The tech industry stands at a critical juncture. The consequences of the fake it till you make it culture have come home to roost, opening a yawning trust gap between companies, their customers and the society they so earnestly promised to uplift.
In this environment, enterprise tech thought leaders must take up their responsibility to contribute to a smarter conversation – by providing valuable information and intelligence to the audiences they want to influence. Of course, they’re busy building businesses, leaving it to their marketing directors to find creative new avenues to break through the noise in an information-saturated world. In our work with clients at the growth stage and enterprise level, we’ve sniffed out a few of those paths. Here are six ways to build a holistic thought leadership program that will resonate with enterprise technology buyers.
1. Understand Your Audience by Mapping Personas and Journeys
Before developing a PR and marketing plan, it’s critical to develop a stronger understanding of your best customers, where they’re coming from and the journey that will lead them to you:
- Interview customers and the sales team to develop what we call an audience proto persona – a brief tactical snapshot that helps you get aligned more nimbly so you can better anticipate what customers need and how to reach them efficiently in ways that matter.
- Perform market intelligence to ensure your approach and message deliver something exceptional to the people you want to reach.
- Develop a journey map to help you reach your customers in the awareness, consideration, nurturing and conversion stages.
2. Define and Develop a Signature POV
- Once you gain a strong understanding of your different audiences and can prioritize them, it’s time to develop a narrative for your company through a signature point of view that explains why you’re doing what you’re doing to the people that matter.
- Write out and share your vision, informed by the conversations you’ve had with your community of customers.
- We like Simon Sinek’s Start With Why framework as a guide.
3. Launch and Sustain Public Relations
- Once your customer journey and narrative are developed, your marketing team can incorporate your vision into planning and structuring milestone announcements including product launches, pivots, M&A activity and important new hires.
- The complexity of the business drives how much is required here, so prioritize where you’re going to start before allowing the planning process to get too big. We expect and like a high degree of iteration in this process.
4. Plan and Execute Proactive Media Relations
- Reach out to journalists whose work you, your network and your best customers like and respect; offer them meaningful interactions with your leadership team, and R&D team if appropriate. It’s important to play the long game here. You are not looking for coverage out of the gate, so much as for relationships that are useful to journalists (which in turn must be useful to their readers and, only then, to you).
- For a client who leads an international network of startup accelerators, we invited several journalists to come check out the flagship accelerator in New York. The next day a few reporters posted pieces based on things they heard; others came back to the subject after a few weeks. But the most powerful story came from a journalist who did not return to the subject for many months and seemed for a long time like she would never write about the accelerator. She was not going to risk her very considerable credibility sharing how unique the accelerator was until she knew its ins and outs, had independently corroborated what she saw and heard, had seen the character of our client. And, most importantly, not until the story was relevant to her readers. Expecting a transactional sequence – “come see us, then write about us” – would have been shortsighted.
5. Develop a Content Strategy
One of the biggest challenges many of our tech clients face is establishing a content strategy. There are several effective ways to implement a customer-centric approach to focus your narrative and plan its execution.
- Host a summit with key stakeholders to hash out and agree on your key messages and points of differentiation
- Articulate a content strategy, which is really a plan for consistent storytelling and sharing ideas, and set an editorial calendar for publishing.
6. Promote Your Leaders for Executive Visibility
- As one of our most successful founder-clients likes to say, even in big-ticket enterprise sales, people buy people, not technology.
- Continue to refine the conversation tested through the work described above and build it out through the presence of leadership and partners so that a beneficial cycle takes root in which the thought leadership the business shares and develops through its community continues to serve as a reference in the marketplace, where it can be tested with other thought leaders.
These six steps can lay the foundation for a strong thought leadership program. If you want to differentiate your organization, your aim as a marketer is to contribute skillfully to the conversations that matter to your customers, as well as your investors. In an era of rampant noise, ideas that serve your audience and perspectives that help them comprehend and thrive in an era of unpredictability and mistrust deserve to be heard.
Chris provides high quality advice to clients in executive positioning, social media and crisis management.
When not reading books about military conflicts or visiting battlefields, he enjoys contemporary art and following American and English soccer.