There are a lot of different ways a business can facilitate growth. In order to do this, businesses will grow their sales team, create new products, explore different markets, create a new brand or merge with or acquire other businesses.
But over the last few years, businesses have taken up the mantle of content marketing to share out the knowledge they’ve accumulated as a business. They do this to project themselves as thought leaders in their industry and to attract new customers through SEO or through arrangements with industry publications.
Every business has acquired knowledge. Much of this knowledge will have been painfully hard-fought and probably costly. So why wouldn’t you put it to good use in the same way you would any other asset of the business?
This knowledge can be shared with customers, partners and used for PR, blogs, reports and just about any other piece of awareness comms you can imagine. This is where content marketing really comes into its own. This is where the unique knowledge created, won, discovered and acquired by a business, can really be put on a show and used as part of a content marketing acquisition strategy.
What types of businesses carry out thought leadership?
When you think about the organisations that carry out thought leadership well, you’ll be forgiven if you think about the big blue chip players that have been doing this for a while. But it’s not just about the big boys. How can you use your expertise in your business and the expertise of your employees to help your business grow?
Whilst there are a lot of people out there advocating using thought leadership as part of their content marketing and communications strategy, are many of them really doing it well? How many of them are using their thought leadership content to really lift the lid on their business? This type of content has to be useful, genuine and authentic in order to resonate with an audience. See my post about the rise of the Authentic Realist Influencers for more detail.
It’s not good enough for today’s business leaders to hole themselves up in that stereotypical corner office with a view. They’ve got to be thought leaders in what they do. They’ve got to be able to inspire the people that work for the business to believe in their ethos and methods. They’ve got to be able to inspire believe in the brand and take this message out to the world. I’ve heard the 21st Century’s business leaders characterised as pioneers, and I think this is not far from how they need to perceive themselves.
Using thought leadership to enhance relationships
Thought leadership is not just a growth tool to attract people to your business and to change your customers’ perceptions of your business. It can also open up opportunities you wouldn’t normally have to work with like-minded professionals.
We live in an era where employees are very mobile. Every employee can anonymously explore the online job boards. They know how much they’re worth and what job opportunities out there are like. They understand what other companies are like by looking on sites such as Glassdoor, but also by consuming the media produced by business leaders. What’s more, they expect their business leaders to be expert communicators. They want to be informed about what’s going on and if this doesn’t happen they’ll quickly move on.
And you better forget PowerPoint. Your team is so turned off by PowerPoint. When you communicate with your staff you need to let them see a part of our soul. So they know what makes you tick and so they can get behind you on an emotional and not just a transactional basis.
In many businesses, people are persuaded to think the same. As a marketer, I often want to encourage employees to tow the party line. Of course, this could reduce the different themes and trends that are natural when you’ve got a number of people with varying interests working together. So whilst you want people to have a form of on-brand group think, you want them to have something different to bring to the party. And they need to feel trusted and free to voice it.
You need to get to know your team. You need to understand their passions and skill sets. Both in and out of the workplace. From this, you can work out what resources you’ve got and determine how they can be utilised. You’re looking for those members of the team that know something inside out. They’ll understand trends, they’ll read things you’ve never even heard of and will make connections where you didn’t think connections possible.
When creating content, we’ve got to ensure that we have actually got something to say. Whenever I talk about becoming a thought leader I argue that thought leaders should incorporate the things they’ve learned from their own business and their past experience. This knowledge is unique to them. It’s a unique perspective that no one else can own. Everyone likes to have their voice heard, everyone has something that’s worth listening to, but not everyone says things that are worth their audience’s time.
Using thought leadership in content marketing to enhance growth
Using thought leadership as a tactic in your content marketing activity and to enhance the growth of your business takes some serious planning and strategic thinking if it’s going to pay off. Don’t just rush headlong into this and expect to get growth. If you do that you’ll probably find yourself creating a lot of content but not seeing a great deal back in return. And whilst that is to be expected when you’re creating content that can be very disheartening.
Have you noticed – over the last decade or so – that it’s becoming increasing more difficult to determine the USPs of a business? This is because of the ever-changing landscapes in which we all operate. This is often more pronounced with tech-businesses. However, thought leadership orientated content marketing is a clear USP for your business – because it’s your thoughts!
Engaging in thought leadership allows you to stop simply being cashiers and moves your model on to offering an experience. And that’s a personal thing no other business can replicate. As long as you get it right, people will come back for it time and again, especially if you can help them to strengthen and grow their own business in the process.
Think about how you do the things you do. What are the processes you put in place to make your business hum? How can you share these processes, or tailor them in such a way that your clients can use them for their own business?
Being able to write down those processes, procedures and best practices is a great way to make sure you’ve covered all the basis too. So this isn’t just about giving something away, this exercise could ensure you don’t have any holes that could be detrimental to your business.
Understanding your company history for content marketing
I’d also suggest you look back through your company’s history. If you don’t have one written down, write one. Within this history you should be able to find the things that you’ve done that are innovative and how the business has benefited from these developments. Also, be sure to look for all the things that you’ve done differently. It’s really easy not to perceive an innovation as an innovation. As long as you can see something that has made a measured difference to your business, you can share it. Content marketing should be intermingled with thought leadership pieces like this.
It’s essential that you spend some time working out what the content marketing/thought leadership opportunities are with, and for, your existing clients. What information do they require? Do they have information that would be useful to your clients and how can you tap into them as a resource?
The obvious place to start is to look at those clients you really have a good relationship with. By incorporating those clients that aren’t hugely profitably into your thought leadership strategy it’s likely you’ll be able to find additional opportunities with those clients. Remember getting a client involved with your thought leadership is a huge ego boost to them and lets them know that you highly value them. People are likely to reciprocate. This can be a great avenue for client relationship optimisation.
In addition to your clients, you should be looking at your supply chain and strategic partners to determine how you can bring them into your thought leadership efforts
Whilst using these stakeholders to build your thought leadership, be sure to share with them the successes they have helped you create. Get their feedback on those successes, quoting key people along the way. This can further ingratiate them with your business but also help you to convert customers during the interest/evolution phase of the buying cycle.
You should review your revenue streams, looking at where and how you make money within the business. This is a core place you can point to in order to demonstrate success. If you’ve not already mapped out your revenue streams this is a great opportunity and you never know what you are going to learn about your business from this exercise.
By demonstrating real world examples of how measurable and sustainable revenue streams work within your business you are providing the kind of valuable content other businesses are seeking out. Often businesses are scared of sharing this information but don’t be – this will make you stand out.
Also, by providing these kinds of in depth thought leadership pieces which are acted on and experimented with by clients and potential clients, you can find you get feedback on how these processes and perspectives can be improved upon and developed further from real life experiences.
So if you’re already well down the road of content marketing – but you’ve yet to really tap into the knowledge within your business – you definitely need to look at how you can incorporate thought leadership into your content marketing strategy. If you’ve not yet started, be clear in your content marketing strategy that the knowledge in your operation is a USP of your business – and get going with it!