13 Essentials for
Thought Leadership Marketing
As you well know, most commercial messaging online and offline is garbage. In part this is so because it does
not have the ring of truth to it. The target groups (be they b2b or b2c) are much more sophisticated than the
advertisers gives them credit for.
TV commercials and print ads have been losing their effectiveness for decades. The Internet has only
accelerated that curve. Today's TiVo and delete key are yesterday's fast-forward and channel-surfing. As far
as print ads go, have you noticed how thin magazines are lately?
So what's a marketer to do? You still have to reach your target audience, right? You now need to put useful and
relevant information in that ad space you buy. Your ads can't just talk the talk, they must walk the walk.
Some would argue this can only be done in b2b marketing, not b2c. I disagree. Look at the leadership role
Apple has taken with iPod. In 1960, the American Dental Association recognized Crest as effective in
preventing tooth decay, and Crest quickly attained US market leadership, It can be done, even in a
low-involvement category such as toothpaste.
What follows below are my 13 Essentials for Thought Leadership Marketing:
1. Take a Stand: In 1993, I said the Internet was the next big thing in marketing. It was
controversial. "It's too geeky," said most traditional marketers. The lesson here is to make a
bold projection that seems counterintuitive to what common sense says. Of course, you have to be pretty good
at predicting the near-term future. I had years of consumer and high-tech marketing experience to back up what
I was saying. I ran online campaigns that were smash hits and used those as examples to support my
You're apt to be wrong from time to time. That's OK. Admit it when you are. It builds credibility and
believability, so long as you have numerous successes under your belt when you admit your mistakes.
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2. Tell Me Something I Don't Already Know: The advertisers in my Web Digest for Marketers newsletter,
such as Omniture, WebTrends and WebSideStory, offer useful PDF white papers on Web metrics and analytics
that every Internet marketer needs to know about in order to earn his or her salary or retainer.
3. Be Vertically Famous: Let's face it, you're not going to be Britney Spears (not that you'd want to
be). What you want to do is figure out to which audience you wish to be famous. At a Search Engine
Strategies conference recently, I heard someone introduced as "a rock star of SEO". You want to
be king of a mole hill and be known by all in that very particular industry. This is what I call
That SEO rock star is going to be just another Joe to someone in the tool-and-die casting business. But
that's OK. It's much better for you and your firm to a mile deep rather than a mile wide.
4. What Does Your Competition Miss? Whatever it is, it could have your name on it. Often, when
looking for a niche to own, it's a good idea to see what is not being done well - or at all - by your
competitors. Now you may get lucky and find something that isn't being covered and really does need to be
addressed. But then, sometimes there's a good reason why no one is addressing a given niche already. Approach
with a skeptical but open mind.
5. Develop Your "Voice": Some have a hard-hitting, no-nonsense tone to their copy and
verbal delivery, while others are more professorial or outrageous. Whatever your style is, make a conscious
decision to use and develop that voice. This is integral to your new branding effort.
Your company may have some have some serious thinking to do in this area. You may want to choose a single
executive to be the face and voice of the company. CEO Bill Nussey serves that role for email service
provider Silverpop. He pens a newsletter, speaks at trade shows, appears on Webinars, etc.
6. The Power of Public Speaking: Some people are scared to death to speak in front of audiences while
others think they're really good when in fact they aren't. Sometimes, what you have to say is so strong it
doesn't need to be polished into a perfectly controlled presentation. But if you are going to be presenting
in front of an audience, you might as well communicate as clearly as possible while letting a bit of your
personality shine through.
There are excellent speaking coaches out there. I got good value out of being a member of the National
Speakers Association for three years. Bottom line, you're presumably presenting something you love to do, so
let that joy show. I try to always include something spontaneous in my presentations.
7. Get Published: There is a distinct halo effect when you can add the word "author" to
your self attributions. If you can get a well-known book publisher to publish you, so much the better.
While it is maybe less important in today's digital age than before, it's still impressive to say,
"John Wiley & Sons publishes my title, and it has an Amazon sales rank of thus an such...".
Don't expect to make money on your book. Even with a decent advance (find out what that is for your kind
of book) you're likely to spend more promoting it, yourself and your firm than you get in an advance. I did,
and it paid off handsomely.
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8. Start a Newsletter, RSS and/or Blog: If your product or service has a long lead time, it makes
good sense to start a periodic publication online. An email newsletter is the most obvious way to go, but
you should probably augment and amortize the content by employing other channels, such as publishing your
own blog (which can also help boost your rankings in search engines). When done right, there's no better way
to spend your marketing money.
9. Get a Greek Chorus: Do not surround yourself with a bunch of sycophants who salute everything you
say. This is a recipe for disaster, as you will have no way to check your assertions. Really trustworthy
colleagues will and should feel comfortable challenging you.
It often is difficult to get people to speak freely for fear they will lose their jobs. Often enough,
companies will hire an outsider like myself whose express purpose is to challenge the insider beliefs and
assertions. I refer to this as the "ice pick" test. I try to punch holes in your assumptions. If
leaks are sprung, it's better to know about them before you launch rather than after. If your assertions hold
water, you know you're in pretty good shape to move ahead.
10. Talk Less, Listen More: I've met my share of industry leaders, gurus, wizards and virtuosos. I
find most of them ask loads of questions of everyone around them. The seasoned ones tend to be reflective
and very observant of what goes on around them. The older they are, the quieter they get.
Sure, you'll see some blowhards who are phoning it in by "running old scripts", as I call it. But
that's a sure sign they've stopped learning and adapting. You can't be dining out on your old successes
11. Press the Flesh: You know, in this age of increased computer-mediated marketing, there's a lot to
be said for a physical presence. Some call it "atmospherics". Whatever you want to call it,
sometimes that face-to-face chemistry will not come through in a Webinar (ie., online).
The physical event you plan may be a road show, or it may be an annual or quarterly event in a cool locale
that brings in prospects, suppliers, vendors, partners and press. Or you might invest in having a type of
salon where a small number of high-level people you know are invited to dine with you in a private dining room
at a classy restaurant, such as New York City's 21 Club. Hey, I'd go to that.
12. Practice Out-of-the-Box PR: Offer clear and obvious value in any article you write and in any quote
you release. What most people tend to do is hire a PR agency that has teeming hordes of chirpy sounding
young staffers making cold calls to publications they've never heard of, asking for coverage. After being on
the receiving end of hundreds of these calls, I can tell you it is off-putting and counterproductive. There
are good PR people out there who are highly respected by publishers, editors and journalists. If you're going
to go outside for PR, find yourself one of these people.
Tip: When sending out a press release, try using PRWeb instead of the traditional PR networks. I find
it to be a lot cheaper and a lot more effective.
13. Be Focused, but Don't Develop Tunnel Vision: I can't help but notice that many products and
services are byproducts of some other effort. Audio cassettes were originally used as the sound vehicle for
8-millimeter film. Yet the audio cassette survived far longer than the film format.
Heck, even the Internet was not envisioned as it is today. It started out in 1969 as a Defense Department
project to make sure that most of the county's networks stayed up even if one area came under attack. In
1995, I saw my Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter as a promotional tool for my Internet Marketing
consulting practice. What was once the sideshow is now the main event. LC
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