Thought leadership marketing is a subset of what Seth Godin calls permission marketing, and which he defines as the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.
The point of thought leadership marketing of course is to attract prospective customers with interesting and relevant points of view. Also to position your firm or yourself as an expert on a topic, build reputation and credibility, and thereby make it easier to sell your services when the time arises.
But for firms that don’t have a well-established reputation already, there is an irony. If you don’t push the material out, how will anyone know about it? And if you do push it out to people, is that legitimate permission marketing anymore? Or is it its evil antithesis, interruption marketing?
The answer is it depends how you do it. And it turns out that the methods which are contextually appropriate (consistent with helping people choose whether to consume your material) happen to be the ones that work.
What don’t seem to work are ads that tout the firm as a thought leader or declare that it has something compelling to say and require readers to follow a link to the material. There are a thousand places people can go now in milliseconds to get information, so they have no reason to visit a site on the off-chance there is something interesting there. We’ve seen people try this, for instance with expensive multimedia online ads that promise thought leadership, and the results
have been disappointing.
What does seem to work are communications that clearly convey the promise at the first glance.
For an ad that means a direct connection to the thought leadership. A link to a single article is easy enough to do, but then you only have the chance to capture the small proportion of people interested in that specific topic (see right).
But how can you link to several articles on a topic from a single ad and tell people what they are getting at the same time?
IBM seems to have found a way. The firm is running a series of ads (at the time of writing on Forbes.com and a couple of weeks ago were on the Economist site) that are almost mini-thought leadership libraries in a box (see left). There are tabs at the top for different topics and then for each, a video, links to a couple of articles in the host magazine, links to a couple of relevant IBM articles, and then a link to a relevant twitter feed. For each piece of collateral there are a title and a subtitle that convey what the piece is about
This is somewhat analogous perhaps to another technique that works well, which is an email with titles, subtitles and links to a clutch of related articles (but for which of course the vendor needs to already have the opt-in email list). The format works because a menu of articles with descriptive summaries and links lets executives identify useful material without having to read the first few paragraphs to find out what each is about.
Promoting thought leadership presents a dilemma: If you don’t promote it, then many won’t ever hear of it; if you do, there’s a risk of appearing self-promotional and turning people off. But there are ways to do it, and over the next couple of years some leading firms will blaze new trails.