Thought Leadership Marketing: How to Build Relationships and Revenue Through Ideas


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In our research with B2B marketers on thought leadership and social media, one theme has stood out consistently: Success requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire company. This led us to explore the concept of the idea organization and develop a model of the components required both inside and outside of marketing to successfully develop and disseminate ideas.

From our research, we came up with six important areas of focus, which we call the six pillars of thought leadership:

Idea culture
Business themes
Idea development and dissemination engine
Thought leadership center of expertise

In this ITSMA Special Report, Thought Leadership Marketing: How to Build Relationships and Revenue Through Ideas, we use ITSMA research and supporting case studies to explain each of these pillars in detail. The report also shows B2B marketers how they can use these six pillars to develop their overall thought leadership strategy. This strategy will help marketers break out of their silos and take a leadership role in developing relevant, customer-focused ideas that influence the buyer.

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Thought Leadership Marketing: How to Build Relationships and Revenue Through Ideas

  2. 2. Thought Leadership Marketing:How to Build Relationships and RevenueThrough IdeasTo be found, providers must churn out high- Thought leaderships success requires a deepquality original thinking that is based on hard commitment not just from marketing but from thedata rather than opinion and is leavened with proof entire company. This led us to explore thepoints from real-world experience with customers— concept of the idea organization and we developedwhat’s commonly known as thought leadership. a model—the Six Pillars of the Idea Organization.
  3. 3. Pillar 1. Create an idea culturethat values ideas as much as revenueMarketing can’t create thought leadership on its own. A few ideas from some companies we talked to are:If it does, the output will be promotion, not thought • Have the CEO declare thought leadership aleadership. Marketing must get the buy-in, support, strategic priorityand commitment of executives and subject matter • Make idea creation a part of career advancement • Educate executives and SMEs about theexperts to become part of the idea-generating and importance of thought leadershipdissemination process. • Use an internal collaboration platform to develop ideas • Make it competitive
  4. 4. Pillar 2. Use business themesto provide a flexible blueprintfor thought leadershipMarketers have a crucial role to play in making sure ITSMA research has found that business themesthat thought leadership relates to what customers give thought leadership programs aneed and what the company does. Business themes deeper level of connection to targetare clear, succinct expressions of issues that are audiences’ needs and goals and give employeesrelevant to customers and prospects and link back a clear, simple way to understand the strategyto a company’s strategy. and goals of the company.
  5. 5. Pillar 3. Validate your ideaswith researchWith research, ideas become fact based, and There are three broad ways that B2B companiestherefore much more credible. Research has are making research part of their thought leadershipparticularly long mileage online, where people are programs:hungry for facts and stats that cut through the • In-house researchhaze of uninformed opinion. • External partnering • Secondary research
  6. 6. Pillar 4. Create anidea development anddissemination engineWe must become as good at developing ideas as ITSMA research shows that marketers are puttingwe are at disseminating them. more effort and budget into the development side of the supply chain. When we surveyed marketers inWith a stable of willing and able 2007, 70% of the thought leadership budget went tocontributors, marketers can create a dissemination; when we surveyed them again inthought leadership supply chain that 2010, the proportion was roughly split.balances idea developmentwith dissemination.
  7. 7. Pillar 5. Set up a thoughtleadership center of expertiseThought leadership and social media both require ITSMA research shows that B2B companies areinternal experts who may not come from creating marketing centers of expertise for thoughtmarketing. Both groups also must coordinate— leadership (social media, too). In our survey, 56%they cannot exist as silos within the organization. said they have a central group or center of expertise for packaging thought leadership. Though specialty strategy consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain have had these groups for decades, more mainstream B2B companies are now stirring the same kind of thought leadership marketing transformation.
  8. 8. Pillar 6. Use metrics to showhow thought leadershipinfluenced the buyerThought leadership creates an arm’s-length Influencing the buyer is everythingrelationship with buyers through content. The trick is in thought leadership. But influence is a murky termto be able to track that relationship all the way when it comes to metrics. We need to break it downthrough to a sale. into more concrete terms. At ITSMA, we categorize thought leadership influence in three ways: • Reputation • Relationships • Revenue
  9. 9. It’s time for a strategicapproach to thought leadership,led by marketingWe see many B2B companies launching thought Thought leadership forces marketing to get out of itsleadership marketing for the same reason they silo and begin working—and leading—across thelaunched social media: because everyone else was organization.doing it. As many companies have already Marketers must convince their companies to turndiscovered, that’s a prelude to failure. out relevant, customer-focused ideas with the sameThought leadership is more than a marketing passion and commitment that they turn out productstactic, it’s a strategy that requires the and and support of SMEs and topexecutives in the company.
  10. 10. Learn More For the full story of the six pillars of the idea organization and to learn how B2B Services Marketers can influence the buyer and make an impact on revenue, buy the ITSMA Special Report