Giving Thought to Thought Leadership

The Bloom Group is a consultancy that focuses on the subject of thought leadership marketing and best practices. Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Bob Buday, a co-founder of the firm, and below are some of the highlights of our conversation.

MoM: Bob, how do you define thought leadership?
BB: A​ thought leader is someone who not only identifies a complex problem or issue in the marketplace, but also provides new and proven solutions to resolve that issue or problem. While it’s one thing for a person or company to have an opinion, thought, comment or idea on an issue or problem, it’s quite another to be able to offer products, services, applications, knowledge, etc. which can actually solve the issue or problem.

Once an organization understands what thought leadership is by definition, the next step is to understand the marketing and delivery of thought leadership. By marketing, I’m referring to how articles, books, lectures, speaking presentations and other more educationally oriented marketing channels are used by a person or company to explain their new, proven and/or superior way to solve some issue or problem. By delivery, I’m referring to how a person or company scales up the expertise implied in those articles, lectures, etc., through codifying methods/approaches and training/developing people in the thought leader’s organization so they, too, can solve the issue or problem – not just the author(s) of the article, book, etc.

​MoM: Bob, does it make sense for a person or company to call themselves thought leaders or should this be bestowed upon them by others?
BB:​ The way I see it, strictly speaking, all thought leadership marketing (or marketing in general) is self-promotional. So essentially, thought leadership marketing promotes an individual or company’s expertise. But there’s an important nuance here, and I believe thought leaders shouldn’t revert to calling themselves “thought leaders.” Instead, they should let others (i.e, the marketplace) put that designation on them. Thought leadership is earned, not claimed.

MoM​: Bob, should thought leadership content be gated? Should a client or prospect have to provide contact details to gain access to such content?
BB: Many B2B companies use thought leadership content as a way to generate sales leads (i.e., provide contact details and content access is granted). When a company does this, however, it runs the risk of chasing away business, because it puts prospects and clients in a mode of “I’m being sold to” and it sours the interaction. In my mind, a more meaningful and valuable interaction and dialog between prospect or client and company exists when there are no gates and thought leadership content can flow freely.

MoM: Does thought leadership marketing work for any company?
BB:​ Thought leadership has been practiced by consulting and professional services firms the longest, but it can be used effectively by companies in other industries and sectors, sure.

MoM: When publishing a thought leadership piece, how should a person or company go about doing this?
BB: As with the publishing of most any content, you want to come across as being as genuine and least self-promotional as possible. Therefore, in my mind, it makes the most sense to have thought leadership content published through earned editorial, as opposed to an advertorial, where it is essentially pay to play.

MoM: Can thought leadership become commoditized like so many products and services have become?
BB:​  Sure, this can happen when everyone in a particular industry or sector are all offering a similar solution to the same issue or problem. To differentiate or de-commoditized thought leadership a person or company has to come up with a new and different way to solve the issue or problem. If a person or company can’t come up with a very different solution, then the person or company should choose a different issue or problem – especially a nascent one – that has “white space” in the market. It’s like other areas of marketing, if everyone in the industry is zigging, you want to be zagging.

After speaking with Bob, my greatest takeaways were these: Thought leadership is like most any other marketing strategy or tactic. It needs to be well thought out, from start to finish, from marketing to delivery, and it should integrate with all other marketing activity. Thoug
ht leadership should be more about how others see you or the company, as opposed to how you or the company sees itself, meaning thought leadership should not be self-promotional. And, like other aspects of marketing, differentiation matters, so you want to choose topics, issues, problems to solve that others (i.e., competitors) don’t potentially see or realize.

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