Advice for navigating the internal challenges that marketers face when developing thought leadership strategy.
In a recent article, I highlighted 5 tensions professional services firm marketers and B2B editorial leaders face in setting thought leadership strategy:
- Today’s vs. Tomorrow’s Revenue
- Products and Services vs. Wants and Needs
- Existing Customers vs. New Customers
- Codifying Expertise vs. Discovering New
- Speed vs. Quality
In this article, I offer targeted recommendations on how to manage through these challenges and develop a thought leadership strategy that works for your firm.
These Aren’t Discrete Problems
The most important place to start is with the recognition that these tensions are neither discrete nor independent from each other. In fact, they’re all essentially interconnected.
An intense focus of resources devoted to understanding and solving for your clients’ most pressing wants and needs inevitably leads to the discovery of new ways to solve them. The result is thought leadership devoted to tomorrow’s revenue.
By contrast, a heavy investment of time and energy on codifying and elevating your firm’s expertise often uncovers new points of service differentiation. The result is thought leadership that’s most effective at supporting today’s revenue.
The good news is that none of these tensions are either/or statements. Rather, they’re all effectively yes/and ones. As a result, when setting strategy you have to think about all these things simultaneously.
A Thought Leadership Strategy is Like an Investment Portfolio
One of the most fundamental tenets of investing is diversification. Very few smart investors have all their resources tied up in one investment class or category. A conservative investor might choose a 60/40 ratio of stocks and bonds that combines a healthy mix of small-cap, large-cap, growth, value, international, and domestic stocks and bonds. By contrast, an aggressive investor might choose a 90/10 ratio that leans more heavily on growth stocks, technology, or even new asset classes like crypto currency.
The same analogy holds true for your investments in thought leadership strategy. An aggressive strategy might focus heavily on pursuing topics at the periphery, over-indexing original primary research in an attempt to discover new ways to solve pressing client problems, and forsaking speed in favor of deep dive insights. By contrast, a more conservative approach will spend more resources to bring visibility to the firm’s existing subject matter expertise and prioritize speed to market in publishing at all costs.
Ultimately, you can use an investment mindset to frame all aspects of your thought leadership strategy. For instance:
- Topic strategy — An aggressive approach might be to assign a 70/30 mix on topics at the periphery (tomorrow’s revenue) vs. those at the core (today’s revenue).
- Content development approach — A moderate approach might be to assign a 40/60 mix of resources to content derived from topical primary research vs. content developed by working with subject matter experts to elevate their existing expertise.
- Publishing formats — A conservative approach might be to assign 80% of your resources to tried-and-proven publishing formats (i.e. blogs, articles, and research reports) and 20% of your resources to new and emerging formats (interactive experience, live streaming video, or podcasts).
Align Your Strategies Against Two Concurrent Time Horizons
It’s important to remember that any effective strategy describes a desired future state while offering a clear set of actions you’ll use to get there. It’s a path to a better reality.
We often encourage our clients to think about their marketing and thought leadership strategies along two time horizons — a 3 year strategy and a 12-month strategy. Your goal as a marketer is to describe your firm’s desired future reality along both time horizons and identify a set of actions you’ll use to get there.
Your 3-year strategy is generally a bit fuzzy and often sounds something like this, “Position our firm as the leading global expert on data-driven decision-making in life sciences companies.” Then, it describes what the firm needs to do to get there. “In order to accomplish that mission we need to publish ## articles on the topic in the following trusted business journals…, speak at the ## following events…, and “own” related search phrases on the following sub-topics….”
By contrast, a 12-month strategy is typically more specific and driven by hard outcomes. For instance, a 12-month strategy might sound something like this, “Generate 35 new leads, 20 new business opportunities, and $5M in new revenue from 10 new analytics and data science projects.” And, of course, it defines how the firm will get there as well. “In order to achieve those business goals we will self-publish ## articles and host ## webinars on the following sub-topics…., invest $##,### in targeted paid media with….., and conduct targeted outreach to a targeted prospect list of ### companies.”
Take One Step Closer to a Better Thought Leadership Strategy
I’ll talk more about how to overcome these challenges when setting thought leadership strategy on November 2 at our 2022 Profiting from Thought Leadership Conference. Register before 10/1/2022 to secure the best possible pricing to attend.