My recent blog on “Promoting thought leadership” got a lot of comments – most of them focusing not on how to promote thought leadership, but on what constitutes thought leadership in the first place.

In a recent blog Chris Koch at the IT Marketing Services Association suggested that the term “thought leadership” itself is so overused as to be useless. He’s suggesting business to business marketers instead do “Idea Marketing” which involves heavy lifting like actually going out and finding new and useful ideas from your subject matter experts, and distributing them through a publishing process complete with lead tracking and nurturing.

In my experience, most vendors aren’t ready for anything as involved as that. For them, “thought leadership” essentially means any white paper that’s NOT just a laundry list of product features. They are content with pieces that lay out what a customer needs in a product, presented in a way that makes their own “solutions” (mentioned discreetly in the summary) look good. In short, a typical white paper. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not thought leadership.

True leadership means going where no one has gone before, and/or showing others the right path to take when times are uncertain. It implies breaking new ground and meeting needs customers didn’t know they had, like Apple did with the iPhone and Google did with its search engine. That’s a quantum leap beyond what’s hard enough most of the time — keeping a close eye on customers’ needs and beating the competition in meeting those needs.

A final obstacle to thought leadership is that many customers aren’t ready for it, because they’re still mastering the basics of what the vendor is selling. As one client told me today, “The really smart guys in the room aren’t reading the white papers.” His audience is, instead, the unlucky fellow who’s just been thrown into managing, say, Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance and is trying to figure out how not to get himself or his boss fired.

Someone out there is really tailoring content to where the prospect is in the buying process, sending primers to newbies and real rocket-science stuff to the experts. But from what I see, those leading-edge marketers are still few and far between. 

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Filed under: PR/Marketing Trends

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