Thought Leadership Marketing: 5 Big Trends, Examined

Much has changed in thought leadership marketing in the last 10 years -- but not every company has changed with it. Is your company making enough progress compared to your peers? Since 2006, we have studied how consulting and IT services firms conduct thought leadership marketing. Learn about today's most effective practices as we present our latest data on June 16 in New York City with our research partner of the last four years, the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF). Register for that seminar, "Pulling Ahead in the Thought Leadership Arms Race," here.

I won't pre-release the study findings in this blog. But I'll point out a few things that have changed in thought leadership marketing during the last decade. For one, social media has become essential to the way professional services firms spread their expertise. Quite appropriately, many thought leaders no longer leave idea promotion solely in the hands of marketing. (In fact, smart pundits have attracted thousands of followers themselves, such as David Edelman of McKinsey & Co.)

What's more, having a website look like a magazine, replete with thoughtful articles, has become de rigueur. McKinsey and Booz (now part of PwC) aren't the only ones making serious investments in online publications. FTI Consulting, Boston Consulting Group, Bain, Roland Berger and many others follow that strategy. In fact, FTI Consulting and BCG have carved out separate websites for their thought leadership journals.

And perhaps needless to say, the field of thought leadership marketing has become very popular itself. PR firms all say it's essential and that they do it. And a growing number of websites claim they can make anyone an instant thought leader, using tactics like the ones used to promote miracle cures for receding hairlines. We don't believe in miracle cures but we do believe in studying best practices.

What To Watch On June 16

We and AMCF have studied thought leadership marketing since 2011, fielding three surveys of consulting and IT service firm marketers between 2011 and 2013. (The survey was not conducted in 2014.) Previous surveys focused on both thought leadership marketing and social media. AMCF has broken out the social media research into a separate track this year, so this study focuses on thought leadership.

At the June 16 seminar, we'll present a deep dive on trends in several areas. Here are the key issues to watch:

1. Spending on TLM:

Between 2011 and 2013, the firms we polled spent roughly between 0.5% and 1.1% of revenue on thought leadership marketing. That included the costs of content development and marketing. The percentage has bounced up and down: in 2011, it was 0.7% of revenue; in 2012, it rose to 1.1% but in 2013 it dropped to 0.5%.

No matter how you look at it, thought leadership marketing doesn't yet enjoy nearly the funding that consumer packaged goods companies spend on their marketing. Advertising, for companies like Procter & Gamble, represents more than 10% of revenue. When more consulting and IT services firms recognize that thought leadership content should fuel not only marketing but also new service development, we'll see that percentage jump. (I wrote about this five years ago but haven't seen much movement on it since then.)

2. Compelling Content Traits:

Can you be a successful thought leadership marketer if the content you have to work with is weak? Not possible, according to marketers we've polled since 2006. Our 2006 survey of more than 120 consulting and IT services firms found strong content was the key ingredient of successful TLM, and that on average these firms felt their content was not exceptional.

Will that trend hold up? Can a well-devised thought leadership strategy and stellar marketing overcome mediocre content? Can extensive Tweeting and LinkedIn updates with catchy images or video make a management concept go viral?

3. Offline Vs. Online Marketing:

Since our first study, we have seen a distinct shift away from offline marketing channels (e.g., print publications and conferences) to online. Some 70% of TLM spending was for offline activities 10 years ago. In 2013, it was 53%. Will that trend continue this year?

4. Market Awareness And Lead Generation:

In 2012 and 2013, less than a third of the companies we polled said their TLM activities were highly or extremely effective at generating market awareness and leads. About half said their activities were moderately effective, and around one quarter said they were either not at all effective or only slightly effective.

Have we gotten better since then? And if so, why?

5. The Power Of Conference Presentations:

Despite the embrace of online marketing channels, such as online publications, the firms we've studied between 2006 and 2013 have rated offline channels as the most effective ones for establishing expertise and generating business leads. Will public speaking remain at the top of thought leadership marketing channels? Consider our 2013 study results:

Come attend the session on June 16 and find out -- from us and a number of consulting marketers at firms like FTI Consulting, Tata Consultancy Services, Protiviti and Accenture. 

Bob Buday is a founder and partner at The Bloom Group. Follow him on Twitter @bbuday and The Bloom Group @BloomGroupTL.

 

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