The concept of thought leadership marketing isn’t exactly new — in fact, the phrase was first coined back in 1990 by Patrick Reilly in a Wall Street Journal article — but it’s still an enigmatic buzzword in the world of marketing and advertising.
More importantly, a thought leadership marketing strategy is crucial for establishing your brand as a credible authority in your industry, building trust with customers, and attracting new business. By creating and promoting high-quality, relevant thought leadership content that showcases your expertise, you can position your science-driven B2B enterprise as a leader and differentiate yourself from competitors.
According to marketing exec Diana Castellanos in a Forbes article, “Thought leaders are not easily replaced. … This is precisely why businesses today stand to gain so much from incorporating thought leadership into their B2B digital strategy. Companies that elevate their individual brand to the level of thought leadership can accrue much more than notoriety: They can become a trusted source of information in the minds of their clients and prospects.”
Who Are Thought Leaders?
A thought leader can be an individual or a company whose ideas influence others. They can be executives or technical professionals who are sources of inspiration and innovation within their fields. Anyone who takes a stand on important issues and has a vision for the future of their industry can be considered a thought leader.
Sometimes called key opinion leaders (KOLs) — especially within the pharmaceutical, medical, and other life sciences sectors — thought leaders are significant influencers in the marketplace. They’re sought after for their ideas, invited to speak at forums and conferences, and frequently approached by media outlets to comment on current issues. Just having an opinion and speaking out does not constitute thought leadership. Rather, these leaders have proven expertise and have accomplished something significant.
How do you know when you have a thought leader? It may seem like an easy answer, but thought leaders almost always make themselves known by virtue of their innate passion for a topic and their desire to share their knowledge. In addition to deep expertise, a persuasive thought leader should possess a distinct, even controversial, point of view. When they share their insights, they often inspire lively conversations and push people out of their comfort zones. They appreciate being challenged by other ideas and will not shy away from an open debate or from an external challenge or threat to the organization. In fact, being able to leverage their leadership in moments of crisis is absolutely critical. And, of course, they must be able to articulate their ideas — both in writing and in front of an audience — so that others can understand and follow them. When they speak in front of crowds, it’s common to see heads nodding and eyebrows raised in surprised affirmation.
How to Create a Thought Leadership Marketing Strategy for Science-Driven Companies
Becoming a recognized thought leader, either as an individual or as a company, is a process — and no amount of marketing or advertising can establish such a leader overnight. But there are many ways to capitalize on the expertise of your team and create content in a way that communicates thought leadership. Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved in positioning your science B2B as a thought leader.
1. Define your target area.
Rather than trying to establish thought leadership in the entire specialty chemicals industry, for example, narrow your focus to one or two important industry topics or issues. The issue or issues should be closely aligned with your company’s unique value proposition (UVP) — the central concept of your brand that makes you an authority on subject matter within your industry, differentiates you from your competition, and defines your unique niche.
2. Establish a beachhead where none exists.
Sometimes, being a thought leader means taking a risk and building a unique platform, product, or offering that showcases your unique perspective on a topic. That might mean writing a book or research-driven white paper, developing a TED Talk-like presentation, or producing a topic-specific blog or series of videos. Don’t be afraid to be original here — an out-of-the-box delivery mechanism can often have tremendous impact.
For example, Cobalt worked for years with a specialty chemical company that helped its customers reduce energy and water usage long before “sustainability” was a buzzword. When sustainability and ESG initiatives began to emerge as business priorities, the company wanted to make its leadership known. It developed blog posts and began publishing an annual sustainability report, but what really set it apart was a sustainability awards program, which recognized customer projects capable of delivering reduced water use, reduced energy consumption, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, optimized raw material utilization, or reduced waste.
Whichever route you choose, this content will form the backbone of your thought leadership marketing campaign and serve as a powerful tool for establishing your credibility, building a community of supporters with shared values, raising awareness of issues, encouraging engagement and discussion, and establishing a platform for ongoing dialogue.
3. Develop a content marketing plan.
Design a thought leadership content strategy and plan an integrated thought leadership content campaign based on your chosen topics or issues. Doing this work up front will help keep your campaign on track.
4. Tap into moments that matter.
In an article published in Harvard Business Review, “The Guru’s Guide to Creating Thought Leadership,” author H. James Wilson identifies how brands or individuals can produce an idea that changes the way people think and work. At the top of his list is the concept of tuning an idea “to the Zeitgeist” — German for the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era. In other words, some ideas resonate more strongly at certain moments in time, when the political and social awareness about a topic reaches a zenith. If you can tap into these moments, especially if you have a clear and differentiated perspective, you can more readily establish yourself as a thought leader.
5. Use professional photos.
Set up a professional photo shoot to create a portfolio of your experts. These images, which are an important part of your content, will be very useful as you promote your thought leadership.
6. Feature experts in short videos.
Once you have the article content hashed out, produce short videos of your expert or experts speaking on each topic of your thought leadership campaign.
7. Look for networking event opportunities.
Look for events where your experts can speak to industry leaders and build solid business relationships. These speaking engagements will help get your thought leadership message out to potential clients and introduce your company to a broader audience. And be sure to develop professional presentation materials, including slides and scripts, to help your experts stay on message.
8. Provide a reliable source to reporters.
Develop a speaker’s bureau for your experts and offer their services to reporters at industry publications. Create press releases and announcements to promote your thought leadership content and presentations. Send them to industry reporters and post them on your company’s online newsroom.
9. Engage with social media.
Use social media to promote your articles, videos, and other marketing materials highlighting your thought leadership focus. Start a conversation around each topic by asking questions or quoting your experts and asking your audience to share their thoughts. At the same time, listen to industry debates online, answer questions, interact with existing communities, and comment informally on high-traffic posts. Social media provides a good way to subtly insert your viewpoint and reach your target audience.
10. Learn what works for you.
As your company becomes recognized for its thought leadership, learn from your successes and failures. Develop new and better ways to create content that builds thought leadership on the issues that are important to your industry.
Don’t Make Thought Leadership an Afterthought
The rewards of thought leadership marketing can be significant, but they come only after hard work and due diligence. Many companies proactively seek out thought leaders and build programs to develop succession candidates. What this implies is that thought leaders aren’t necessarily born — they’re nurtured as they work with other leaders, executives, and mentors. Either way, your organization should always be searching for visionaries who have the talent and communication skills necessary to ignite excitement and enthusiasm around a particular idea. Then, you should be managing that talent carefully to make sure their views are seen and heard regularly.
Connect With Us to Learn More
To learn more about how Cobalt helps science-focused B2Bs with all aspects of communications and leadership marketing, including building your brand through thought leadership and content strategy, visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team. To stay up-to-date with Cobalt news and blog posts like this one, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Bolt from the Blue.