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“A thought leader is someone with proven expertise and experience who isn’t afraid to share it with the world without direct compensation.”

Jay Baer

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“The best marketing doesn't feel like marketing.”

Tom Fishburne

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“Search, a marketing method that didn't exist a decade ago, provides the most efficient and inexpensive way for businesses to find leads.”

John Battelle

Decoding Modern Marketing

5. THOUGHT-LEADERSHIP

Some brands have very entertainment oriented content strategies designed for emotional engagement. The mission of my agency’s recent commercials for GEICO, for example, was solely to engage the audience sufficiently to create awareness for the brand’s simple message “15 minutes could save you 15% on car insurance”. Other brands, where their category requires study to understand what you need to know, often take a thought-leadership approach. This is especially true in B2B.

When I first started working with IBM they had just bought the business consulting arm of PwC. A couple of years later they sold their computer manufacturing business to Lenovo in China. This was part of a shift from being a product oriented company to a customer oriented company. The thinking was simply that computer products were becoming commodities, and that they were really in the business of making businesses successful, hence the consulting company acquisition. It also triggered a shift to leading with thought-leadership, which my agency was fortunate enough to be part of. The idea was simple.

GIVE THE KNOWLEDGE AWAY AND YOU WILL GET BRAND PREFERENCE AND LEADS IN RETURN.

This was the start of the digital content revolution. IBM began to share what they knew as a way to help customers and prospects understand and solve problems. As a result, they became a trusted knowledge source, a go-to provider of knowledge and insights, and not far behind came the engagements and the sales. I saw this approach work, just as the open-source movement worked. It was the beginning of a new contract between companies and their consumers, where their mission was not to just to sell their products, but to help their customers.

Underlying the success of a thought-leadership driven cultivation strategy, in addition to good strategic planning, has to be a commitment to the integrity and value of the content itself.

CONTENT THAT IS A THINLY VEILED SALES PITCH WILL BE QUICKLY SEEN FOR WHAT IT IS AND DAMAGE THE BRAND.

Consumers are not stupid and will see through a manipulation in a flash. Content has to be designed to serve the needs of the consumer first. If it does that well, then there is a tacit understanding that it may bring with it the opportunity for the brand to engage. This is the new marketing contract. Just like we were all willing to sit through commercials to watch a TV show, or look at ads to get to the next article, we’re willing to give our time and attention to a brand that earns it. But it’s not enough to just have appropriate content for each engagement, content needs to be really different if a brand wants to be seen as different. Odds are your competitors have figured out that content is important too. So assuming every one is pursuing the same ends, the brand with the most unique, engaging content and the clearest commitment to their consumers, wins.

A big part of that commitment is transparency and openness. In this social world, consumers are very attuned to the reputational honesty of brands. It is very hard for a brand to ask to be a trusted knowledge source, while being seen to be less than honest in other areas. This means brands have to be alert to how they are perceived from all sides, so everything they do supports the ideas that makeup their identity. This is bigger than just cultivating prospects, and reflects the need to for brands to truly live their values.

THE REMARKABLE THING ABOUT CONTENT IS THAT IT CAN ATTRACT EXACTLY THE PEOPLE IT IS DESIGNED FOR.

You can create a piece of content, put it on your website and it can travel out to the four corners of the web and connect with prospects at exactly the moment they are looking for it. Imagine if you are wondering how to sell those hand carved chess pieces you made, and all of a sudden twenty people call you looking for hand carved chess pieces. Content combined with search is no less magical. Maximizing the potential for this is SEO or search engine optimization. It is one-part science and two parts art. Your content needs to designed so that it is highly desirable, as defined by the search engines, and you need to ensure that it is tagged and positioned in exactly the right way. The opportunities for brands, which get this formula right, are significant because they side step the need to pay 3rd parties to deliver their messages, and replace paid exposure with free delivery. The challenge is you cannot buy this exposure; you have to earn it.