Thought Leadership Marketing

By Victor Cheng

What exactly is thought leadership and more importantly how can it be used to market your company, products or services?

Thought leadership is the act of introducing a new "big idea" into a marketplace. The person who introduces the new idea is typically perceived as an industry thought leader.

Modern day thought leaders include:

All of these thought leaders have several things in common:

1) They all articulated a new phenomenon and NAMED it. These phrases have made it into the daily vocabulary of the people in their respective fields.

2) They selected a short, simple, and easy to remember name for their phenomenon--making word of mouth much, much easier.

3) They communicated this phenomenon through a book. You'll notice the phenomenon that they named (and have been given credit for polarizing) also matches the title of their book. This is certainly not an accident and the consistency with which this is done speaks for itself.


Thought Leadership Marketing Can Be Self-Perpetuating

The immensely attractive draw behind thought leadership marketing is the potential that it can take on a life of its own.

When a new idea is introduced in a way that makes it exciting and easy to pass along, it can build enormous mental marketshare or mindshare.

This has a significant practical benefit. Customers don't buy solutions to problems they don't know exist. Regardless of the kind of marketing you favor, it's impossible to sell something to those who are unaware of their own problems.

In this respect, thought leadership in the context of marketing can be thought of as the "marketing of the problem." Thought leadership marketing never mentions products or services. Instead it focuses relentlessly on a new kind of problem or a new way of looking at an old problem. It seeks to open up the eyes of the reader/prospect to a new perspective.

When thought leadership is used deliberately as a marketing tool, you'll see that (a) thought leadership marketing piece--almost always a book--sets up a future sale. For example, Hammer & Champy's popularization of the business reengineering phenomenon in the 1980's and early 1990's set up the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of consulting contracts. The book was essentially a content right, extremely useful, commercial for their consulting firm.

Rick Warren's A Purpose-Driven Life plays a similar role for Saddleback Church. Through the book's insightful ideas, it exposes the reader to the opportunity to join or affiliate with Warren's 22,000 member strong Saddleback Church--the fourth largest church in the United States. His thought leadership book, whether deliberate or not, serves as a lead generator for the church.


Linking Thought Leadership, Book Publishing and a Sales Process

The difference between thought leadership and thought leadership marketing is the deliberate inclusion of a sales process. You can introduce a new idea to a market, but not profit from it. Roughly half of the thought leaders mentioned above create new, big ideas that others profited from. The other half profited from their ideas by linking a sales process to their thought leadership.

This works best when done deliberately and in advance of introducing your "big idea" to the market. It is much harder to put some reins on a horse that has already left the barn. For example, when a client commissions a Bookmercial from us, we routinely start our project by asking the client, "What is the one specific action you want the readers to do after they've read your Bookmercial?"

Often their initial answers are vague and too general. They say something like, "We want them to do business with us."

"Okay, I understand the general idea, but what specific action do you want them to take? Do you want them to just cut a check on the spot? Do you want to set up a sales meeting or phone call? Do you want them to email you? Do you want them to fill out a web site form?"

With this information, we write the last page of the Bookmerrcial first -- it is the end result, and then we work backwards to craft the remainder of the Bookmercial to produce the desired result. Depending on the objective, sometimes we'll include specific linkages from the Bookmercial to the sales process earlier in the Bookmercial. In every case, the foundation of a thought leadership Bookmercial is always building a bridge from the Bookmercial to the sales process.

It's a critical step that's routinely missed by best selling, but not really business oriented, authors who simply generate market demand to be supplied by somebody else.