A Guide to Creating a Thought Leadership Campaign

Desert LeaderSituation: Your B2B company is not seen as a thought leader in your industry. You have been asked to develop a campaign to establish your company as a thought leader and become one of the leading voices within your industry.

Normally I am opposed to the idea of thought leadership and campaign being used together.

However, establishing thought leadership is a common objective and many B2B marketing organizations continue to work within a campaign framework. Ideal or not, many B2B marketers need solutions that deliver real recognition as thought leaders within a campaign structure.

In addition, a campaign addresses two issues businesses often face when when they consider a thought leadership initiative.

  1. It gets you started. An initial campaign is a starting point and an opportunity for inital success.
  2. It secures resources. By approaching this as a campaign, there are resources available to get it off the ground and quickly establish a presence.

Thought Leadership Campaign Planning

Preparation is key. You will need a number of resources and an integrated effort, just like you will for any other campaign. Count on at least 60 days of planning and preparation, some companies may spend closer to 6 months as they identify the key resources.

1. Select your focus
Pick your area of focus carefully. Your focus needs to align with your audience’s focus and priority, not just your product and offering.

Here is more info on finding your content sweet spot.

2. Identify Jamie
Jamie is the person in your organization that is passionate about your area of focus and can fake his or her way as a thought leader for an extended period of time. Validate Jamie’s authority with an appropriate title. You can get creative here, it does not need to include Chief or Vice in many industries).

3. Extend Your Brand Credibility to Jamie
Your corporate communication needs to include perspectives from Jamie, from quotes in press releases to videos on your site.

Begin including Jamie at each opportunity, even before your campaign begins.

4. Create Jamie’s Blog
Jamie’s blog will be the central hub for Jamie’s perspectives. Nearly everything published will ultimately drive people back to Jamie’s blog. The blog will increasingly be discovered through search and develop its own audience.

As Jamie’s online home, spend the time to develop a blog that is both easy to read and navigate. It needs to reinforce Jamie’s individual credibility, not deliver your marketing message.

5. Develop Social Profiles
Develop social media profiles for Jamie on the core relevant networks for your target audience. Your brand should already have an active presence. If it doesn’t, fix that now.

While you are developing profiles, ensure Jamie’s profile is set up under the Google Authorship project. Begin sharing content that is relevant to your selected area of focus through each of Jamie’s relevant profiles. Each profile should look valid and active before the campaign is launched.

6. Identify the Thought Leaders
Identify the real thought leaders in the community. Understand where they are and what they are saying.

Tools like Little Bird can help you identify thought leaders and influencers on Twitter that you may not already be aware of.

7. Listen to the Thought Leaders
Follow the thought leaders you have identified and the sub-community around them. Helpful tools for following and listening beyond the standard social networks include:
Newsle, RSS feeds, Google alerts, Disqus and Intense Debate.

8. Develop Original Research
Create three original research reports, surveys or forecasts.

Develop each piece into multiple formats, including videos, infographics, blog posts (2 per report), polls, benchmarking tools, or similar as appropriate. The blog posts offer Jamie’s perspective and the videos should also include Jamie.

Ensure the key findings are embeddable and will link back to Jamie or your company when embedded.

9. Create Short Form Content
Write provocative and well researched perspectives on the following topics:

  • Best practices or insider tips for each of 10 priorities for your audience (10 articles).
  • What history teaches you about the future your audience needs to prepare for (1 article).
  • Specific predictions for the next season and the next year (2 articles).
  • Three long-term predictions and perspectives on the evolution of your market and the changes that will be required to thrive through that evolution (3 articles).
  • Contrarian perspective on elements of the current conventional wisdom in your market (3 articles).

Each article should have a simple accompanying video, an infographic, slides (slideshare, prezi or similar) or other element that adds visual value and provides an additional sharing option.

This content should reference the current thought leaders you identified as well as your own research projects where possible. Each perspective is a blog post or article, probably 400 to 700 words long. As you create this content, set it aside.

Note this is in addition to content created above for step 7. You should now have 25 blog posts or articles ready.

Campaign Soft Launch

At this point, you are ready to start actively engaging in the community, building some history for Jamie’s social media presence prior to your real launch.

10. Social Sharing and Participation
Begin consistently sharing content from other people, particularly the thought leaders you identified in social media, and joining discussions around the content.

Pay particular attention to participating in the sub-community around the thought leaders you identified.

11. Grow Your Audience
Begin building an audience on networks that include an active follow function. Depending on your industry, this may include Facebook, Twitter or industry-specific networks.

12. Begin Drip Publishing
Approximately a month before your launch date, begin publishing the articles you have prepared, with one best practice or insider perspective and one of the other articles each week.

Launch Your Campaign

Unlike many major marketing initiatives, this will not launch with a major splash. It must appear that this is something you plan to continue doing. Your audience should be looking forward to what you share next, not merely focusing on what you are doing now.

13. Release Research
Release one of the research pieces you created along with a supporting blog post, slideshares, videos and other content you created to support it.

Engage your PR team to assist in placing articles and distributing your research.

14. Launch Your Promotional Activity
Start driving traffic to the research and articles or blog posts through Jamie’s social media activity, your corporate social media accounts, your email marketing and promotions on your company website.

Also launch your paid media promotions, focusing first on using paid media that can kickstart your inbound marketing and then more traditional paid media opportunities.

For more info, see 10 Ways to Kickstart Your Inbound Marketing Program.

Start the Drumbeat of Activity

At this point your program is running and your and Jamie’s ongoing activity is what will keep it running. Here are daily, weekly and monthly activities.

15. Daily Activities

  • Social media: Sharing your new content, content from others and responding to people that engage with you.
  • Comment on other blogs: Look for opportunities to add additional thoughtful perspectives on relevant articles and blogs.

16. Weekly Activities

  • Publish your content: Publish two additional pieces of content every week and promote across personal and corporate social media accounts.
  • Update promotional activity: Use a weekly check-in to add newly published content to your paid promotion, review the performance and optimize as needed.
  • Create content: Keep writing or creating new content every week, or you will run out of content!

17. Monthly Activities

  • Release research: Every month release one of the more substantial research pieces and include the related blog posts in your calendar for the month.
  • Analyze your results: Thought leadership isn’t something you will measure directly, so go beyond page views, comments and social activities. Did you spark conversation or debate? What content engaged the thought leaders you identified? What content engaged potential prospects?

18. Decide to Continue
At the end of three months, you are really just getting started. You should be seeing traffic, an increase in engagement with the thought leaders you identified, and occasional recognition from prospects and others in your industry of both Jamie and your company.

Now it is time to continue sharing perspectives, engaging with the community, and expanding Jamie’s public role.

Developing Your Own Plan

Of course this is a formulaic approach and it assumes you are starting from a standstill. This campaign framework will give you a potential starting point while you experiment and find the approach that is right for your company and the people like Jamie in your organization.

Some companies will find that research and speaking are more appropriate, others will rely far more heavily on a good media relations team (a great way to go if it is an option).

Whichever path you take, the quality and thoughtfulness of Jamie’s perspective in the eyes of your audience is of utmost importance. Jamie cannot be a fictional person. After all, you want Jamie to ultimately meet with people, speak at events and develop personal credibility that extends to your business.

Your Turn

Have you taken a campaign approach to thought leadership or are you considering it? I would love to hear your story, either in the comments below, on Twitter (@wittlake) or by email (in the sidebar on my blog).

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber via Flickr cc

Get every post delivered directly to your inbox.

Your email address will not be shared or sold. I hate spam too.

  • Well, after that if anyone says they don’t know how to/can’t build their thought leadership, they should go suck eggs…!

  • Great information, going to share with some of the b2b marketers on Spiceworks

  • michaelbrenner

    Wish I had this post 12 months ago! Thanks Eric. Great steps here.

    • Wow, thanks Michael. I appreciate the kind words!

  • Great outline to prepare to launch. While I totally agree that an owned blog is the ideal platform, have you also seen client examples where an existing property (with established audience and industry-specific leadership) can be used to quickly advance the objectives? I am seeing this as a proof-of-concept validation of the process made possible by using Google+ as the ‘home base’ in coordination with Google Authorship tags. Your thoughts?

    • Great question. There are definitely examples of people moving their home base to G+, although there are some real downsides to that.

      If you have access, I definitely think you could build around a contributing role to a business or industry publication. Most marketers in the situation given at the top of the post don’t have this option yet though, or need a crack PR team to drum up the opportunity.

      In short, many potential possibilities, I hoped to outline one potential path that is broadly accessible to any marketer.

      I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on G+ / Google Authorship here!

  • Thorough and practical guide to TL, Eric! In my experience, most TL efforts typically at step # 14. The “drumbeat of activities” (steps #15-18) is absolutely vital as well. Nice work.

    • Thanks Wilson. I agree, I would also add that Step 1 and 2 are often skipped, and programs don’t have a clear focus or a human voice.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Doug Kessler

    Terrific idea and a great post: a thought leadership campaign in a can. You nailed it.

    • Wow, thanks Doug! It is an idea that has been brewing for a while (might explain how it ended up being so long).

  • Anthony

    I’ll second the comments already posted — great job. I think the most important takeaways for me are that a) this is something that has to be genuine and individual and b) this is not something any company can knock out in a weekend or on a tiny budget. I work for a B2B agency and I see across many of my clients that there’s a massive organisational resistance to doing thought-leadership justice, despite the heroic efforts of individuals. It’s clear that chucking out the odd white paper won’t cut the mustard.

    Thanks for putting clearly a lot of effort and thought into this post.

    • No, another white paper isn’t enough. It might not even be part of your final solution. Glad you liked the post!

  • Pingback: A Guide to Creating a Thought Leadership Campai...()

  • jamie

    question: why Jamie?

  • Jaco123

    Thanks Eric for this great piece -we are at the beginning stages of a Thought Leadership campaign -and your post will certainly add much value. Might want to call on you at some stage for some expert advice. Love your ideas!

    • Thanks, glad to hear it is helpful. Will be happy to connect!

  • Pingback: A Guide to Creating a Thought Leadership Campai...()

  • Pingback: Thought Leadership: What Is It and Should You Do It?EM Marketing, Inc.()

  • Pingback: Uxviw Blog()