Posted on November 21, 2016
Thought leadership has been something of a buzzword in the marketing industry for quite some time. We’re all constantly told that we need to position ourselves as thought leaders to help differentiate ourselves from the competition. We probably nod along in our meetings when people tell us this but does it ever go further than that?
We want to help you understand what thought leadership really is underneath the jargon and offer some pointers for getting started. Thought leadership isn’t as abstract as it might sound – it’s simply about doing a specific set of activities regularly. You might even be doing some of them already.
What is it?
We can best define thought leadership as an individual or firm that is recognised as a genuine and trusted authority in a specialised field. As an authority, your expertise is likely to be sought out, highly valued, and rewarded with loyalty from your clients and customers. Put simply, thought leadership is simply what we should all be aspiring to professionally.
How do you get there?
If thought leadership is the ultimate goal, then we need to know the tools that will help get us there. Some of that is obvious: patience, commitment, hard work, but there are also more tangible and practical things that will help. The big one is content marketing.
This marketing technique has quickly become the most powerful tool available to help professionals position themselves as thought leaders to modern audiences. So much so, in fact, that it’s now hard to separate out thought leadership from content marketing at all, with each one feeding the other.
It’s best to think of them as two sides of the same coin.
So what is content marketing?
Content marketing is a strategic business process that revolves around the creation and distribution of content in order to achieve something specific.
That “something” is more profitable customer behaviours. The strategy comes from delivering the right content in the right way: picking the right channels, sending the right messages, and engaging with the right audience in order to achieve maximum success.
And the right content? You’ve guessed it; it’s thought leadership content: content that inspires a sense of trust, expertise, authority and value.
Why content matters
There is more noise than ever echoing around today’s world. More and more businesses and consumers are looking for voices to pick out from the crowd; voices that they can trust, especially to help them understand a changing and volatile world and the implications of current affairs (e.g. Brexit, U.S. elections, or government reforms).
Increasingly, these audiences are turning away from traditional media outlets and instead are looking to businesses directly. Businesses are now seen to have the real-world, in-house experience and expertise that’s needed to navigate change well. And they’re more and more trusted and relied upon to communicate that not just to their current customers, but to a much wider audience.
Given the way most of us consume and digest information now, this inevitably means that we need to communicate digitally. It’s meant a resurgence of content – whether that’s blogs, case studies or white papers – which readers can access through their phones and tablets.
It’s a golden opportunity. The right content can help businesses connect with potential customers as genuinely valued advisors, not as cold peddlers of products. There’s the chance to build real relationships and lasting trust.
Who’s using content marketing and thought leadership?
For the financial services industry particularly, building trust is considered a key objective, especially given the effects of the global financial crash in 2007-2008. And it is content marketing that the industry is turning to, with 76% of financial services marketers now stating that they believe content marketing to be more effective than other approaches at building trust.
We’ve already seen some great examples in the financial industry of brands using content marketing to do thought leadership well.
- Aviva now has a dedicated thought leadership section on their website. Each year they produce a real retirement report which is easy to use and has interesting information. These reports are backed up by a suite of other resources to support their proposition.
- Prudential also recently launched the “Day One” campaign focusing on retirement in the USA. Video content was created to tell real retirees’ stories and their financial challenges. The solutions offered by Prudential powerfully helped to differentiate themselves from the competition.
So where to start?
You already have a marketing strategy, so what’s next? In order to incorporate thought leadership goals into that strategy, your task is simply to take a new look at your content with thought leadership in mind.
There are certain activities and processes that will help enormously. Work through our checklist, and you’ll be well on your way.
Six-step plan to thought leadership
- Complete an audit of all your existing communications and channels. Work out how long it takes to manage this communication currently, at what cost, and which types of content your customers and prospects are engaging with. Check: are you utilising all channels at your disposal (e.g. social media)? Now’s the time to agree on the best formats and channels moving forward, e.g. blogs, case studies, videos, email, and social media. For a few extra, creative ideas, take a look here.
- Create target personas for your ideal customers. Gather demographic information, find out what problems they are facing, and what results they would like to achieve. This should help inform the content you produce in future.
- Generate a steady flow of ideas for your content. Brainstorm with your internal marketing team and carry out desk research on industry forums and social media (especially LinkedIn groups). Also, don’t forget to check the competition for inspiration!
- Produce a schedule and agree on who is going to write the content – in-house expertise, an agency, or a mixture of both. The content should address those issues picked up in your persona research – issues that you know will resonate with your clients and prospects – as well as reinforcing your brand and its key messages.
- Set up your online presence to more effectively generate leads. Use a marketing automation tool like Hubspot to schedule your posts and create landing pages on your website for subscriptions. Use your social media channels to spread your message and then monitor engagement to inform your sales conversations.
- Make use of SEO strategy to ensure that prospects are going to find your content when they search for answers to their problems online. Relate the search terms back to your buyer personas: does it all tally up? You can manage all this through marketing automation software such as Hubspot, so if you’ve got step 5 right, you should already have the right tools available.
Developing a content marketing strategy or even just the thought of producing engaging content on a regular basis can be a daunting prospect. A specialist financial services agency like Talisman can add some extra value to the process through our well-honed processes, creative agility, and knowledge of all things content. So if it’s all feeling too much, give us a shout. We can definitely help to make the whole process feel better.