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What is Cooking Thought Leader?

For this week’s blog post, I’ve asked long time colleague, friend and content marketing expert, Rachel Medanic, to help our readers understand how companies can demonstrate thought leadership through content marketing in today’s digitally overloaded world.  Rachel has been a marketing pro for over 15 years and is currently is a Client Services Manager for PublishThis.

Have you ever visited a house being shown for sale and you walk in to the smell of cookies baking or a scented candle burning? The realtors are using a form of content marketing to engage your olfactory senses (and influence your visit with content). How humans perceive scent is closely connected to how the brain processes emotion and associative learning. Making a house “smell like home” could help persuade a potential buyer. Because of the explosion of media and a dramatic shift in audience expectations around content, content marketing is experiencing huge growth. Audiences have now come to expect good, free content—regardless of industry.  B2B companies are as much on the hook to provide as B2C companies.

Last month, Lorraine shared a number of good strategies for ways to transform your company into a thought leader. A few days ago Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi shared 7 Content Marketing Strategies for 2013. #3 on his list was “A new mindset:  Become the leading informational provider for your niche.” Think thought leadership. Pulizzi says brands aren’t taking their content seriously enough. Among 1,000 companies he surveyed, just 5% had a content marketing mission statement (an editorial mission defining why they were doing content marketing). So what? If you don’t know why you’re producing content, you probably won’t be satisfied with how your audience responds. Also this month’s eConsultancy Content Marketing Survey Report found that just 38% of companies have a content marketing strategy at all.

Making your company an industry thought leader is nothing new. What is new is the digitally overloaded world in which this practice has resurfaced. The eConsultancy report found 90% of marketers believed content marketing would become more important over the next 12 months. The odds of getting noticed are slimmer because media is a fire hose and audiences want just a sip. Thanks to the proliferation of social media, anyone can become an overnight authority. It’s more noise and distraction than marketers have ever had to compete with before. Content has to be relevant and in many industries, it must also be fresh. It has to engage by educating, informing, entertaining or a combination of all three. Companies that can do this and add the touch of their own brand perspective on top will find themselves more likely to be in the spokesperson position rather than just another company in the business.

Fresh-baked cookies are not going to make a company a thought leader—yet. (I keep waiting for olfactory technology to waft its way into the digital mainstream.) But thinking about cookies is a useful analogy when you design your own digital experiences. For potential home buyers, scent creates an unexpected adjacent content experience on top of looking at bedrooms, view, and landscape. The scent of cookies helps us more deeply imagine this house as “home.”

What are your adjacent content opportunities? How can you pleasantly surprise visitors to your Web site? If you know your industry well, it just takes a little creative thinking to uncover the answers and transform them into something that can be digitally consumed.

Interview with Gene Kathol: Thought Leader and Financial Services Veteran

As a follow-on post to our Thought Leadership 101 blog, we’ve asked Gene Kathol, a respected financial services veteran, to discuss how companies can utilize participation in industry standards activities to increase their visibility and overall market stature. During his 33 year career at First Data, Gene Kathol became one of its most tenured and knowledgeable leaders – and was the company’s representative to industry standards groups both within the United States and internationally, most recently having served as Chairman of both ISO/TC68 and ASC X9, Financial Services.

Gene offers an in the trenches perspective on thought leadership in action with valuable insights on how companies can leverage participation in standard bodies to elevate their company’s profile.

Attain Marketing: From your perspective, why does a company like First Data believe standards participation is important?

Kathol: Using a hockey term, standards participation allows a company to “skate to where the puck will be”. While industry secrets are not divulged during standards development; industry trends, industry-wide developments, foreign developments, and related or adjacent industry developments are often discussed during the development of standards. Knowing where the market or industry will be in the future allows your company to stay viable and reinvent yourself, rather than having your competition reinvent the products you used to provide.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the primary benefits that companies gain by participating in standards groups?

Kathol: First, it is important that your clients’ needs and requirements are included within the industry standards that define your industry. Exceptions and variances to most any product increase production or marketing costs. Second, participation allows you to represent the needs and requirements of your company’s products. In addition to the negative impacts of increases in production or marketing costs by being “out of standard”, there are positive market advantages to be leveraged in the areas of purchasing, development, production, employment, marketing, and sales. The videotape industry comes to mind…Beta was a higher quality and more reliable product, but VHS became the industry standard…and Beta tapes were relegated to the Smithsonian.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion how does participation in the standards bodies demonstrate “thought leadership”?

Kathol: If you’re declaring your company to be an industry leader, you need to act like it. Participation in standards is the right thing to do AND your customers will recognize you for it.

Attain Marketing: What is one of the most unexpected benefits companies can gain through participation in standards work?

Kathol: Companies that get involved in standards work have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best people in the industry and their most influential peers. You never know what opportunity will present itself at the next meeting…maybe you will meet that talented employee you’ve been searching for, forge a productive partnership or earn a new customer.

With all of the buzz today about social networking, everyone is re-thinking the value of their connections. While the verdict is still out for many on how Internet networking may or may not help companies successfully connect with influencers, participation in offline industry forums like standards bodies offers a tried and true form of networking. Whether you are a start up company or the industry guerilla these forums provide a level playing field that can help reinforce your position as a thought leader and industry influencer.

Thought Leadership 101

The point of thought leadership is to express a point of view in the context of market conditions. Most companies focus on their products, functions and features. A real opportunity exists for companies that can paint a vision of the key issues, challenges, needs and requirements that truly concern customers. In doing so companies become an invaluable resource to the media and potential customers.

Future-focused companies that provide meaningful insight and guidance to support buying decisions (vs. just marketing fluff) are often rewarded with more press coverage, better lead generation results, and a shortened sales cycle. To succeed, companies need to directly focus on industry relevant issues and approach the marketplace strategically by building communications platforms that establish credibility and position the company and its stakeholders as subject matter experts.

We’ve boiled down some basics for thought leadership success:

  • Take the 40,000-foot view. Look beyond your technology-focused issues and geeky acronyms. Identify hot trends and determine how your company and products relate to the most current events. Companies should expand their network of contacts and company messaging to embrace the bigger picture. Innovative campaigns like rapid response media programs can provide a systematic approach to introducing your company to key industry influencers who will help bridge the perception gap.
  • Be an evangelist. Select one or several company spokespersons that can be both seen and heard as the voice of your industry. Scrap the tradeshow budget in favor of a limited presence at key venues. Although speaking opportunities can be difficult to secure, event coordinators will bend the rules to accommodate a cool customer case study. Of course you can host your own speaker’s webcast series, but the key is to invest in a good list of prospects to invite to your events. Today’s social media forums like blogs and online communities offer a great vehicle for company evangelism, but avoid preaching. Don’t just follow the herd mentality – taking a controversial position will increase your chances of being heard.
  • Involve customers and partners. Realize that your customers and partners might be very interested in claiming a thought leadership position in new markets as well. Use this to your advantage – instead of asking them to endorse your products, invite them to participate in an industry forum that addresses hot market issues (Thought Leadership webinar example). And for your next product launch tour, offer “select” customers the opportunity to meet with analysts and press to discuss key industry issues and position their company as a visionary – you’ll be much more successful getting them on board and be rewarded with more press coverage had you gone it alone.

The Bottomline: To escape today’s marketing black holes, adopt a thought leadership strategy that elevates both principal and firm above the fray.