B2B companies are increasingly turning to thought leadership marketing — or content marketing or inbound marketing, if you prefer. But whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. In a world where it’s ever easier for the buyer to screen out advertisements and to find his own solution, sellers are publishing evidence of their expertise where prospects can find it.
We just published a report about a survey on the use of social media marketing by consulting firms (here). We found that the number one barrier to firms doing more social media marketing is not being confident they can generate the content. If consulting firms (whose stock in trade is intellectual capital) are worried about generating content, how is anyone else going to cope?
There are several answers to this, but the best one is what Jim McGee, in a recent post, calls reflection. In firms that are reflective, the process of extracting meaning from their work is in the DNA. Professionals compare notes, identify patterns, and challenge each others’ thinking as a matter of course. IC generation is valued, and often an explicit part of professional growth. In organizations which are not reflective, a repeatable process is typically more highly valued—each project is judged more on the basis of how well it fit the process than what was new. For us—helping clients capture, develop and articulate a point of view—it’s much easier to help firms in the former camp.
Firms that are not reflective can still produce good material. But as Jim points out, they often have to establish a separate research institute, or outsource research to e.g. a university, or a firm like ours. These initiatives can produce great results (plug - many here for instance), but as competition heats up for the intellectual high ground, it’s hard to believe that episodic thought leadership development will be enough. (Outsourcing to the company’s ad agency incidentally, typically produces material high on form and low on substance.)
So for companies that want to dominate their market, an appreciation of TL will have to migrate into the culture. That can only happen if it’s led from the top, and not everyone at the top is going to think it’s important.
But we are seeing it happen. In sectors from industrial safety to trade brokerage a few leaders are reaching out and taking first steps toward owning the high ground—with or without assistance. In every case they are looking past the processes and transactions of their client work to extract the deeper meaning, creating material for conversations with their customers at much more senior levels.
Culture change in organizations is typically slow; now is not too soon to start.