Being a “thought leader” has become cliché.
That’s what most brands and most content marketers aspire to be, however. They want to be visionaries; oracles of their respective fields. It seems like an attractive position to occupy, but is visionary, forward-looking content really what all content marketers should aspire for?
No. Quite frankly, not all companies’ positions justify thought leadership. So how can you tell if your company should be a thought leader?
Assess Your Brand on 3 Dimensions:
1) Nature of the Customer Relationship (Transactional vs. Collaborative) – This is the most important factor. Being an effective thought leader means that you need the market’s attention. If the attention that you have is fleeting, you likely don’t have time to position yourself as a thought leader. Transactional customer interactions are often brief, while collaborative interactions (where you act more as a partner to your customers) are far longer lasting and provide more attention. The same can often be said for the sales cycles for transactional vs. collaborative products and services. Note that transactional relationships may act more like collaborative ones if you have a high rate of repeat business and your products / services are of a high perceived value to the customer; it’s not just about how a single buying journey behaves.
Example: Contract research organizations have highly collaborative customer relationships and are well served by acting as thought leaders. It’s important that these companies demonstrate their knowledge. Companies selling general lab equipment are far more transactional and have less to gain from a thought leadership position.
2) Complexity of Your Products or Services – If your products / services are complex or technologically advanced, this provides a greater opportunity for thought leadership. Customers are more likely to want to take the time to understand the market, and you have more room to play the role of a visionary. To use an example we can all relate to: lots of people want to know about tomorrow’s smartphones. Few people are interested in tomorrow’s socks. You could make the same comparison between sequencers and old-school thermal cyclers.
3) Ambiguity Within Your Market – If the average customer knows very little about your market and / or the products / services within it, there is a greater opportunity to be a thought leader. Ambiguity generally leads to difficult purchasing decisions. Through thought leadership you can create clarity and understanding for your audience, and your audience will in turn reward you with its business.
What to Do If You’re Not a Thought Leader
If you’re not a thought leader, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing. Thought leadership is only one approach to content marketing. Being one of the most popular approaches, there’s a lot of competition for the position of thought leader. Doing something else can actually be an easier way to achieve customer engagement (remember, your content is a product which must be differentiated as well). Some ideas include:
- Be better at formatting information. You don’t have to be the first to say something if you can say it better than others. Take some of the best ideas you can find and package them into more appealing formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive content.
- Provide something other than knowledge. Not all content has to be about information. Share something else. Entertaining content is the default alternative, but get creative.
- Go past content and develop resources for your scientist-customers that deliver greater value and go further in helping them solve their problems. Get outside the box of “content” as we know it and think more about what problems they have and how your brand can help solve them.
- Be practical. Scientists may not want or expect you to be a thought leader, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need information. Offer simple, to-the-point content that helps them streamline their buying journey and reach a better outcome.
Don’t get caught into thinking you need to win some kind of information war to succeed at content marketing. While some brands may be best served by a thought leadership position, for many it’s easier and more productive to shoot for something else. There are certainly plenty of options.