Across the PR industry, summer is widely seen as silly season. With holidays and fine weather abounding, it’s time to put the real work on hold and indulge in stunts, pranks and quick media hits. And, if you’re really stuck for ideas, floating a branded mascot up the Thames.
In a consumer context, these tactics have been known to make a splash, but those of us in the B2B space handle clients that demand tangible outcomes over the long-term.
Enter thought leadership. This form marketing of sees companies publicly share insights in order to differentiate brands, increase share of industry voice and open up commercial conversations with prospects.
Thought leadership’s surging popularity is due in no small part to the fact that it fits with the modern customer journey. The days of flicking through the Yellow Pages to find the right supplier are long gone: prospects now conduct extensive multi-channel research before picking up the phone.
New analysis from Google finds that purchasers are often as much as 90% of the way into their buying journey before making a final decision, compared to just 5% at the turn of the decade. As a result, the need for companies to demonstrate their expertise to the wider world is more critical than ever.
Of course, summer isn’t usually the right time to publish a new piece of thought leadership, though a handful of useful hooks do exist. However, it is an opportunity to take stock and develop a thought leadership pipeline for the year ahead, kick-starting research where possible.
So what are the hallmarks of great thought leadership and what can be done over the summer to ensure your content bears them all? Naturally the best projects have many facets, but great projects are always:
The first question you need to ask before embarking on a thought leadership project is: can I really claim to be a thought leader on my chosen theme? You must be tackling an issue where you have existing expertise and can practice what you preach. If you can’t walk the talk on your chosen topic, you will be exposed by employees, customers and the media.
Silly season action: ensure you’re fully up to speed with the latest developments across chosen topics
As communications professionals, we love to inform, engage and entertain, but it’s imperative that we demonstrate meaningful return on investment. Thought leadership marketing is ultimately about creating commercial opportunities through the association of a brand with new ideas and insights. Therefore, resources must be focused on developing content that ultimately improves relationships with prospects and clients, rather than on poorly veiled sales pitches.
Silly season action: catch-up with prospects and target audiences to learn more about the subjects that matter to them
At its best, thought leadership fundamentally challenges underlying assumptions and encourages people to look at pressing issues in a different way. A complete paradigm shift isn’t always possible, but before you put pen to paper on a thought leadership project, carefully consider whether you’ve sufficiently explored every available perspective, research technique and line of questioning.
Silly season action: even if the weather disappoints, set aside time for blue sky thinking in properly managed brainstorm sessions. Also take the opportunity to check that planned projects are sufficiently different to what’s already out there
Any proposed argument which can’t be backed up by robust evidence is destined to be swiftly unpicked. This could easily mean reputational damage rather than enhancement. To avoid this, ensure you conduct a thorough phase of data exploration followed by an extensive deductive phase where theories are provisionally tested. Throughout this process, it’s important to access a wide range of different sources to ensure findings are valid and relevant to target audiences.
Silly season action: Use the time freed-up by a lessened summer workload to properly scrutinize research methods
It may sounds obvious, but if prospects can’t find your content, they won’t be picking up the phone. Where and when a brand choses to convey its thought leadership findings is key to achieving maximum impact, especially in a B2B context. If you’re hoping to grab the attention of a multinational CEO, TV ads or an Instagram campaign aren’t usually the way to go. Instead, thought leadership content should be curated for respected media channels; business leaders are typically more responsive to messages they receive through media than traditional advertising.
Silly season action: consolidate your list of target channels and arrange informal catch-ups with important influencers
So, before you kick back with a cool glass of Pimms and watch an inflatable house float by, take the time to prepare a strong thought leadership pipeline for when the nights start drawing in.
To learn about Linstock’s trademarked FLIINT Thought Leadership process, click here.