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Why Thought Leadership Is Important in Brand-Building

Paul Suchman, CMO at CBRE, Says Having the Right Content is Critical

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Commercial real estate company CBRE Group is launching a thought-leadership campaign today called "Leading Global Capital" -- part of its overall brand campaign "Build on Advantage," which debuted in Dec. 2014.

Paul Suchman, CBRE
Paul Suchman, CBRE

The campaign includes print, online, direct mail and social media. Brand Union handled creative and m/Six handled media -- both WPP shops. The campaign is aimed at C-suite executives at major real estate ownership companies, large investor groups and CFOs at corporations.

In the following interview, Paul Suchman, global CMO at CBRE, talks about how to build an effective thought leadership campaign and what some of the challenges are.

Ad Age: Why is thought leadership important in building brand?

Mr. Suchman: Our brand ambition is to not only be known as the premier real estate investment and services firm, but we really want to be known as a world-class professional services firm across all industries.

When we examine companies in this class and how they steward their brands, we see great examples of thought leadership -- brands like IBM, GE and Accenture. What they are all doing is taking ownership of issues that are driving their respective industries forward. By owning these issues, by owning these ideas and responding to evolving marketplaces, these brands are in effect redefining and leading their industries. Thought-leadership campaigns align with how world-class professional services firms utilize marketing to deliver value to their clients, to their stakeholders, and hopefully distance themselves from their competitors.

Ad Age: What was your objective with the "Leading Global Capital" campaign?

Mr. Suchman: In 2016, our approach to brand advertising is to continue along the journey of "Advantage" that we launched in 2014. But what we want to do is take the messaging and the positioning much closer to the business, with thematic thought-leadership campaigns that target specific audiences.

Our first theme is "Leading Global Capital." The reason we aligned along this theme is that while commercial real estate continues to be an attractive asset class for global institutional investors in 2016, there has been some market volatility, and that has created the need for expert advice. We saw that as an opportunity for CBRE. We believe that by promoting a thought-leadership position on all of these strategic issues and the implications affecting global capital, we can further solidify our position as a highly experienced and effective advisor who can help real estate owners, investors and CFOs build advantage for their business.

Ad Age: How do you build an effective thought leadership effort, and what are some best practices?

Mr. Suchman: First, we began by examining the global marketplace for trends, challenges and opportunities for something that could become the foundation for a thought-leadership campaign.

Then we talked to clients and our leadership about their most pressing issues. We also looked at major global capital markets, examining both short- and long-term issues, and that led us to this idea of leading global capital in this time of uncertainty.

Once we got to a definition of what we thought this thought-leadership topic could be, then we engaged deeply with all our subject-matter experts at CBRE.

We started to then take that theme and come up with a real crisp point of view. The mandate for the team was to develop a clear, digestible and actionable point of view, and to do so, it was all about engaging the right people across the organization and making sure they were all aligned.

Once we got to this point of view, we had to develop the core content. We created a thought-leadership series in three parts: three bespoke white papers between 1,500 and 2,000 words each that explore key trends in global capital, and they all have a call to action to reach out to CBRE to understand the implications for their business. So the campaign is thought leadership, but it's also direct response. What we learned is that having the right content is critical -- it's almost more important than the campaign.

Ad Age: What are some of the challenges with developing thought-leadership campaigns?

Mr. Suchman: The first one is, it has to be a shared and embraced objective across the organization. Thought leadership campaigns are a bit tricky in that they are not designed to make the cash register ring. So it has to be a shared and embraced objective, or what we find is that thought leadership falls flat.

And second, at its core, thought leadership is sometimes stepping out of the comfort zone and looking into the future, and that can be pretty scary. Finding points of view requires interrogation and brave constitution, and marshalling the right people and aligning them around perspectives is challenging, but when we found our voice, everything fell into place pretty quickly.