Why is "thought leadership" so important to you?
I have asked a lot of people this question over the years, and I'm curious to know how you answer. Why is thought leadership important for your company?
The most common answers I hear (including my own at one point) typically fail to meet the one critical test for whether it's even a good business goal to begin with. How does it impact sales?
When I was first asked this question, I was speaking to a representative at Hubspot about their marketing tool and how it could help us deliver value to our clients, and, subsequently, Orange Pegs.
At the time, we were undergoing a relatively significant transition from being a social media marketing agency to a turn-key business growth firm specializing in inbound marketing. Among other things, I knew that we needed to incorporate blogging into our delivery model, and I even knew that inbound was the methodology we needed to adopt.
But, apparently, I didn't know why.
My answer was "thought leadership."
I regretted saying it the moment the words passed through my lips, because I knew right away how ridiculous it sounded as an end-game goal. Unless you're a motivational speaker where you make a living sharing your brain, it's not a target you want to be aiming for. Most of our followers come from staffing, software, accounting, and e-commerce, and none of those qualify.
That certainly wasn't ever my plan as a business owner, although there's something VERY appealing about making money off of my stream of consciousness. But, ultimately, in my mind, achieving the status of "thought leader" was always a means to an end.... that end, being sales.
I know it's the same for you as well... but where it falls short is figuring out how, exactly, to convert "thought leadership" into revenue, and how to replicate and scale that success.
1. No way to measure or monetize
My number one complaint about "thought leadership" as a goal is that there is no viable way to measure it. You can have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, but how, exactly, do followers impact your business?
This is a Pandora's box to some. Because yes, I am going to ask this question about all of your sales and marketing investments. How, exactly, do you turn blog posts into revenue? How do you turn social media klout into revenue?
Those are your ultimate objectives, so let's forget (for now) about becoming internet famous.
2. Chicken & egg syndrome
If monetization weren't enough of a barrier, let's talk about how you intend on getting your followers to begin with. REAL social klout takes time and a dedicated investment in social media. You can't legitimately pay somebody to dump a hundred thousand followers in your account the next day that you can spam with ads.
That's not how social media works. The key ingredient is that you must be social.
When you buy followers, you're only buying the appearance of followers. They are not real people who will interact with your feed, and even if they did, they're never going to buy from you or refer you to somebody who will. They create an illusion.
I suppose you could make the argument that priming the tip jar is how you get people to feel bad and open their wallets. So, once you spent that $50 and have your 1,000 - 10,000 followers, how do you intend on leveraging your purchased klout into viable sales activity?
I'm going to switch gears mid-stream. Let's also talk about what it means to really earn that title as thought leader. Look at your favorites. Who are they? Are they folks who've made a living as one, like Tony Robbins? Or, are they successful entrepreneurs who embraced social media like Mark Cuban or Richard Branson? Maybe they're more niche than that, but let's look at what they all have in common...
I'll go out on a limb and assert that most of them achieved their success first, then, when the stage was set, channeled existing public interest into a marketing tool. Others have dedicated their lives and careers to motivational speaking and coaching. If I'm wrong, tell me in the comments section. I would LOVE to hear from you on the subject.
3. It's a side-effect, not a goal
How will you ever know if you reached your goal as a thought leader?
Let's try this - let's go back to my original point about monetization. The end-game is sales. So, let's look at the different methods for achieving thought leader status that you were considering:
- Social media
Here's the good news: ALL of those can be leveraged to increase sales. You just need to rethink the ultimate goal.
Luckily, the inbound marketing methodology (tell me more about inbound) was developed to leverage the exact kinds of activities listed above for achieving the holy Grail of business objectives: sales. The WHOLE premise of inbound is to lead prospective customers through their buyer's journey through educational content.
Social media and blogging are great tools for generating traffic to your website, so if you use them for that purpose, not only do you have a tangible, meaningful goal for them, but you can measure its overall impact.
There are other things you want to incorporate as well, such as SEO (what is that?), so your brand is speaking the language of your buyers, but these are tools for traffic... good traffic, sure, but that's it.
Webinars and other offers that require people to exchange their contact information to have access are great tools for converting visitors into leads. So, the ultimate goal here is to generate leads.
Mind you, if your leads are coming in through these channels, and you're providing great, engaging content, inevitably, your prospects and customers are going to look up to your company as being a... dare I say it, "thought leader."
More importantly, those leads are going to fuel your growth. Learn more about the methodology with this Guide to Getting Started with Inbound.
Your business or some representative of it (like your CEO) will be a thought leader the minute somebody tells you that your pitch (online) is valuable enough to give you their email address and open the doors to your company's advances.
Focus on sales through inbound, and the rest will come. At least, that's how I see it.
Want a tool to help you focus on the right marketing objectives? We developed this handy GROWTH PLAN BUILDER to help you visualize how to turn digital marketing activities into actual revenue: