Generate Revenues With Thought Leadership

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This eBook covers the foundations of how and why to drive more business with thought leadership marketing. It explains why ever more customers are attracted to thought leadership and illustrates it …

This eBook covers the foundations of how and why to drive more business with thought leadership marketing. It explains why ever more customers are attracted to thought leadership and illustrates it with new success stories. It also explains why it's critical to have a powerful point of view on a topic and how to develop one.

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  • 1. Generate Revenues with Thought Leadership How and Why Leading Firms are Growing their Businesses with Great Content Tim Parker & Bob Buday
  • 2. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 1 © 2009 The Bloom Group LLC Copyright holder licenses work this under the Creative Commons License, Attribution 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/ Disclosures: We have business relationships with several of the companies and people mentioned or profiled in this eBook. Feel free to post this on your blog or email it to anyone you believe might benefit from reading it.
  • 3. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 2 Contents Introduction 3 A thought leadership marketing success story 4 Lots of B2B Marketers are Launching Thought Leadership Campaigns 5 Buyers of B2B Services First Want to Be Educated, Then Sold 6 What Attracts Customers to Thought Leadership? 7 Buyers Qualify Suppliers by their Thought Leadership 8 Another thought leadership marketing success story 9 A Few Words about ‘Outbound’ Marketing 10 Bandwidth And Bias 11 Yet another thought leadership marketing success story 12 There’s Lots of Weak Material in the Market 13 When is a Point of View Worth Something…? 14 - Criterion #1: Novelty 15 - Criterion #2: Relevance 16 - Criterion #3: Validity 17 Developing a Compelling Point of View 18 Does it Need to be Loooong? 19 To Summarize… 20 About the authors 21 Other Reading Materials 22 Thanks 23
  • 4. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 3 Introduction At the Bloom Group, we have been helping companies shape and take their messages to market for over a decade. We believe that the best way to convince a sophisticated audience of your value is to share your expertise with them. This has long been the case in B2B professional services such as consulting and legal services, and is increasingly the case in other B2B markets and in some areas of B2C as well. In order for a company‟s expertise to resonate in the market it has to be good—and good intellectual capital is not easy to come by. Over the years we have published many articles about how to develop quality intellectual capital and we recently compiled some of the best into a printed book. However, we wrote this eBook in order to make the foundations of thought leadership marketing more easily accessible. We chose this format because it‟s portable, not too long, readily illustrated, easily links to other sources on the web and is instantly available by download to anyone who wants one. We hope you find it interesting and useful.
  • 5. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 4 A thought leadership marketing success story In 2007, Unisys Corp., a $5 billion IT services company, wanted to differentiate itself from its many competitors in outsourced technical support services, a brutally competitive market. Unisys wanted capture and market the extensive expertise it had gained from years of providing tech support for numerous organizations. In addition, it wanted to research “best practices” in companies that were providing their own tech support. To do this, Unisys launched a study on tech support, which included a survey of 240 North American companies and in-depth case studies on 12 others (including Unisys clients). One key finding was that companies with the most effective tech support prioritize requests according to how close the user is to revenue generation, not who calls first, or who has seniority—typical prioritization criteria in the industry. Another was that instead of tracking the quality of tech support with Service Level Agreements as most companies do, leaders were instead measuring end-user satisfaction. Unisys published the full set of findings in a report and used them to underpin a global marketing campaign called Unlearn Outsourcing. They placed Unisys- bylined articles based on the point of view in MIT Sloan Management Review, CIO magazine, Computerworld and Industry Week. In late 2008 the campaign won an IT Services Marketing Association “Marketing Excellence Award” for lead generation. Most importantly, although Unisys wasn‟t saying exactly how much business their thought leadership marketing campaign had generated, it did say it was a “heck of a lot more than it had spent.”.
  • 6. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 5 Lots of B2B Marketers are Launching Thought Leadership Campaigns What are your top B2B marketing objectives over the next 3 to 5 years? In a 2007 survey, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Percentage of Respondents found that thought leadership was viewed as one of many important B2B marketing techniques. In their 2008 survey of 140 marketers, thought leadership leapt ahead, 63% 56% ranking second only to building new business as a key 51% 51% B2B marketing objective. Many companies are now trying to educate their target customers on the broader problems their products and services address—not just marketing and selling their offerings. This is what thought leadership marketing is all about. Source: EIU, B2B Marketing Survey, 2007
  • 7. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 6 Buyers of B2B Services First Want to Be Educated, Then Sold What will be the best way for providers of B2B services to market to you in the next 3 to 5 years? Customer expectations seem to be driving the trend. The EIU study shows that customers believe the best way for providers of B2B services to market to them in the next 3 to 5 years will be heavily dominated by thought leadership techniques such as Percentage of Respondents original research, marketing events, and white papers. 43% 41% 35% 35% Why this is so is not entirely clear, but a likely explanation is that 30% the internet has made information so accessible that expectations have risen. Whereas 20 years or so ago it was unreasonable to expect a firm to part with its expertise before you started paying them, there is now a huge amount of information available for free. So first, a certain amount of free is expected; second, a firm has to show enough of its expertise to differentiate itself from its competition, or a prospective customer will move on as quickly as it takes her to scroll down a page of Google search results. Source: EIU, B2B Marketing Survey, 2007
  • 8. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 7 What Attracts Customers to Thought Leadership? To understand why thought leadership is important to buyers of complex services, let‟s step into the shoes of someone buying a B2B professional service, such as strategy consulting, for a moment. If I am buying strategy consulting services I am taking a risk. For a start, the problem is difficult, or I wouldn‟t need expensive help. But whether I am the supply chain director, the CFO, or any other senior executive, I am looking for help in my area of responsibility— colleagues might think that I should fix it myself without spending company money on outsiders. Second, I am making myself vulnerable. I am having to admit I don‟t have all the answers, I may have to tell the vendor the truth about how we got here, and I am going to have to hand them some control. Third, if it goes wrong, I will probably get the blame. Since professional services engagements usually address matters of significant importance, they can sometimes go spectacularly wrong. Finally, all the contenders say flattering things about themselves, their capabilities and their commitment to client success. If I am going to rely on vendors‟ own evaluations of themselves, my decision-making will be little better than guesswork. Thought leadership reduces the buyer‟s risk of choosing the wrong adviser. Where the problem is complex and there is no set way to solve it, a firm‟s thought leadership is a slice of its expertise (in article, speech, video or other form) that helps it demonstrate its mastery and experience in the field.
  • 9. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 8 Buyers Qualify Suppliers by their Thought Leadership Which of the following sources are most likely to In order to qualify potential suppliers, most people prefer one-on-one influence your opinion regarding the reputation of a contact with firm representatives. Of course, at some point prior to a professional services firm? contract being signed that will happen, but in the meantime, prospects will use your web site, white papers and case studies to draw preliminary conclusions and narrow down to a short list. That‟s the first reason quality content is crucial. Case studies (examples of successful engagements) serve as a proxy for a personal recommendation Percentage of Respondents from a prior, happy client. So do client testimonials. White papers or articles (and their content equivalents such as webinars and videos) serve as a proxy 74% for a personal assurance that you are an expert in your field. If all your site does is assert that you are experts, it won't help you. Take this example, slightly edited to protect the guilty: 41% 39% “Expertise. Integrity. Results. It’s these qualities, and more, that have led 30% companies to put their trust in us. Led by a dedicated team of senior professionals, all with extensive experience and deep industry credentials, we continue to deliver highly creative solutions and a level of professional service that exceed client expectations.” Do you believe it? Neither do we; not without some evidence. And if there‟s evidence, there‟s no need to be self-promotional—the collateral will speak for itself. Just asserting a list of capabilities or virtues is worthless; people instinctively discount what others say about themselves. So instead of wordsmithing eulogies, this firm would be better off writing material that its customers would find informative and useful. Source: EIU, Engaging Professional Services Firms, 2008
  • 10. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 9 Another thought leadership marketing success story When Massachusetts Attorney Russell Matson set up his own practice specializing in drunk driving defense, he tried most things to drum up work, including direct mail, yellow pages and print advertising. But he also set up a website; before long he noticed that placing content on his site translated into business more quickly and more reliably than any other medium. Today Russell‟s site brings 200-300 visitors a day and 85% of his cases. He now has more than enough work for himself and a full-time associate and will shortly expand his team. His website has over two hundred and forty pages of content, including the latest legal developments, Russell‟s opinions—sometime quoted from newspaper articles—and of course, examples of his successful cases. Russell says; “I keep the content relevant and up to date to provide the best help I can to someone facing an OUI charge who might find it when they most need reassurance at 3 o‟clock in the morning. I have no qualms about telling people everything I know— other lawyers have told me that they use my site to help prepare their own cases. It positions me as the leading authority on the topic and „giving away‟ my expertise online has done nothing but bring me more business.” While most thought leadership marketing has historically been B2B, there are also many B2C markets where people value expertise and thought leadership marketing is effective.
  • 11. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 10 A Few Words about ‘Outbound’ Marketing „Outbound‟ marketing techniques are those that only work if they succeed in interrupting you and getting your attention. They include TV and radio It takes a lot of spam to advertising, telemarketing, direct mail, email blasts, and print advertising. make a sale We are getting good at screening that stuff out. • We‟ve learned to can direct mail; over the period 1992-2002, credit card direct A 2008 study carried out by computer mail volumes went up 5 times while response rates dropped from nearly 3% to scientists at the University of California around 0.5%, from where they have never recovered (Synovate). hijacked part of the Storm network that exploits home computers to relay • We‟ve learned to ignore banner ads on the internet; click through rates of 7% junk email. The team took control of when banner ads first appeared in 1996 had declined to 0.5% by 2003 and they 76,000 computers and conducted their haven‟t recovered either (Doubleclick). own fake spam campaign, which • The purchase rate from spam (which is hard to track because spammers aren't encouraged readers to visit a fake pharmacy site and make a purchase. very forthcoming with their addresses, let alone their response rates) was less than 1 in 12 million in a recent study (see box). After 26 days, and almost 350 million email messages, they got 28 sales—a • We‟re using tools to screen out these interruptions; caller ID on the phone, conversion rate of well under 0.00001%. DVRs on the TV, anti-spam software and No Call Lists, to name a few. Given the cost of sending the Outbound or interruption marketing has never been very effective for messages, the team tentatively sophisticated buyers, and it‟s becoming ever less so. Marketing that does work is concluded that this is a business in „permission‟ or „inbound‟ marketing. This includes conferences, which people elect which it’s hard to make a profit. to attend. With so many people now becoming acquainted with vendors via the web, it includes the content on your website. ☺
  • 12. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 11 Bandwidth And Bias To use a wireless analogy, educated people value content with a high ratio of „bandwidth to bias‟. High- bandwidth, low-bias marketing materials include articles, books, and conference presentations. They allow a lot of information to be conveyed in an educational way. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article written by a professional firm is an example of this kind of content; lots of information with no (direct) attempt to sell a product or service. In their Guidelines for Authors, the editors at HBR are clear that they are looking for articles to be objective; “Is the author trying to sell the reader something? To use the insights in the article, would the reader need to consult the author?”. They don‟t explicitly say so, but we can presume they would regard a „Yes‟ here as a negative. Low-bandwidth, high-bias content includes advertisements and telemarketing pitches. These media don‟t allow a firm to show the depth of its expertise on an issue and they appear as blatantly promotional— prospects know that they are being sold something. As we have seen, people are good at shutting out these kinds of messages.
  • 13. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 12 Yet another thought leadership marketing success story As one of the largest professional services firms in the world, Deloitte has a wealth of in-house knowledge and expertise in its core areas of audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services. In 2003, its primary media for taking its expertise to market were traditional—including conferences, white papers and published articles. Pat Harkin, a Marketing Director at Deloitte, was concerned that these were too slow, and decided to trial a webinar series called Dbriefs in the company‟s core area of tax. The webinars were well received from the start, attracting a few hundred people for each hour-long show. Today, there are nearly 20 series, comprising a total of around 80 shows a quarter and attracting between a few hundred and several thousand people each time. Pat‟s philosophy regarding Dbriefs from the beginning has been to provide content that helps customers stay on top of their profession. The material is provided by subject matter experts within Deloitte, often supplemented by client guest speakers. The program is flexible to accommodate late breaking news, and is organized in series so that customers can easily find their way back to the next show for their subject area—also helping Deloitte build on the experience for each distinct audience. Direct ROI is hard to measure for the program because there are many touch points between a large services firm and its large client organizations, but in a recent survey of Dbriefs viewers: • 70% rated Deloitte‟s tax expertise extremely highly and 48% said their rating had improved because of Dbriefs • 55% were more likely to include Deloitte in request for proposals and 51% were more likely to engage or recommend Deloitte All this for an average cost per attendee of about $7—orders of magnitude less than for a conference.
  • 14. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 13 There’s Lots of Weak Material in the Market Though most professional services firms understand they need to market with strong content, many struggle to do so. Here are two types of content we often see: The unfounded assertion: There are thousands of white papers in the consulting field that make assertions without facts—no research, no data, no analysis—just opinion (and often a 2x2 matrix). There are very few opinions which stand on their own—Warren Buffett‟s on investment management might be one. Most do not—ours on the same topic, for instance. And it‟s telling that when Warren opines on his topic, he uses lots of data and examples anyway. The undisguised product pitch: This is a quote from a vendor „white paper‟: “Download this exclusive report to learn how XYZ direct-to-tape technology can reduce costs by blah, blah”. OK, the blah, blah is ours. However, that‟s still not a white paper or an exclusive report; it‟s a product pitch and its usefulness to the reader is compromised by the fact that it‟s biased. TechRepublic is a technology site that hosts thousands of white papers on behalf of their authors—generally IT product and service vendors. About 90% of those white papers are biased toward a particular product or service, but of the 10 most popular at the time of writing, 9 are entirely educational and objective. A typical example is “Practical Disaster Recovery Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide”, written by a software and services company, but without any attempt to pitch their offering. The most important reason to publish thought leadership is because, where the problem or the solution are complex and unstructured, people value new insights. But in order to show that you have deep and novel insights on a problem (or opportunity) and proven solutions, you must have a point of view.
  • 15. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 14 When is a Point of View Worth Something…? It‟s easy to have a point of view, but a lot harder to develop one that will impress a sophisticated buyer. Such a point of view needs to satisfy several quality criteria. The set that we use, and which corresponds to the needs of leading business publications such as Harvard Business Review, is this: Novelty Is this idea new? If not, does it offer a new and useful perspective on an existing idea? Relevance Does it address an issue that matters to its audience? Validity Are there good examples? Have I seen the same ones used to illustrate other models, theses, or points of view? Focus Does it have a single fundamental message? Is it bounded enough to allow specific recommendations? Practicality Does it prescribe a solution that seem plausible to implement? Does it deliver demonstrated benefits? Rigor Does it have tight consistent logic? Clarity Does it make a clear argument with words and concepts that are easy to understand? All of these are most important, but the first three are critical. Let‟s take a closer look at these.
  • 16. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 15 Criterion #1: Novelty The first critical criterion is Novelty, saying something fundamentally new about how to solve a problem in the world; HBR editors call this the “aha”. The Unisys research discovered that the “VIP” approach to providing tech support services—i.e., senior management gets the best support—was actually wrong, and that alternate approaches achieve superior results. Unisys didn‟t so much invent a new way of providing support as discover it; there were already some leading companies doing it this way. But by correlating good outcomes with particular approaches, they gave the rest of the market new insight into how to better solve the challenges of tech support. In the 1990‟s Fred Reichheld, a Fellow of the strategy consulting firm Bain & Co., developed powerful new insights on customer loyalty. He used concrete examples to demonstrate that the goal of a business must be the creation of sustainable value for customers, employees and investors. He heads Bain‟s Loyalty Practice; in 2003, Consulting Magazine named him one of the world's top 25 consultants.. Whether it‟s Russell Matson‟s information on drunk driving (experience-based with some research), Unisys‟ guidelines for effective tech support (moderate amount of dedicated research), or Fred Reicheld‟s insights on Customer Loyalty (lots of research), a point of view has to tell its audience something they don‟t already know.
  • 17. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 16 Criterion #2: Relevance The second critical criterion is Relevance, addressing an issue that matters to your audience; HBR editors call this the “so what?” The success of Deloitte‟s Dbriefs webinar program has been critically dependent on being relevant to its audiences—the tag line for Dbriefs is “Stay on Top”. There are two features in particular that help to keep it that way. Firstly, the webinars are organized in series by executive audience, including, for instance, tax, HR, finance and industry streams. That helps customers of each topic easily find their way to the next relevant installment and it helps Deloitte build on the experience for each distinct audience. Second, although the webinars in each series are scheduled for an entire quarter ahead of time, Deloitte retains the flexibility to respond to and incorporate late breaking news. In tax, for instance, regulatory changes happen often and it‟s important that a webinar can address whatever questions might be top of mind for its audience at the time it is broadcast. In Attorney Russell Matson‟s case, he publishes everything he can that‟s relevant to someone facing a drunk driving charge. His FAQ section is not just a list of generic questions. He keeps a close ear to the questions that clients are asking at any point in time, and updates his FAQs accordingly. For Deloitte‟s, continued relevance keeps clients engaged and returning over the longer term. In Russell‟s case, relevance is critical to getting prospective clients engaged in the first place—he‟s less enthusiastic about them being repeat customers.
  • 18. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 17 Criterion #3: Validity The criterion most commonly overlooked when people committing their points of view to paper is Validity. Professional firms often write them entirely without examples, and product companies often write them entirely around their own products—neither of which provides credible proof for the reader. For a point of view to be credible it has to be underpinned by evidence—examples that show your prescriptions work. As the editors at HBR ask: “Are there good illustrations? Have I seen the same company examples used to illustrate a multitude of other models, theses, or points of view?” It‟s often difficult to cite good examples, quite often because the subjects aren‟t keen to go public. But a credible point of view must be supported by actual examples that validate the solution being proposed. Survey and statistical data and quotes from practitioners can often help too.  The Unisys report, Unlearn Outsourcing, was based on a survey of 240 practitioners and in-depth studies of 12.  KSA, a retail management consulting firm, has just published the executive summary of a research report on how retailers can improve their competitiveness. It cites many examples of what successful retailers are doing, including Coach, Trader Joe‟s and PetSmart.  The eBook you are reading cites numerous case examples and survey results to underpin and inform its assertions. The page you are reading goes to the extraordinary length of citing examples that used examples… Substantive points of view require substantiation. Otherwise, in the words of the late Dr. Michael Hammer (of Business Reengineering fame), they are just academic mush.
  • 19. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 18 Developing a Compelling Point of View Sometimes a firm does enough research in the course of its normal operations to support a novel point of view, but in most cases, the logic will not hold up without additional support. Potential sources—case studies, survey research, literature search and a company‟s own subject matter experts—can all contribute in different ways. Survey research reveals what people think, literature search reveals what has already been said on a topic and experts can propose hypotheses. But by definition, only original research can reveal and substantiate new insights. The logic of the argument must follow the form of problem/solution. Logic The analysis must lend rigor to the “gaps”—assumptions made by point of view by assuring tight, content experts that may not consistent logic. Assertions must be held by the target follow from previous assertions, and audience—must be filled. must be grounded in fact and be defensible. The point of view should not demand that the audience learn a whole new vocabulary. No ideas or examples should be unclear. Jargon, clichés, and undefined acronyms must be eliminated. Bold assertions must quickly be followed with statistics, anecdotes, or case examples (too much theory makes a point of view dull). The writing of a point of view should always be the last step in the development; if the logic is already clear, it will be the easy part.
  • 20. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 19 Does it Need to be Loooong? A well-founded point of view can‟t be brief. As Chris Koch of ITSMA recently noted in his blog, if you are explaining a complex issue to a sophisticated audience that expects a well-structured argument, the story will not be short. For years, companies have published research reports as white papers. But the recent profusion of alternate channels to market means that there are many ways in which a message can be broadcast and not all of them need be as long as a typical white paper. A well-founded point of view can be a basis from which to extract different aspects of the message for different channels and audiences. For instance, Unisys published four articles in four different journals derived from their point of view on IT technical support. A blog post can never capture the depth and rigor of a well-substantiated point of view, but it can highlight an angle and link to the full report. A slide presentation can capture a point of view in an illustrated and abbreviated form, and be placed on slideshare.com where it can easily be found and downloaded. And then there are videos, podcasts, eBooks such as this one, and more possibilities besides. So yes, a point of view, if it is genuinely novel and substantiated, and if it addresses a complex and unstructured issue, will be long. But the published material derived from it can take all shapes and sizes.
  • 21. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 20 To Summarize… The requirements for a successful professional services practice have always been that you are expert in your field, that you do good client work and that your clients recommend you to other people that they know. In an ideal world, that‟s all you would need for a fast-growing practice. In the real world however, you have competitors, some of whom are actually quite good. And your clients don‟t always remember to recommend you to their friends. So you have to market yourself. The most important things to do are to capture your expertise and your related client successes, articulate them so as to make a compelling case for action—usually with additional research—and publish them where prospective customers can easily find them; at a minimum, online. For anyone in the business of solving complex problems for their clients, it‟s the best way to make the phone ring!
  • 22. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 21 About the authors tparker@bloomgroup.com Tim Parker is a senior management consultant who for more than 15 years has helped companies improve their operations, IT and strategy. At the Bloom Group, Tim leads programs to help clients develop their points of view in areas such as IT-integrated manufacturing, drug development and supply chain. He also helps develop the Bloom Group‟s own points of view in areas including such as online marketing. bbuday@bloomgroup.com Bob Buday is President of the Bloom Group where he has helped companies formulate their messages and take them to market for over a decade. Prior to The Bloom Group, Bob for 10 years was director of marketing communications at CSC Index where he played a leading role in making the consulting concept of “business reengineering” a household phrase, directing Index‟s extensive publications, PR, and survey research activities.
  • 23. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 22 Other Reading Materials For further reading, the following articles are especially relevant: Competing on Thought Leadership: The Seven Hallmarks of Compelling Intellectual Capital Case Study Research: The Overlooked But Indispensable Tool in Attaining Thought Leadership Survey Says: Strong Intellectual Capital Is The Key to Effective Professional Services Marketing Our book, Thoughts on Thought Leadership, contains a compilation of the best of our articles and interviews from the past decade on the subject of thought leadership. The articles are illustrated with case study examples from thought leadership marketing we have done for clients, and from our extensive research.
  • 24. Generating Revenue with Thought Leadership 23 Thanks to the Following: Attorney Russell Matson for talking with us about his DUI law website. Pat Harkin of Deloitte for talking with us about the Deloitte Dbriefs webinar series. The folks at Unisys for letting us help them with their Unlearn Outsourcing research. Heli-Jet Instruments Service of Pleasanton, TX for letting us use and edit their images of a helicopter tachometer for the bandwidth v. bias page.