Customer-obsessed marketing

B2B Thought Leadership? Not So Much . . .

Laura Ramos
Vice President, Principal Analyst
April 4, 2013

What does it take to become a thought leader in your market?  

Deep understanding of what inspires your customers (or keeps them awake at night), executive commitment, companywide involvement, and authentic generosity. 

Unfortunately, most business-to-business (B2B) marketers fall short when they publish promotional content or threadbare case studies masquerading as thought leadership.

At least that's what I found when researching my latest — and first — publication since returning to Forrester. (Please take a look and rate/share what you think!)

Great marketing content can fuel your company's demand generation engine. It can boost your brand's visibility to key audiences and bump aside competitors. Most of all, it attracts buyers interested in the types of challenges your company can solve. Because, as successful marketing execs know, business buyers don't buy your products and services; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.

Thought leadership is different. And it's rare.

It sits at the pinnacle of good market-facing content production but takes the long view toward the business results it produces. When successful, it engages buyers in an exchange of ideas that delivers value to both sides — buyers and sellers — while positioning your firm as a trusted source of great information. And the market, not your marketing department, tells you when your stuff reaches true thought-leading status.

One of my favorite examples of great thought leadership comes from TEDMED. (Disclosure: In 2011, I managed the Xerox sponsorship for TEDMED, so I admit to having both background and bias on this topic.)

Last year, TEDMED asked conference delegates and the broader healthcare community to select a list of complex, persistent problems with medical and nonmedical causes that affect millions of lives and the well-being of our nation. The resulting list of 20 Great Challenges of Health and Medicine are knotty problems that require cross-disciplinary discussion. TEDMED and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored a year-long dialog around these challenges involving doctors, scientists, researchers, technology innovators, business and government leaders, patients, legal experts, and the media. TEDMED used digital technology like Google Hangouts, video, and Twitter to open this discussion to the world and get a broad national debate started around what it would take to solve big issues like reducing childhood obesity, dealing with the caregiver crisis, and eliminating medical errors. They will share outcomes of this discussion during their Washington D.C. conference in two weeks

I like the 20 Great Challenges because it shows the power technology brings to raising awareness — and engaging a huge community in a value-based exchange of ideas — around important issues of broad concern. Imagine what it would require in cost and resources to bring these many people together in person to debate these issues. It's a great example of both thought leadership and the power of digital to disrupt the status quo. It also shows TEDMED's commitment to imagining the future of health and medicine today and to making the world healthier. I believe that's true thought leadership. What do you think?

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