Thought leadership – A necessity your team should budget for in 2017
There's no question that a lot of buzz has been surrounding the idea of thought leadership. Building credibility of an organization or business leader is essential in the crowded health IT space. As some want to be seen as a thought leader right off the bat, it’s important to realize that building a lasting reputation is a long-term proposition and requires a strategic approach that helps voice a clear and unique perspective on where the industry is headed and how stakeholders can succeed.
As 2017 is quickly approaching, you and your organization are most likely discussing yearly goals. What is your organization striving to achieve next year? Who are you trying to reach? This is where thought leadership fits into your overall marketing strategy. You might be asking what the mere benefits of thought leadership are. For one, brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership, you become part of the conversation early in the consumer journey and allows your audience to get to know you. Below are a few things that you should consider when building a robust thought leadership program.
Consider business goals. Companies need to take a critical look at their business growth, trajectory and exit strategies, and relay this information to their internal marketing department or PR agency partner so that they can devise a long-term plan together. A company looking towards an IPO, for example, should build up its thought leadership over the course of a few years — with articles in the trade press, social media posts, business publication commentaries and speaking platforms at major investor shows. The end goal of these efforts is to create buzz and increase valuation.
A successful thought leadership program is one that’s built on business goals and objectives. This approach will ensure a compelling, consistent storyline that is also differentiating and stands out. While message and media training can help to polish the spokesperson’s delivery, passion (and passion alone) will take them from good to great. The bottom line is that people are drawn to a leader who’s excited about their cause.
Control the content. Before leaders set out to promote their images and their companies’ messages, they need to control the original content around their brands. By focusing on thought leadership, you can surround yourself and your audience with the right kind of content — content that’s valuable, educational, and engaging.
This starts with having a clear point-of-view and presenting a unique perspective in your industry. Audiences are naturally more engaged with content that takes a definitive side on an issue and are persuaded by a thought leader who takes an unequivocal stand. Here again is where passion is an important characteristic in any thought leader.
The next step is to target the audience. Firing messages far and wide with the hope of hitting some prospects is inefficient and ineffective at building thought leadership. With earned media harder to obtain than ever, companies need to take a deep dive into their target audiences to understand their behaviors and their channel preferences. By conducting this type of microtargeting, companies can strategically develop and share thought leadership content through an integrated strategy for maximum impact.
Lead to action. Taking action is the final, crucial step. In the content, the thought leader should be leading the audience to do something with this information. That means in the conclusion of every piece of content, there should be a call to action, such as to download or watch another piece of thought leadership content.
Throughout this thought leadership program, however, companies need to be creative and break the industry mold. Thought leadership is not static. It needs to evolve over the years as the industry and customer demands change. If you’re successful, then competitors will try to sound like you, which means that the content and messaging needs to be updated to appear relevant and visionary. In other words, you won’t remain a thought leader if every other company is beating you to the punch.
To learn more about thought leadership and four other essential PR trends for 2017, read this Forbes article.
Keep your messaging clean, concise and consistent
Today’s digitally focused, consumer-empowered market demands that companies leverage effective thought leadership to rise above the noise. Yet, getting the right message heard by the right audience is no easy feat. For instance, plenty of health IT companies excel at improving revenue cycle, but that message alone is certain to land somewhere in the weeds of the multitudes taking the same stale communications approach.
Successful, impactful thought leadership requires a deliberate and calculated message. Companies that take the time to first identify their “big” idea and unique voice in the market, and then strategically leverage that message to build relevancy, will come out on top. Here are a few questions to help build targeted thought leadership platforms that get the right attention in a crowded marketplace.
What do we stand for?
It’s one thing to produce a superior product; it’s another to have an identity backing that product. Before a thought leadership communication platform is crafted, a company must first identify and establish its core values.
For instance, is your brand, vision and culture reflected in a driven pursuit of innovation and excellence? Or, are your values steeped in a strong desire to get in the trenches and help customers succeed? While both identities produce a positive company image, they each lend to very different thought leadership approaches.
Once a company understands its core values, it is possible to develop distinct, consistent thought leadership messaging that transcends industry buzzwords and reaches the intended audience.
Who is your audience?
When considering an audience for thought leadership, think narrow as opposed to broad. In other words, companies must go beyond basic demographics to understand the specific nuances of their primary audiences. Valuable information including customer pain points, buying patterns and where potential clients go to get their information can help pinpoint the best thought leadership channels.
Often, qualitative and quantitative research helps. External feedback such as market research, customer surveys and focus groups provide a good starting point, and some organizations also find that investing time and resources into advisory boards is valuable.
Against whom do you compete?
Most companies can name their primary competition. That’s a given. But do you know your competition well enough to craft thought leadership that moves your company’s message out in front of the pack?
For instance, what are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses? What are their core values and messaging tactics? Armed with this kind of information, companies can develop communications that are realistic as to where they sit in the market and takes advantage of competitor approaches.
Also, it’s important to note that just because the competition chooses to weigh in a topic doesn’t mean it’s in your company’s best interest. Understanding competitive differences helps distinguish the good opportunities from the bad.
What’s different about your business?
Today’s consumers are savvier than ever, and the best thought leadership strategies highlight what makes your company unique.
One of the most effective ways of distinguishing a company from the competition is to “show” how it makes a difference. Share positive customer feedback, case study success, survey information and other types of external validation to add credibility and get the message across.
A well-thought-out, consistent thought leadership platform goes a long way to positioning a company for success in the market. The key is starting with right foundation.
To learn more, check out how Kailos partnered with Dodge Communications to generate awareness and strengthen brand loyalty through strategic thought leadership.
Best practices for developing trusted relationships with the media
Effective thought leadership and media relations deliver value that few other promotional strategies can match: free exposure. The news media is a powerful communication vehicle that, when leveraged strategically, can add credibility to messaging and elevate company positioning in the market.
Media relations in an integral part of any public relations strategy, and effective engagement is most consistent when strong relationships exist with targeted news outlets. Here are five ways savvy PR professionals can work with the media to build strong affiliations for long-term success.
Do your research. Before you pitch an idea, ask some key questions about your angle. Is it covered regularly in the media, and if so, what is the approach taken by targeted news outlets? If it’s a common storyline, does your pitch offer a fresh viewpoint? If it’s a new angle, are you ahead of the market?
It’s important to know not only where an idea is positioned in the media but also if competitors are targeting the same thought leadership angle. A simple online search can go a long way towards answering these questions and identifying media outlets that are primed for an idea.
Think like they do. Like any business operation, media outlets want to please their stakeholders. The goal is to provide news and content that is relevant to their audiences and will outperform competitors.
PR professionals who aim to build solid relationships must take a like-minded approach to working with the media. Your aim is make their life easier, and achieving this goal begins with a clear understanding of editorial calendars, thought leadership parameters and the tone and style of each news outlet. A cookie-cutter approach to media relations might achieve some wins, but it isn’t likely to make you the media’s go-to person when needs arise.
Keep it short. A well-honed pitch—whether by phone or email—gets the message across quickly. News outlets are fast-paced, deadline-driven environments, and editors appreciate succinct pitches backed by hard data and facts. When presenting an idea, quickly get to the main points, highlighting the newsworthiness of a topic, why an angle matters to a specific audience and how it will be delivered.
Stand and deliver. Reliability and dependability are critical to media relations. In other words, do what you say you will do and over deliver. Editors are always looking for good content to supplement internal efforts, but if you miss deadlines or fail to adhere to writing guidelines, an editor is likely to look elsewhere for the next assignment regardless of the end product’s merit.
Accessibility is also important. Savvy PR professionals make themselves available and learn to anticipate an editor’s needs. For instance, after an interview or assignment is complete, a reporter may come back to you for additional information such as pictures or visuals. Quick responses to these requests can position you as a go-to person for other last minute interview or content needs up the road.
Make business personal. Treat the media as your customers. Good customer service requires understanding your audience, engaging interpersonally and meeting their needs. While editors will not likely have time for a 30-minute chat, it’s okay to reach out and ask a few questions about how you can best become a resource to them. Most editors and reporters appreciate the opportunity to educate media relations professionals about what is helpful and what is not.
To learn more, check out this in-depth guide to working with the media.
Earned media is not dead - How to gain instant credibility and coverage
The digital age has ushered in a more informed, skeptical consumer. Traditional advertising techniques still hold the power and influence the bottom line as much as they have in years past.
As such, forward-looking public relations and marketing strategies prioritize the role of earned media. Not only does this medium elevate the credibility of a brand, but it also increases the value proposition of content marketing efforts by extending the reach of your message to a broader audience.
Earned media is essentially free promotion garnered by the willingness of other outlets to publish, interview or mention your brand within their distributed content offerings and coverage. Today’s consumers increasingly bypass advertising messages and look to industry-respected voices to help form opinions about various brand. Thus, these tactics—when leveraged in a thoughtful, strategic manner—can pay big dividends for relatively minimal investment. Here are some tips for maximizing your efforts.
Pinpoint the best earned media opportunities. The concept of influencer marketing is receiving a lot of buzz in today’s public relations and marketing circles. With the multitude of earned media opportunities that exist in any industry today, your job is to hone in on those that are sure to reach a target audience.
Ask some key questions: Where does my audience go to get its news? Who in the industry has the greatest influence on public perception and opinion? What outlets are most likely driving sales growth? Think outside the “obvious” box to influencers that can be found in other industries that align with your interests or national associations and groups.
Bring value to the table. Once the right avenues are identified, remember that competition for earned media is high. Thus, making a good impression on a specific industry influencer is an important first step to relationship building. Do your research to understand how this outlet or individual approaches coverage, chooses topics and shares news. In other words, don’t waste an influencer’s time.
Develop a stage presence. While many effective earned media options exist, speaking engagements at industry tradeshows are a category unto themselves. Companies that earn the opportunity to present as subject matter experts on a regional or national level to their peers establishes high-level credibility. Even if you are not chosen as a keynote or session presenter, tradeshows offer unique opportunities for getting your message out to target audiences effectively and efficiently. Company-sponsored educational sessions that bring value to participants go a long way towards credible relationship building.
Get the most out of earned media coverage. Once an influencer is publishing or talking about your brand, take steps to fully leverage the opportunity. While some obvious strategies exist, a little creativity can extend the value proposition far beyond the initial reach. For instance, push out the content on social media channels and incorporate credible earned media messaging into sales strategies and tactics. Link internally developed content such as blogs back to influencer messages, and develop hard copies of coverage to hand out at key industry events. The opportunities are endless.
To learn more, check out this informative blog post that provides reasons why earned media efforts are still worth your investment.