Advertising isn’t about showing what you know. That’s the job of thought leadership marketing.
One of our newer clients said something to me yesterday that I think helps explain why thought leadership marketing has become so important for many companies. He said the leaders of his consulting firm now recognize they need to demonstrate their expertise to potential customers – not merely say they have it.
In other words, they need to show what they know, not just claim it.
That’s not what advertising is about. Advertising simply claims that a product or service is the best one to solve a certain problem. Making these claims in the most appealing and memorable ways, and making them many times with the right audiences (the old “frequency and reach”), is the basis of modern advertising.
That’s important for many B2B companies, too. But advertising isn’t about showing what you know. That’s the job of thought leadership marketing.
So why is “showing what you know” so important today for many B2B companies? I see three fundamental reasons:
- Easy-to-find solutions. It’s much easier for customers today to find a wide range of potential solutions to their issues than in the past. Before the emergence of high-powered search engines and multitudinous websites, buyers of everything from consulting expertise to oil drilling equipment had to look very hard for providers. Today they can easily find dozens or hundreds by typing a few words into Google. However, when those all claim they’re great, how can a customer decide who goes on the short list? By understanding your unique insights into his firm’s problem. By putting up a website with lots of strong educational content on the challenges your company solves and how it solves them, over time you’ll rise up the ranks in search results and attract more customers.
- Rising customer complexity. The complexity of many customers’ business problems – the reasons they buy your legal advice, enterprise software system, training program or other B2B offering – has continually increased for decades. For example, buying an enterprise software system requires significant technical and business process expertise. How will the system change the way we sell and market? Exactly how will those changes bring us more customers? Is the additional revenue worth the purchase price of the system? At its best, thought leadership creates order from chaos for executives who must make good decisions. It helps them wade through the confusion and shorten their purchasing process, shortening also the time it takes them to solve their problems.
- Growing purchasing risk. The risk of choosing the wrong solution to a key business problem can be substantial. A bad business strategy from a consulting firm, the wrong enterprise software package, an inferior leadership training program, or a badly designed new office building can all have a big impact. For your customers, there could be a lot more riding on their decision to hire you than you realize. That’s why many of them want you to demonstrate much more knowledge about their problems than you may have had to demonstrate in the past. Their company’s welfare – and often their own career welfare – may be riding on it.
Next time your boss asks something to the effect of, “Again, why are we doing thought leadership?” or “Why are we spending so much on thought leadership?” you might say it’s because customers want your firm to show what it knows, and not just claim it.
Originally published 09/08/2016