Thought Leadership and Why it Matters
A lot of content features the “what” and the “how” of the product or service. Features and benefits. That content is important, but it is not a prospect’s priority.
“Trust me. I’m an expert.” It’s what establishing subject matter expertise is all about.
And it works beautifully in the B2C arena. Move over to the B2B space and there’s much more work to be done. You’re likely no longer dealing with just one decision-maker. “Trust me. I’m an expert” has to be pushed out to a cross-functional buying committee.
This committee isn’t a bunch of clones. They each have different – and sometimes conflicting – needs, preferences, and priorities. How do you become a thought leader to a group better defined by its diversity than its similarity? Here’s a path, and we’ll use the IT industry as a B2B example:
Past, present, and future
A prospect’s life didn’t begin the day you met. Establishing yourself or your company as a thought leader – or a subject matter expert – means understanding who your prospects are, and then how your exchange of information has to change when they become a new customer, as well as an ongoing one.
This means you’re going to spend some quality time mapping out a buyer’s journey for each of your personas. What does the IT professional need to know about his or her problem and your solution before, during, and after the purchase cycle?
How about the finance department? And what about the people up in the C-Suite who have to approve the spend?
Each member of that cross-functional committee will look at the problem from their respective perspective.
“I gotta run this,” says the IT professional. “I gotta make this play nice with the financial report,” says the finance person. “I gotta sell this chunk of change to the board of directors,” says the CEO.
The content you map out for each – including the timing – is diverse. Your challenge is to position yourself as the subject matter expert in each of their realms. Consider these questions as you define your personas and the content for each:
- What is this particular decision-maker’s pain point? How can it be validated at each stage? How do I demonstrate that I understand this problem?
- What is the best format for this particular decision-maker? Would I make a better impact with a white paper instead of an article? Or should it be a video?
- How can I help this particular decision-maker succeed in educating or convincing others involved in the purchase?
Why versus how
Simon Sinek usually gets the credit.
“People don’t buy what you do,” he said in his insanely popular TED Talk, “they buy why you do it.”
The B2B version of this was best summed up by Forrester Research’s Laura Ramos: “Business buyers don’t buy your product,” she said, “they buy into your approach to solving problems.”
Either version makes a lot of content marketers’ heads explode. The natural place to go is to produce abundant amounts of content featuring the “what” and the “how” of the product or service. Features and benefits.
Not so fast.
That content is important, but it is not a prospect’s priority. It’s yours. You need content that will establish you as a thought leader. You won’t establish much of anything unless you first demonstrate to each of these decision-makers that you understand their problem – and that you have the best approach to solving it.
It has nothing to do with the “how” or “what” of your product. Validating the problem and championing your approach is all about “why.” It’s what separates you from competitors, and it’s what establishes you as a thought leader.
Thought leaders don’t simply have audiences. They spark conversations that build relationships which turn prospects into customers. Keep this in mind when mapping out your content strategy. Thought leadership is not a one-way channel. Its objective is engagement. That’s one of the reasons it works so well with inbound marketing channels.
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