There's a big difference between consumer marketing (the stuff we see every day from Coke, Disney, Ford and other big brands) and business marketing (B2B or business to business). The biggest part of that difference is thought leadership.
Thought leadership is the idea that the most effective companies in B2B achieve positions as thought leaders. They're recognized (or at least perceived) as having the best expertise on a particular issue, and as a result they capture more business at higher margins than their competitors.
It should be every B2B company's goal to be recognized as a thought leader, and there are three steps to establishing a company or individual as one.
a. Start with the goods. You actually must have expertise in an area. For example, if I were to try and establish myself as a thought leader in chemical engineering, it would be an incredibly tough slog and ultimately a waste of time. I don't have the academic credentials and I have no track record in the industry. On the other hand, if I want to be a thought leader in B2B marketing I might have a shot. I have lots of practical experience and the academic credentials to give me some clout. And I have lots to say on the topic.
b. Create content about your expertise. There are many people in the world who are experts, but they share that expertise with only a handful of people, so the rest of the world never knows who they are or what they know.
To establish a company or person as a thought leader, their expertise must be shared so that it can be validated by others and serve as an educational tool. There are many types of content for sharing expertise; some examples include white papers, technical papers, blogs, case studies and e-books. Experts must take the time to capture their expertise in some form of content so that it can be shared. And developing content does take a lot of work, so it's important to get good mileage from it. Content can be cross-purposed so that it can be reused many times over. (See my post on effective ways to repurpose B2B marketing content.)
c. Share the content. This is the most important step in the whole process. So much effort goes into becoming an expert and capturing the expertise. It's a shame when companies don't realize that without this third step their investment in the first two is significantly wasted.
Here are the top ten ways that companies can share their content and become a recognized thought leader:
1. Post your content to your website. If you have strong content, consider requiring people to provide their contact information before they can access it. Don't make it too hard though—just ask for their name, company and email address.
2. Create landing pages for the content and optimize the pages using SEO techniques to attract people who are searching for specific terms.
3. Do a pay-per-click campaign to promote the content. Google and LinkedIn both offer excellent pay-per-click options.
4. Use the content as the basis for a presentation at an industry conference.
5. Use the content as the basis for a lunch and learn which you invite target customers and influencers to.
6. Use the content as the basis for a webinar and partner with an industry association to offer the webinar to their membership.
7. Post your content to www.slideshare.com. B2B companies get surprisingly good ROI from this tool.
8. Pitch an article to the editors of trade publications that your target audience reads using the content as the basis for the story.
9. Update your LinkedIn network with a link to the content and share it with your LinkedIn groups.
10. Send out a link to the white paper in your regular email newsletter.
There are many ways to spread the word about your knowledge, this is just a few of the options. Don't be shy—you've invested years of your life to develop the expertise you have, and many hours to capture it. Do the world a favour and share it broadly.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a PROFIT 200 company in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
More columns by Lisa Shepherd