Are you a client, customer or consumer? No doubt all of the above, depending on the product or service in question. Likewie, there are probably lots of reasons you initially decided to do business with the vendors, retailers and service providers you frequent. But what keeps you coming back? Service. Those providers consistently deliver the kinds of experiences that show they understand and care about your needs. Consequently, you feel loyal.
In the B2C world, a good customer experience can be as simple as a retailer remembering your preferred products. But in the B2B business world, where the focus is often on serving client companies (and their customers by extension), it’s not always clear cut how to provide the kind of services that create loyalty. That’s where a powerful thought leadership program comes in. Thought leadership can position the company as a “value-added” consultative provider, serves as content for marketing and other outreach campaigns, and provides the sales team with substantive content for client/prospect conversations.
What exactly is Thought Leadership? According to Ben Kent of Lighthouse Thinking, ‘Thought Leadership’ means: A research-based publication or campaign on a subject of current business interest, commissioned with the aim of attracting media coverage, building the brand and engaging with clients, prospects and colleagues.” Gautam Ghosh of 2020 Social says, “Simple, great thought leadership means never having to ‘pitch’ or ’sell’ for business.” You become a trusted advisor, counselor and partner, not just a vendor. Bob Buday of The Bloom Group adds, “With the stakes rising …executives are becoming more sophisticated in choosing the firms with which they do business…It is up to the firm to give prospective buyers the confidence they are seeking by demonstrating their unique insights into a key problem and the validity of their approach.” And Natalie Wood of the Thought Bank sums it up, “Thought Leadership is becoming the new standard for how companies communicate their value to the world and their customers. Companies can no longer avoid its impact and what it means to their market and to their customers.”
So how does a B2B company create the kind of thought leadership program that says “we understand/care” to key clients and their customers? Here are some best practices and case studies.
Corporate-level thought leadership campaigns should align with core business trends or issues for the company’s clients:
- Ideally, programs are “institutionalized” into a “center of excellence” tied to R&D and Corporate Responsibility.
- Example: Clients look to IBM to help them navigate indicators of industry transformation, so IBM developed the Smarter Planet initiative.
- Example: Unisys’ clients are uneasy about how to support the growing use of personal technology in the workplace, so the company’s thought leadership focuses on how to handle the Consumerization of IT.
Division-level thought leadership campaigns should align with core business issues or pain points for the division’s clients:
- Ideally, division-level programs should link to and support corporate programs while addressing their clients’ needs.
- Example: Hewlett Packard created Environmental thought leadership to address the concerns of a growing segment of printer consumers who want energy efficient solutions and less waste.
Thought leadership should be integrated throughout the website, marketing and sales tools:
- Viewers should see home-page links to corporate thought leadership and be able to search on “thought leadership.”
- Viewers should be able to quickly find a content area, or micro-site, that summarizes and links to all corporate thought leadership campaigns.
- Thought leadership ship campaigns should not be “stand alone”. Themes, data and selling points should be integrated throughout all corporate marketing, communications and PR materials.
- Example: For Accenture, Thought Leadership – or “Latest Thinking” as they call it – IS their brand. Home page links take viewers directly to a content area, where topics are listed by industry focus and type of media. That area features content from their Institute for High Performance, which develops and publishes research-based insights into critical management issues and global economic trends.
How do you pick a compelling thought leadership theme that will resonate with clients and customers alike? What are the elements of a successful program? How do you keep it rolling and growing? How do you get the rest of the organization to adopt the content? How do you make sure actual customer experiences and service levels match the theory? All topics for another day… ttyl!