It's time to take a stand

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As an analyst, marketing leaders come to me looking for feedback on their messaging and value proposition, and it is getting pretty painful to listen to the usual stories that go something like this (with blanks inserted to protect the guilty): “We were founded in 19__. We’re the leading provider of _____ products serving the ____ industry. Our products are faster, more reliable, easier to use, more full-featured, and deliver better ROI than any of our competitors.”

Hold on. In The Age of The Customer, business buyers don’t “buy” your product; they “buy into” your approach to solving their problem. Read that last sentence again. Your products aren’t as unique as you think. In fact, in most markets the products and services are fairly commoditized. Buyers want to do business with companies that share their outlook on the world, whose philosophies on solving key problems they face align with their own. Yet so many marketers only talk about features and benefits.

What do you do about it? Establishing a position of thought leadership in your market is becoming the next arena for differentiation in b-to-b marketing. When done right, thought leadership marketing is a way to stand out from the competition, create interest and earn the trust of potential buyers early in their problem-solving process.

We define thought-leadership marketing as: The process of formulating big ideas and insightful points of view on the issues your buyers face, capturing those ideas in multiple content vehicles and sharing the ideas with prospects and customers to enlighten them, engage them in a dialogue, and position your company as a trusted resource.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Many companies already practice “content marketing,” but thought-leadership marketing takes it much further:

It doesn’t just educate people on an issue; it provides your company’s strong point of view and insightful thinking on the issue. It is provocative—challenging conventional thinking.

It is delivered in a tone and through channels that invite people to join the dialogue, expand on the ideas, and even disagree.

It makes no mention of your products.

Think about UPS. They ship packages. But they are building a thought-leadership platform around “New Logistics”—how small-business owners need to embrace new global trade practices to drive growth, with bold positions on issues such as improving customer service through better distribution.

iCrossing is a marketing agency, but it is becoming a recognized thought leader in how CMOs must engage consumers across the digital world with content.

Most companies don’t have a process or framework for managing thought-leadership marketing initiatives, so they push out product brochures and white papers disguised as thought-leadership content. They practice what I like to call “random acts of thought leadership” … an occasional white paper, conference presentation or bylined article. In an upcoming post, I’ll introduce the four-step IDEA framework used to develop a thought-leadership platform and mobilize the experts in your company to share their ideas through digital, social, mobile and offline channels. 

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