they can digest.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s a hot topic in America. But public relations experts, like Tim Prizeman of Kelso Consulting, are looking to be the forerunners of the concept in the UK.
He says: “The businesses that are truly memorable have cultures that deliver great value to their customers, as members of the ILM will know well.
“The successful ones have a great vision of what their organisation is about, and a programme that draws on this, its expertise, to deliver authentic insights that help their own business and their customers, too.”
In his recently published book The Thought Leadership Manual, Tim details the tools you need to stand out in the crowd.
He explains: “Thought leadership is a new and evolving but already very important area where advice and good practice is needed. Yet while many firms have thought leadership programmes, there are few books on it and it does not feature in marketing or other courses.
“This book [tells you how] to generate strong insights, and also how to make sure your ideas will genuinely be of interest. The message is that… there is often a black hole at the centre of much B2B marketing; the absence of strong and attention-grabbing ideas.”
Tim is the owner of public relations and thought leadership agency Kelso Consulting, and the book builds on his experiences of working with numerous professional and technology firms over the past 17 years to devise and implement successful initiatives.
So how do you become a thought leader, even on a budget? According to Tim’s book, these are his top tips:
Identify your business challenge
What is your, or your company’s, strength? What are you passionate about? By consulting with clients and brainstorming with staff, identify it. Now identify a long-term trend in that area of business, and a hot topic. Where changes are taking place and businesses are struggling to keep pace or haven’t realised there are future changes imminent.
What is attention-grabbing but also has implications for the success of your clients? Is it an area of technology that has been over-looked by your competitors, a lack of stats on a particular trending topic in the media, or something you can make into a monthly or annual review, for instance? Is it addressing a new law, an ethical issue, or a gap in the market? You need to address the solution – and develop a reputation as the expert, or a role model, crusader, or media pundit.
Now use the acronyms SWOT and STEEPLED to analyse your tactics: What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the social, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal, ethical, and demographic arenas?
Become the expert
You’re not expected to write a PhD on the subject. But you will need to undertake research - or hire someone who can. To get the gen, read trade publications. Identify journalists who cover these topics through Google alerts. Listen to any relevant TED talks. Go to network-specific events.
Then get peer review of the hypothesis from experts, such as colleagues and trusted clients. For example, get client case studies or public domain examples. You will need endorsements from credible people.
You will need to have evidence to back your hypothesis up, that will need to be reviewed for clarity, relevance to audience needs, novelty, validity, rigour, impact and practicality. Analyse your own internal data – and external data, opinion surveys, and Freedom of Information requests.
Whose support do you need? The person who gives budgetary approval, as well as any influential supporters or blockers.
Market your idea. Firstly, who do you target?
Tim says it’s important to be selective and not target all businesses. “If your strategy is ‘we target everybody’, then it is not a strategy! Targeting everybody, or nearly everybody, is not a strategy – it is an absence of strategy.”
Instead, Tim recommends you target existing clients, referrals, and former employees.
Secondly, think of all the formats to transmit your idea. For instance, write a white paper, an article, a case study, and a blog. Have a website (one that will capture visitors’ emails) and ensure search engine optimisation. Make videos for your website or YouTube, as well as podcasts, but make sure your content works on mobiles. Create infographics, and presentations. Tweet trending updates on your issue – as well as retweeting other experts. Maybe even consider writing a book on the topic!
Thirdly, embark on a high-profile campaign. Get your idea out there by direct marketing a list of prioritised contacts, by email, post, or phone. Be prominent on social media, and use the GoogleAd programme. Also inform the media, by sending press releases to journalists. And Tim even reckons having your own reality TV show can do wonders for your business – as long as it is above reproach. You need a strong PR and advertising campaign that is repeatedly sustained over months, via industry events.
Was the campaign worth it? Figure out how much time and money was spent, compared to budget. Website visitor data is useful to track. For instance, did we double traffic due to this campaign? Measure input (time and money) against output (tweets, press releases etc).
Measure outcomes: website traffic, comments on social media, securing a prominent position on Google, requests for meetings, invitations to tender, proposal requests, press coverage generated, clients’ meetings (especially with those who have previously been difficult to reach), referrers’ meetings, and sales related to the campaign. And remember, as Tim says: “If you want to be a leader, then you need to be worth following – and that applies as much to thought leadership as any other type.”
The Thought Leadership Manual is available from Panoma Press priced £14.99. For more resources, visit www.kelsopr.com/thought-leadership-manual-resources