If you think about what we do as marketers, one of the core things we do is try to make a difference in the world, to change the world in some small way, even if it’s just changing the way a member of our audience might think.
We look for a problem our target audience is experiencing and then we look for something that can be improved and we start from there. In trying to improve the situation of our audience we are trying to make an important change to the world, however when we set out we don’t think to ourselves “how can we change the world for our audience?” rather we think “how can we provide some content that will help our audience, so we’re giving something back, and warming them up ready to give them a sell message later on.
I’ve been thinking about what we’re really doing here and I think it’s important that business owners and marketers really start to try to understand the process they’re going through when they content marketing and creating thought leadership pieces as part of their marketing efforts.
It’s been argued that we are living through a revolution in the economic model and at the moment it’s all about intellectual innovation, it’s about ideas and the way ideas are spread amongst people, and then actioned.
If you think about how the economic model has developed over the last few hundred years, we’ve seen landowners exploiting the natural resources around them, generally this was an agricultural model but watermills soon popped up to help industrialise the process of manufacture – perhaps this was first grinding the corn, but it wasn’t long before this became cloth. This model moved towards the industrial age with the now mechanical mills morphing into factories.
Mills and factories were the primary mode of change in these society. Later in the model advertising became prevalent. With early innovators such as soap baron Lord Levenshulme really unleashing the prower of the brand to differentiate one product from another and change the way in which people consume products and the economic model that supported it. What started in newspapers and billboards progressed through to radio and TV, with TV becoming the essential medium through which the force of radicalism could be disseminated. The more ads you bought, the more screen time you got, the more chance you getting people to buy your product.
Although the all the old mediums and models still exist, with each progression they become slightly less valuable. We’ve now entered the era of content. We now understand that we need to be creating content that provides something valuable to our audiences that they are going to go out of their way to seek out. This is thought leadership. We are now entering an era in which the leader wins, if the idea is strong enough, creative enough and inspiring enough then it will beat all those other competition no matter how much media budget they’ve got backing them up.
I’m sure we can all think of brands that sprang out of nowhere offering something slightly different and began to change the world.
Let’s think about the differing economic models and it’s all about the ability of automation to change the way we perceive and act in the world. The original model of mills and factories relied upon demand, people knew they wanted soap so they went out and bought soap. By creating advertising people who knew they wanted soap new they wanted Port Sunlight Soap. In the leadership revolution whereas previously the marketing was mass marketing, we’re now able to be so targeted that the mass message, which is generally generic and fairly boring, is being ignored.
Seth Rogan argues that we’ve entered the era of Tribes and I think there is a certain amount of logic to this. The internet has brought us closer together and whilst we all thought it would homoginise society, it hasn’t. The internet has led us to look for more differences, because of something that appears to be innate in humanity, the need to belong. And belonging to the world is just too much, it’s too big.
We can see this everywhere from world religions, to specialist communities, to proto-countries, and even at the local level. I’m a member of the my hometown’s Facebook page called Bacup Past & Present it’s incredibly active and has the best part of 5,000 members (not bad for a town that has a population of around 10,000).
And the thing to understand about the way these groups develop and grow is that it only marginally matters about how much money you can throw at them, the biggest influencer is the influencers within their group and the ideas they espouse. This is not just creating a group, it’s about creating a movement and the content we create as marketers and business owners, the way we create a genuine brand all contribute to the movement’s ideas and allow us to shape the movement and become leaders within it. Leaders that people genuinely want to follow.
This also means you’ve got to be targeted. In the post-mass media age we’ve taught ourselves that it’s important to understand and target specific groups and address them directly instead of going after everyone with a middle of the road message. I think that’s a great thing because it means the creative process becomes even more important.
In all of this the movement gets more supporters, more followers who are the type of people you actually want to follow you. And what’s more they want to be lead on the issues you’re discussing. This is a win win scenario for the thought leader and the rest of the people in the movement. They become believers (no not Beliebers, although I guess I should admit what Justin Bieber has done fits into this category).
When you think about these kind of leaders in history, you can think about any number of leaders, the ones that have led to huge changes, whether they be social revolutions, political revolutions, industrial or science revolutions and you probably think you or your business don’t have what it takes to create a revolutionary movement through your leadership.
There are all kind of technological platforms that are benefiting from the crowd, whether they be crowdfunding businesses, crowdfunding charities, crowdsourcing products and even crowdediting books (think about the way the crowd contributed to the development and writing of books such as 50 Shades of Grey).
But the ideas we create are condensed ideas which we distil from a deep understanding of our customers, our audience, their needs, desire and pain points, just in the same way that a band such as the Beetle’s lead the new teenager movement but didn’t invent it, we can lead the movements and discussions within those movements to get our message out to millions of people.
When we think about how we galvanise a group into a movement the essential thing is thinking about finding an audience which is disconnected and has a pre-existing desire by educating and leading them to the solution for their need rather than trying to tell them what they want.
The key thing is that these people change things, they make things happen, but they change the status quo by finding a topic that they feel is important and create a leadership role around it that will inspire a group of people.
But the leader can’t do it by themselves and that’s why it’s essential to get the message out there to the first line of thought leaders who will advance the message on your behalf. They are the ones that have an audience of people who are likely to understand, believe and live the message you’ve got for the world. After all, even the thought leaders are looking for someone to give them some direction. Trust me I’ve reached out to enough of them in my time and managed to get them, either for the joy of it, the prestige or more likely for a little cash lump sum to help them out.
I think it’s fair to say you’ve got to be courageous in how you go about forming this leadership positioning. You’ve got to be prepared to upset people, the middle of the road message is never going to galvanise a group behind your leadership because they can get that message from a pre-established leader (and it’s always easier to follow the crowd that be an early adopter of new ideas).
The other thing about being in a leadership role is you’ve got to help the group or movement that you’re trying to establish connect. If you’re not facilitating connections between the members of the group they won’t go on to connect with others and disseminate the ideas you’re projecting to the world.
And this all comes down to really developing an understanding of your audience. Who you are talking to and their wants and needs. And leadership isn’t about asking for permission to create a moving, this is who we are, we are naturally looking for people to follow. As marketers we have an amazing opportunity to change the world a little bit at a time. Every time we write a piece of content and put it out there we change something, even if it’s just in a small way it’s an amazing position to be in when you think about it?!
But not every marketer and business owner is automatically a leader, leaders go out there to challenge things and to create a new kind of culture and people miss them and search them out when they’re not hearing from them anymore. Another difference is they commit to their message it underlines everything they do, and they don’t veer off in the way many marketers would do if they felt their campaign wasn’t quite working. They wouldn’t look for something else because they’d be sure they’ve found the answer to the question they know their audience is asking.
In the era of digital marketing, of social media, of targeting communications we are in a better position than ever to go to our audience and create a movement, find people who will really fall in love with the brands we are creating and the messages we’re putting out into the world. Leaders will win big, those brands that choose not to lead will only ever be mediocre.