By Neil Bayley, Executive Director, Good Relations
At the end of May, I was delighted to host a breakfast discussion at which our client, Miranda Murphy-Merrydew from EDF Energy Solutions, and Fredrik Borestrom from LinkedIn, talked about how thought leading content can power business customer engagement. Here’s a quick overview of our discussion shared with a 30 strong audience over their early morning coffee.
Take customers to the mirror
I kicked things off with three questions that come up in the work we’re doing to help clients develop effective leadership through our Seven Steps model.
First, there’s the fundamental question - if you’re leading your audience, where are you leading them to? Often the simple answer is a web page or piece of content that will draw them into a sales funnel. But most customers look to thought leaders for help in reflecting on opportunities or challenges in their business. So the best answer is ‘a mirror’. Effective thought leadership helps them ask questions of themselves and look at the challenges in their organisation differently.
Harness collective brainpower
The second question is - how many thoughts do you need to be a thought leader? I think the answer is the more the better. The most effective thought leaders draw together their experts around a topic and match them with brilliant minds from outside to create powerful insight.
If you look at how thought leadership from the McKinsey Global Institute, it’s often attributed to a community rather than an individual. This creates bigger and better thinking than one exec could ever hope to convey through an isolated blog or a freelance copywriter drafting a whitepaper with minimal conversations inside a business.
Gender balance your thinking
My final question – what gender is your thought leadership? I raised this because I think it’s an increasingly important consideration. Last year, research by Linstock Communications revealed most thought leadership is delivered in a male tone of voice. But in a world where today’s leaders and tomorrow’s talent need a better gender balance, this needs to change.
Find the sweet spot
Miranda Murphy-Merrydew explained how EDF Energy Solutions chose the circular economy as a theme in its recent campaign.
Effective thought leadership requires more than a sales pitch. It needs to be based on a narrative that suits both you and your target audience; engaging viewers and providing guidance. The best place to start is by asking yourself two simple questions - What do your prospective customers care about? What can you talk about with authority? From management to front line employees and suppliers, you have a wealth of sources at your fingertips. Lean on your experts to provide insight about what keeps your customers up at night. By doing this, EDF Energy Solutions looked beyond energy efficiency to find a more fertile conversation around circular economy.
Plan to sustain the conversation
Too often companies churn out ad-hoc, inconsistent and product focused materials that fail to engage. Good thought leadership campaigns sustain conversations around a topic, so plan out your chapters and use integrated channels.
To launch its circular economy campaign, EDF Energy Solutions hosted an event to launch a white paper. Over the coming weeks, the team released complementary assets, including articles, blogs, social ads and teaser videos - all driving viewers back towards the white paper.
Internal buy-in is vital
Buy-in from just management isn't enough. An effective campaign needs buy-in from all levels. If the sales team aren't just as engaged as you are, prospective customers will lose attention. It’s important that all levels of your organisation buy into the activation. The best way to ensure this is to make it easy for them and shout about your success - reflect on what has gone well and share proof points, whether it be engagement stats, media coverage or award entries.
Learn to move on
Gaining trust takes time and thought leadership doesn’t work overnight. Individuals need to get to know you and associate you with your key messaging and products. When a project is going well it’s very easy to recycle it. If you want to build the trust of your customers, you need to stay relevant. Find the next topic that you can develop. Learn from your mistakes and build on the positives.
Be first to mind
Fredrik Borestrom analysed LinkedIn’s 2019 Marketing Trends research and explained how some of the insights can be applied to effective thought leadership campaigns.
He began by talking about the correlation between brand awareness and market share. Being first to market is not necessarily important - you need to be the first to mind. Take Apple - they were not first to market, but they have an image of prestige and quality. From that moment Apple launched its first computer, the company had high sales, exceptional brand recognition, enviable customer loyalty and strong engagement.
If you can’t be first to mind - especially if the market already has a major player - create a new category. A prime example of this is the rapidly growing cloud computing industry. It has two market leaders; Amazon with its AWS platform, and Microsoft with its Azure platform. So how has IBM ensured they are first to mind? They created a new category to dominate - AI-based smart cloud systems. No matter what industry you operate in, there will always be an opening that will allow you to bypass your competition’s hold on the market.
Overcome the obsession with new
Marketers’ are obsessed with newness - but new isn’t always what sells. In fact, research shows only one in five new advertising campaigns are more effective than those they replace. Instead, adapt what you have.
Raymond Loewy - the “father of industrial design” and designer of the Air Force One logo, Coca-Cola bottle, and Shell Oil logo - taught us one of the most important principles when changing campaigns, is MAYA - most advanced, yet acceptable. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, but you don’t have to recreate the wheel.
You are where you advertise
The final point from Frederik was about the platforms used to communicate with audiences. It drew on signalling theory - “the fact that a product is heavily advertised - regardless of its message - is evidence the quality of that product is high”. That is why the Superbowl ads are so popular. Customers believe that if you invest that much in prestigious advertising, the product must be good.
In terms of an effective thought leadership campaign, this means that you should consider the platforms that you reach customers through; making sure that it complements the image that you want to portray the business.
So to conclude, a quick summary of our speakers’ key points to help guide the development of your thought leadership:
1. Be clear on where you want to lead your audience
2. Harness collective brainpower to create quality insight
3. Think about the gender (and personality) of your thought leadership
4. Find your sweet spot
5. Plan to start and sustain a conversation
6. Activate your internal advocates
7. Don’t be afraid to move on
8. Be first to mind among potential buyers
9. Develop familiar franchises to breakthrough
10. Reach audiences in the optimal contexts