5 Things Every Thought Leadership Program Needs
In this chapter of our ongoing thought leadership series, we examine the five most critical components that should be considered before starting a corporate thought leadership program.
1. Thought leadership: Keeping it real
The term thought leadership was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, then editor-in-chief of Booz Allen Hamilton’s flagship publication, strategy+business. He described it as original thinking on important ideas that have real world application. A program that uses this as a core tenet will be headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, as the phrase has been overused the meaning has become diluted. Marketers promoting programs masquerading as thought leadership for the sole purpose of capturing leads are largely to blame. If a program claims to be about big ideas and aspirational visions about topics of shared interest, but in reality is thinly disguised product content, audiences will feel burned.
As mentioned in our last post, the idea of a value exchange between content provider and audience is paramount. In today’s saturated information market, a content provider that falls short on this measure will likely not get a second chance at a good first impression.
2. Subject-matter experts: The right stuff
Standing out as a thought leader is a title earned, not a moniker adopted. To win in this arena, original thinking is required. This is where the experts come in.
Building a program around experts is critical, and shouldn’t be limited to those under your own corporate roof. Independent analysts, consulting firms, leading universities, think tanks, and partners can all bolster your own experts’ original thinking. Incorporating a broader set of perspectives will also help allay fears that your program is just a collection of shills for your products.
Not all experts, however, are ready for prime time. Many will benefit from—if not require—support and coaching. To become a respected thought leader, they might need help with everything from documenting, presenting, and socializing their ideas; understanding social channels and protocols; to connecting with other influencers. Assistance with these tasks allows them to focus on driving conversations, influencing others, and shaping perceptions—what Larry Kim of WordStream calls the “essential attributes of thought leaders.”
3. The content: Many formats, one place
Thought leadership content traditionally consisted of recorded presentations, round table discussions, lengthy feature articles, and text-heavy white papers. The thinking was that long-form content facilitated immersion and engagement—two of the hallmarks of good thought leadership.
But as with all content marketing, a successful program must adapt to audience consumption habits. Today, this means digital, visual, and easily consumable and sharable formats. That’s not to say long-form content should be abandoned, but only that it should not be relied on alone.
A well-funded program has the luxury of creating assets in a variety of high-value formats (videos, webinars, eBooks, white papers, and so on). It’s more realistic, though, to assume that a new program will start with one or two primary formats and rely on converting those into digital, visual, and sharable formats as fodder for merchandizing your primary ones.
Regardless of the format chosen, it is important for programs to provide a single online destination that houses it all in one place. This will signal your company’s role in the program and provide a vehicle for effective merchandising, organic search results, and return visits.
4. A distribution strategy: Merchandizing and influencers
Regardless of how valuable your content is, it still has to compete in a crowded marketplace for a scarce commodity—audience attention. Reaching and interacting with an audience is an initiative unto itself. Combine that with the evolving ways people discover, consume, and share content, and you will have to work just as hard to market your thought leadership as you do developing it.
Establishing relationships with influencers that focus on the same themes and topics can help you leverage the power of the social web. Like any good social strategy, the key is genuine interaction, respect, and reciprocity. In the age of the social web, these influencers could be the difference between a vibrant, engaged viewership and a program that goes unnoticed.
5. Engagement: Not just one and done
Good thought leadership content that is unique and valuable should merit the attention of your audience. The question becomes: Now that you have earned their attention, how do you keep them engaged? Programs that commit to—and utilize—audience-focused publishing, editorial, and journalistic best practices will have the best chance of avoiding stale content and a diminishing readership.
A few examples of these practices include regularly adding new program installments, creating fresh content on breaking news related to your themes, or adding curated content, polls, or user-generated content to your program’s mix. Refining, refreshing, and repurposing your evergreen content and merchandising into new or alternative channels will also help keep your program fresh.
In part three of our thought leadership series, we’ll outline and examine various ways thought leadership content can be utilized across the customer journey.