Too many organisations focus on the media opportunities thought leadership offers to the exclusion of all else. It’s understandable: thought leadership content can be one of the best ways to engage the press. But behave too much like a magpie in search of glittering headlines and you are in danger of flying over more valuable rewards. Content that opens the door to a high-profile speaking opportunity or gets you in front of a new prospect can generate a return on investment well in excess of a piece on page 29 of The Times.
Our research reflects a growing appetite for using thought leadership as a business development tool. Over the next ten years, the proportion of firms that see raising brand awareness as one of the top three aims of thought leadership is expected to fall from 65% to 38%. Conversely, the number using it as an opportunity to collaborate with their target audience is predicted to nearly double, from 17% to 29%. Firms are increasingly interested in using their content to engage, collaborate and build meaningful relationships.
Consider the following before you embark on your next thought leadership project:
1. Make the most of your relationships
The unique insights that exist within every organisation are essential to thought leadership, but the relationships nurtured by your team are invaluable. Use the process as an opportunity to engage clients and prospects. Drawing on their insight can help you test your initial idea or theme, carry out qualitative research, or promote the final content online or at an event. Don’t worry that it’s too big an ask. Contributors get to discuss a pressing subject that matters to them, feature in a thoughtful and robust piece of content, and demonstrate their own insight and expertise. Remember it’s a win for them, too.
2. Use the process to help clarify your message
Insight from sector leaders generated as part of the research can actually help clarify your proposition, so don’t shy away from areas where your thinking is yet to fully evolve. For example, in the exploratory stages of a recent thought leadership project, feedback from business leaders further illuminated what constitutes best practice for many in the industry. Our client was able to tailor and improve how it advised clients on the issue as a result.
3. Remember every interaction is a soft pitch
Involving prospective clients in the process shows off the work you could be doing for them. At the same time, the final product acts as an engaging calling card that can go alongside your everyday marketing. Right Management’s Women in Leadership led to 84 business development meetings in the eight weeks after its launch. While coverage in the Evening Standard doubtless played a part in the content’s success, a campaign focused on targeting prospects delivered the commercial opportunities the company really wanted.
4. Be clear on your business goals before you get started
Before embarking on any of the above, think long and hard about what you want your thought leadership to achieve for the business. Targets should ideally fulfil three criteria: they should be purposeful, measurable, and doable. Do you want to demonstrate expertise in a part of your sector where you’re not very well-known? Who are the main prospects you’d like to start a conversation with as a result? Do you want to leverage a particularly valuable client relationship by collaborating on an issue that is important to you both?
At the same time, be sure to consider the internal factors that will secure buy-in from senior figures and further the success of your work. How can this project create synergy across different departments? What can we learn from previous work about creating BD opportunities?
These aren’t easy questions to answer, so it’s little wonder many focus on the easily measurable output of media coverage. Fixating on the media element without putting enough thought into how content can attract new clients or customers might get you coverage worth £15k AVE for a £15k report. But that’s little use compared to a potential new business opportunity that could pay back that investment many times over.