Thought-Leadership strategy – The way to plan your success
Before choosing the right Thought Leadership strategy, the status quo, the potentials, abilities, resources, vision, mission, and goals will have to be analyzed. In order to succeed with new ideas, products, and business models, strategic planning and a sensible approach are paramount.
Develop alternative procedures and strategies with the help of gap and scenario planning in order to achieve the best possible effect and efficiency in as well as your financial and business goals, within the set time-frame.
Thought-Leader are the undisputed market authority
- Businesses are market leader –
Thought-Leader are opinion leader
- Businesses have customers –
Thought-Leader have fans
- Businesses work inside the market –
Thought-Leader create markets
- Businesses create single products –
Thought-Leader create their own systems
- Businesses gain market shares –
Thought-Leader win hearts and minds
- Businesses want to be the number one of many – Thought-Leader are unique
- Businesses contemplate –
Thought-Leader think ahead
- Unternehmen sind Marktführer –
Thought Leader sind Meinungsführer
- Unternehmen haben Kunden –
Thought Leader haben Fans
- Unternehmen bearbeiten den Markt –
Thought Leader schaffen Märkte
- Unternehmen bauen Produkte –
Thought Leader bauen ihr eigenes System
- Unternehmen erobern Marktanteile –
Thought Leader erobern Köpfe und Herzen
- Unternehmen wollen die Nummer eins sein – Thought Leader sind einzigartig
- Unternehmen denken nach –
Thought Leader denken voraus
Operating Thought-Leadership with a system means…
Big ideas and pioneers of new technologies, products, and concepts, have always intuitively won over our hearts and minds.
The difference in the digital age: Nowadays, more and more people discover the structural principles and the professional applications of Thought-Leadership. Any business, brand, or institution (incl. NGOs) can become a Thought.Leader.
The internet and social media enable long-established businesses and newcomers alike the reach and possibilities to interact with customers, which were unthinkable less than ten years ago.
However, a big idea and the will to become a Thought-Leader alone are not enough.
Today’s successful Thought-Leaders know that an efficient system is necessary. You have to fix your ideas and products into people’s heads, involve them in the implementation of your big idea, and run campaigns and customer communities. Ideally, your Thought-Leadership is already part of your business model. The success, however, always relies on well-coordinated measures.
… to establish and strengthen customer relationships
Economic aspects of Thought-Leadership
- Gaining new customers and prospective buyers (Inbound)
- Active recommendations and a high will to do so (Referral)
- More intense customer relationships and dialogues (Engagement)
- Turning customers into brand ambassadors and community fans (Advocacy)
- Reduction of marketing and sales costs (On/Offline)
- Simpler implementation of new products on the market
- Increase of publicity and relevance in the market
Betriebswirtschaftliche Effekte von Thought Leadership
- Gewinnung von Neukunden und Interessenten (Inbound)
- Aktive Empfehlung und hohe Empfehlungsbereitschaft (Referral)
- Intensivierung von Kundenbeziehungen und Kundendialog (Engagement)
- Aktivierung von Kunden als Markenbotschafter und Community-Fans (Advocacy)
- Reduktion von Marketing- und Vertriebskosten (On/Offline)
- Leichtere Durchsetzung von Innovationen im Markt
- Steigerung der Bekanntheit und Relevanz von Marken
5 steps to your individual Thought-Leadership
Thought-Leadership is universally applicable – across all industry boundaries and business models. This is why this management principle is highly interesting for more than just businesses.
You can find examples of businesses and other institutions which utilize Thought Leadership successfully in all aspects of our everyday life:
- Businesses like Google, Amazon, Apple, SAP, Siemens, Accenture,
- Open-Source-Sites like WordPress or Wikipedia,
- Blockbuster franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings,
- Institutions like Weight Watchers or NGOs like Greenpeace,
- Public figures like Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Richard Branson.
What all of these examples show is, how individual a Thought-Leadership strategy can be.
Generally speaking, it is advisable to reflect on the previous success in the market, to analyze used and not used chances, as well as to name potentials that have not yet been exhausted in order to include the results in an effective strategy.
We have seen, in our cooperations with a multitude of various businesses, that a strategy consisting of 5 steps has proven highly successful.
1. Define your goals
It all starts with setting the right goals, the key performance indicator (KPI) and the intended ROI. At this stage, you should already define what strategic positioning needs to be established, in what time-frame and with which target-group (customers, public, employees).
The right Thought-Leadership strategy is influenced by many factors, e.g. the type of business model, the average cost of customer acquisition, their customer lifetime value (CLV), the available budget, the sustainability of the aspired competitive advantage.
Tasks for your checklist:
- Analyze your own positioning and market strategy
- Define the role you have in the market and the resulting strategic options. Are you the undisputed market leader? Do you want to maintain your position or advance it? Are you a newcomer in your field? How big is the gap (market share, revenue) to your biggest competitor?
- What aim does your business strategy have? More organic growth with already existing products? Are you pursuing an innovation strategy or a regional expansion? Are you an innovator?
- Analyze your Thought-Leadership target groups
- Define your extern (customers, partners, institutions, suppliers, the public) and intern (employees, top management) target groups. How are you perceived? What do youz want to stand for?
- How do your customers make decisions? Develop buyer personas for your target customers.
- Consideration of your current positioning and key messages
- Which topics are current and relevant for your business? Collect every relevant brochure, press releases, online materials, etc., which can help you to assess your business’s present communication strategy. Which key messages arise?
- Are there any media partnerships or established influencer relations you can fall back on? These include, e.g. mupltiplicators like institutions, societal opinion leaders, and communication experts (e.g. blogger).
- Evaluation & analyzes
- What is your company’s overall image after these analyzes? Is it consistent? Does your current positioning fit your business’s strategy?
- Are you able to spot any ways to pitch a monopoly for you in the market that enables you to fulfil a specific desire that people have? How well adjusted to that is your business model, your products/services, and communications?
2. Develop your strategy
The path you choose to achieve your personal Thought-Leadership necessitates your strategy. You have to be aware of all four Thought-Leadership dimensions: Campaigner, Innovator, Game Changer, and Brand Faces.
Many sectors offer a variety of possible positionings and strategies. What matters most, is that the strategy you choose fits your own strengths and resources.
Task for your checklist
Develop a Thought-Leadership which works the same for all your target groups and in all markets
- Determine your business model’s Thought-Leadership potential. Are you still mostly concerned with marketing single products? Is it possible to expand your service offers into a coherent system? Do you own any intellectual property (patents, concepts, software, etc.), which protect you from copycats?
- How much do you involve your customers and partners in your business model? Many businesses worldwide profit from the services of businesses like Google or SAP. What about your services?
- Deduce your personal communicative positioning from your own targets. Which human need can you meet? This is the focus of your Thought-Leadership campaign.
- Synchronize the four Thought-Leadership dimension: Expand your business model into an integrated system, gain the advantage over your competitors with innovative products, a communicative monopoly with brand faces and your big idea.
3. What and how: Conception
In this phase, your develop your content based on your goals and strategy to stage-manage your Thought-Leadership position while at the same time making it come alive.
Every aspect should be designed in order to add value for your customers as well as incorporate the Thought-Leader aspiration of making your customers lives better and the world, in general, a better place. This contribution for the greater good of all is not just some management esoterism, but the Thought Leader claim for credibility. Examples of how this can backfire when not genuine, show businesses like VW.
Tasks for your checklist
- Include a brand face into your Thought-Leadership. Identify people, from within your business and from the market, who stand for your big idea and your brand. These include internal brand faces like employees and top manager, and external brand faces like blogger, experts, political or public figures. These brand faces make your message come alive.
- Prepare your marketing and distribution channels for the direct dialogue with customers and prospective buyers. Improve your online presence, your online marketing, and your social media marketing. Turn them into an integrated dialogue platform. Your goal should be to have personal dialogues and relationships with as many customers as possible. In order to achieve that you need to utilize modern marketing concepts like inbound marketing. Modern marketing software supports you by interlinking your website, social media, google presence, email marketing, and content management.
Develop your Thought-Leadership campaign and your content strategy
- Your goal should be to let your Thought-Leadership come to life believably with your communication via all sales and marketing channels. This way you can make new customers and turn customers into fans.
- Your Thought-Leadership campaign will give you long-term support by conveying your position and big idea to your customers. Well planned and executed Thought-Leadership campaigns work successfully for many years. Brands like Dove (Natural Beauty) or IBM (Smarter Planet) are very good examples.
- Check for possible media corporations to implement your Thought-leadership strategy cross-media. Possibly develop country-specific modules for a local adaptation of your Thought-leadership strategy.
Expand your Thought-Leadership management
- Your brand faces make your Thought-Leadership come alive. From your CEO to every single one of your employees in the sales department becomes a face of your brand. Support them in that role. Empower them with Thought-Leadership content (blogs, campaigns, social media presence, topic specific micro-sites) and increase their competencies with effective training.
- Boost your businesses active customer dialogue by establishing inbound marketing as your sales and marketing approach.
4. Trial by fire: Implementation
This phase is the longest and most important part of a Thought-Leadership strategy. This stage reveals how deeply rooted the brand’s vision and mission in the business model are.
A highly underrated factor for success is the communication. Excellent messaging and storytelling makes the customers firmly aware of the brand. A task for every brand face. A business’s CEO is always one of the most important brand faces. A prime example for this is Steve Jobs, who cherished Apple’s myth personally – up to him introducing every presentations highlight with the distinctive message “one more thing.”
Full-time brand faces, like corporate bloggers or the Chief Customer Officer, are equaly important. They coin how the business is perceived and need to be supported by every department.
Tasks for your checklist
Create a Thought-Leadership excellence team
- Put together a team which constantly stays in contact and is cross-departmental. It should include members of management, marketing, sales, development, public relations, and employee communications. This team is responsible for adapting your thought Leadership for all markets and buyer personas.
- Use, if necessary, extern partners, like Thought Leader Systems, to design and monitor your Thought-Leadership. Make sure the partner you choose has the necessary skills and experience in implementing and supporting you in every aspect of your thought-leadership – offline as well as online.
- Consider implementing a central position for a Thought-leadership advisor. He or she should have a direct line to your top management and work closely to expand your Thought-Leadership in your business model, product and service policies, and communications. The position can function as an internal hub to channel between your top management and brand faces.
Insights for your strategy
Thought Leadership marketing starts at your business model’s vision and your big idea. Develop your business model in such a way that it inspires people to become active participants. Your informative and inspiring content and brand faces should create close contact with your customers and prospective buyers.
- Include people actevily into your brand world – with influencer marketing, customer engagement, and customer experience marketing. Create outstanding content people actively search for online and which creates customer relationships – with inbound marketing. By that, you will involve people, who in turn will actively spread the word of mouth for you as ‘brand evangelists.’
- Thought Leadership marketing makes consequent use of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing works because it offers people the content they are actively searching for and like to share. However, they don’t only like to share it but also identify with the brand and help create valuable content (user generated content). They might meet in user groups, write reviews, create youtube videos or help other users in messaging boards.
- If possible, strategically plan your customer community from the start. Encourage the creation of user generated content and strong connections between customers/users and the brand. Provide platforms that help your fans to organize themselves, meet and inspire each other. That is how Thought-Leadership marketing works.
Checklist for your Thought-Leadership marketing
Buyer Persona Management
- Buyer Personas are representations of your customer’s profiles. Besides including socio-demographic factors they also include information about the persona’s usage of the media, the purchase decision-making process, i.e. the customer journey and the persona’s usage of the business’s different channels at the customer touch points.
- Create succinct and precise profiles. In order to do so, interview your customers, former customers, your competitor’s customers and people who do not use your products/services.
- Campaign management allows you to look at your marketing through the looking glass. You can only succeed when you closely combine your activities in marketing, sales, and communications.
- Develop an idea that inspires people to share it and participate – not only on social media but alongside the entire customer journey.
- Design your campaign to be self-sustainable throughout all channels (online and offline). You can already involve your customer community at the creation stage.
- Make sure your campaign is for the greater good for all – beyond your business and your customers.
Content Marketing & Storytelling
- “Content is King,” is the current marketing battle cry, but beware: all companies are right now producing tonnes of whitepapers, how-to manuals, and eBooks. You need to keep the so-called ‘content shock‘ in mind, which means that on a daily basis more content is produced than it would ever be possible to conceive in a lifetime.
- You can only maintain content marketing successfully if you incorporate it into your “Thought Leadership Campaign.” Produce content your potential buyers are looking for and see value in as well as content which establishes your monopoly in the market.
- Connect your content with a coherent storyline. Keep your companies tonality in mind. Are you congenial family business like Lego? Are you a globally acting corporation like Google? Are you a well-established medium-scale enterprise or a new start-up? What is your message?
- Your customers will trust their friends, colleagues, and renowned experts more than you. This makes their influencers to your target group.
- Establish contact and communications with influencers and create engagement to increase the likelihood of them recommending you, professional word of mouth marketing.
Brand Community Management
- In principle, any brand can create a fan community. However, you need to be aware that there are different kinds of communities. Not every category suits your business/purpose. Do you, e.g., need a community of experts from the B2B sector (e.g. doctors, CEOs, private investors)?
- Establish active community building and manage the necessary roles in your fan community (e.g. administrator, greeter, mentor). Don’t be contempt with having an online community but rather try to organize customer events in real life.
Public Relations & Corporate Communications
- Deveopl your own topics and concerns for making society better, which positions your core business in the public eye. Your PR and CEO communications should serve a great need of your customers.
- Expand your corporate social responsibility in order to not only function as a sponsor for already established events but also in order to establish and position your Thought-Leadership topics.
- Position and empower your CEO and CXO as authentic brand faces, which embody your brands values and concerns.
Inbound Marketing is the art of being found by the customer instead of constantly bombarding them with advertisements. The success of inbound marketing cannot be ignored. If you want to practice inbound marketing, you should be sufficiently skilled in the following areas:
- Wherever possible, produce content that excites people and they will share and spread voluntarily as much as possible (e.g. blogs,
whitepapers, videos, etc.)
- It is essential to conduct professional search engine optimization (SEO) as well as mutual link building with influencer and influential Thought Leaders (influencer marketing)
- Implement a unique and involving social media – on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram as well as messaging boards and blogs.
- Invest in the right team and in the right infrastructures for your individual concept such as marketing automation (e.g. Hubspot) and social media management (e.g. Hootsuite).
- Utilize automated marketing workflows for lead creation.
5. Learn from your mistakes: Monitoring
This phase concludes the Thought-Leadership management cycle. For the constant surveillance of the development of a Thought-Leadership strategy and performance measurement, the groundwork from phase 1 is essential.
Together with our customers, we create a catalogue of key indicator performances which help us to monitor the positive impacts of our Thought-Leadership strategy.
- One part of our performance index is to monitor the gaining of new customers, customer loyalty, the growth of market shares, and the visibility in Google, social media, the press and with the key influencers.
- The increase of the brand’s strength through Thought-Leadership should also be closely monitored. This includes the progression of the brand awareness and clarity with the target group as well as the customer’s emotional loyalty to the brand.
- Professional performance measurement can help you to draw the right conclusions and to make the right decisions in order to strenghten your Thought-Leadership.
Thought-Leadership is a matter for the boss
Your business’s CEO is your most important communicator. Your ‘C-Suite’s’ communication shapes your business’s external appearance.
You can only achieve Thought-Leadership if you include your top managers into your business’s storytelling and Thought-Leadership marketing. Only then can you establish the necessary reach and credibility – internally as well as externally.
Tasks for your Checklist
- Involve your top managers from the start.
- Get their approval of acitivities.
- Let your top management be an active part of your Thought-Leadership.
- Keep them informed and thus enable them to stay communicative – internally as well as externally.