While attending the Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022 event in Cambridge MA, I was very fortunate to attend an excellent pre-conference workshop “What Buyers Want from your Thought Leadership: Understanding Changing Executive Preferences” led by Robert Hollier, Partner, and Jeanne Browne, Senior Strategist, Momentum ITSMA.
The workshop was a presentation of recent research with interactive group discussions and was the perfect “prequel” for a great conference I discussed in “Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022: Next-Generation B2B Marketing in an Age of Convergence“. As Thought Leadership is an essential element of this next-generation B2B marketing convergence of required skills and competencies, let’s expand further on the topic, and highlight key lessons learned and best practices.
The workshop started with a definition of Thought Leadership. As basic as it sounds, it’s important to set a baseline.
Research has shown that during the pandemic the quantity of content described as Thought Leadership went up significantly, while the quality went down, resulting in much of it being simply ignored. Hence quality has never been more important!
Momentum ITSMA defines Thought Leadership as “Ideas that educate client and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues – without selling.”
As a veteran B2B marketer who has led thought leadership initiatives at several organizations, my reaction was a solid “amen.” We must deliver value, deliver the right information at the right time, and deliver an outside-in point of view (POV) without selling.
Frameworks for Effective Thought Leadership, Increased Maturity, and Engagement:
Momentum ITSMA research shows that Thought Leadership is one of the top 3 most effective tactics for Account-Based Marketing (ABM). This is hardly surprising as quality content delivering insights is critical for engagement. The type of content executives consume is literally a must-have list shaping an effective Thought Leadership program’s content, including being:
- Strategic, directly tied to the need for greater insights for improved decision-making
- Evidence-based with research/data to back up claims – with validation from trusted, objective sources
- Innovative with new ways to solve business problems, tied to the need for insights on new trends
- Practical showing real-world use cases, examples and best practices, and results
- Business-focused and not just on technology; content has evolved far beyond the traditional “white paper” that some still feel defines Thought Leadership
Not surprisingly, Thought Leadership content contributes across the entire buyer’s journey. It is a mix of both digital and in-person interactions and must accommodate both on-line and off-line consumption.
Overall Thought Leadership maturity is directly related to overall marketing maturity. These four stages of Thought Leadership maturity – ad-hoc, enabled, managed, and optimized – are driven by multiple categories of “Thought Leadership mastery” – from the organization’s strategic focus, their culture and organization; resources and investment, processes, and governance; content development, ideation; and distribution and communication both internally and externally.
The model reminds me of an epiphany years ago: effective Thought Leadership isn’t a single individual, an organizational chart, or an isolated stovepipe of activity. Success requires the classic “orchestration as an art form” and full collaboration with top-down executive leadership and support. Momentum ITSMA has a great framework for Thought Leadership program management. At the heart is an established, well-supported Program Management Office (PMO), with a formal process for Thought Leadership development:
- Defining the Thought Leadership Issues and Agenda: tie this to the overall marketing strategy and support key business objectives
- Developing Thought Leadership Points of View (POVs): the best Thought Leadership is driven by research and analysis of markets and customers, delivering real-time insights and value
- Production of the Thought Leadership Assets: too many organizations start here (the classic “let’s produce a white paper”); considerations include the format of the assets, channels of consumption, the target audience (and customer persona), and the specific stage(s) of the buyer’s journey.
Once we have a means to produce Thought Leadership content and assets, we must drive Thought Leadership engagement, the route to market with a connection to our target audience:
- Internal Engagement: across our executive team, sales and marketing, and our team of subject matter experts (SMEs) and the extended team that delivers Thought Leadership. Marketing is a team sport and so is Thought Leadership!
- External Engagement: across prospects and customers, and don’t forget key influencers. Tying Thought Leadership to a network of influencers including an Influencer Marketing program is a key ingredient in the “secret sauce” of B2B marketing and great amplification.
- Measurement of Results: any program needs measurement, beyond merely activity. Momentum ITSMA uses the “3R’s of ABM” — Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue, further showcasing both B2B marketing convergence and the importance of Thought Leadership to ABM.
The Thought Leadership PMO provides not only the strategy and planning, but active and regular governance. And an overall editorial calendar for production, distribution, promotion, and synchronization with overall marketing. Classic “orchestration as an art form” indeed!
Robert Holier and Jeanne Brown concluded the Momentum ITSMA Thought Leadership Workshop with a short list of key success factors, including:
- Link Thought Leadership to strategy – both your own and that of the customer, especially if tied to ABM and account-centric programs.
- Get senior leadership support for your Thought Leadership efforts.
- Build a Thought Leadership team and support model.
- Support Thought Leadership with innovative research (both primary and secondary).
- Ensure your overall quality of Thought Leadership assets.
- Link Thought Leadership to your organizations sales processes and enablement.
- Have a Thought Leadership calendar and link to your overall Marketing Calendar and agenda.
- Make your Thought Leadership SMEs visible internally and externally.
- Make a commitment to tracking/measuring – the “3R’s of ABM” as well as “measuring what matters”.
Marketing Excellence Thought Leadership Awards:
The three winners at Marketing Vision 2022 were:
- ServiceNow (Diamond award): In their award-winning “ABM beyond the 3 Rs”, ServiceNow built a focused program with global telecom giant BT that included a co-created value manifesto (impacting reputation), cross-functional engagement with Customer Experience, IT, and Operations decision makers in the account (affecting relationships), and revenue impact including a $4.7M closed deal and a nearly doubled pipeline. ServiceNow has gone beyond the 3 Rs to include retention, significantly boosting annual contract value and platform adoption in the BT account.
- Tata Communications (Gold award): An innovative “Leading in a Digital-First World Global Thought Leadership Campaign” emerged during the global pandemic, recognizing that organizations were in a wide variance of readiness as digital transformation accelerated. An innovative Secure, Connected Digital Experience (SCDx) proposition to help organizations advance on their own digital-first journey was created, built upon an outside-in global perspectives including survey-based insights. Tata Communications combined benchmarking elements with a broad communications program, while also building pipeline value of more than $5M in under a year.
- Tech Mahindra (Gold award): Even before the global pandemic accelerated digital transformation, Tech Mahindra saw an urgency for organizations to navigate digital disruption and embrace new technologies. Leveraging a longstanding partnership with The Trust (The Wall Street Journal), they created a new “In the Future” platform for executive engagement. Their Thought Leadership portfolio included new benchmarks and indexes, innovative and original “Future Shapers” content driving deep insightful executive conversations around emerging trends, topics, and technologies. A mix of in-person and virtual events provided interactive forums for executive engagement.
Like many other 2022 Marketing Excellence Award Winners, these “Deepening Engagement Through Thought Leadership” winners showcased both the convergence of B2B marketing as well as outstanding collaboration across their organizations, customers, and ecosystems.
Be sure to review my overall recommendations in “Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022: Next-Generation B2B Marketing in an Age of Convergence“. Specific to Thought Leadership, be sure to:
- Develop strong outside-in Thought Leadership delivering value.
- Leverage multiple points of view for experts delivering value across the buyers’ journey.
- Establish solid Thought Leadership executive support backed by a solid plan (and sticking to it, driven by an editorial calendar, supported by resources).
- Leverage the synergy across B2B marketing (especially ABM) and make Thought Leadership a key component of your quest for increased Marketing Maturity.
And of course – measurement – and the Momentum ITSMA 3 Rs are a great place to start and optimize by consistently measuring what matters.
My real-time “event ambassadorship” of Marketing Vision 2022 included tweeting during the keynotes, sessions, and workshops resulted in curated into several “tweetdeck collections” – capturing the amazing insights and learnings across Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022. Be sure to check them out and I am looking forward to seeing everyone at Marketing Vision 2023!