Category Archives: Content Marketing

Thought Leadership: Worth the Challenge to Achieve It

Thought leadership is worth it – but it’s hard to achieve, explains Aden Andruswriting in Disrupting Advertising.  He explains that thought leadership is much more than simply social shares or backlinks.  “True thought leadership”, he details, “makes people want to work with you and [it] has a huge impact on your bottom line.” “People respond best”, he explains, “when you create real value for them.”

In the case of his own efforts to generate a thought leadership position for his client company – excellent content produced significantly higher organic traffic and 32 times more organic lead volume – over a two-year period of committed thought leadership efforts.

He explains, however, that “any good blog editor knows that more organic ‘leads’ is not the same thing as more organic sales.”  Two years after his thought leadership efforts began, he noted, his company generated 64 times more revenue

“So, does thought leadership generate meaningful business results?”, he asks. “Absolutely. In fact, if you do it right, becoming a thought leader in your industry is one of the most effective ways to build your business.”

Practical Advice on How to Achieve Thought Leadership Status

Julie Schwartz writes in ITSMA blog that “marketing can’t do thought leadership alone… if it does, the output will be promotion, not thought leadership.” Marketing, she explains, “must get the buy-in, support, and commitment of executives and subject matter experts to become part of the idea-generating and dissemination process.”  She further notes that the success of any thought leadership effort “requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire company”.

Schwartz details 4 key elements for any organization to successfully achieve thought leadership status:

  1. Thought leadership efforts must connect deeply with target audiences need and goals
  2. Fact-based research is essential to establishing a more credible thought leadership
  3. Organizations must develop engines for idea development as well as dissemination (often, but not exclusively, social media based). “McKinsey and Bain have had these [initiatives] for decades, [and] more mainstream B2B companies are now making the same kind of thought leadership marketing transformation”, she noted.
  4. Concrete metrics used to judge success are required, and they are: Reputation Relationships and Revenue.

Further Considerations if You’re Contemplating Thought Leadership 

Julie Schwartz and Aden Andrus explain with precision the reasons why thought leadership works to increase revenue and can be achieved via specific steps taken by an organization (not only marketing).  They both also cite the need to measure the effort as against revenue.  I’d note that when considering who might be appointed to undertake responsibility for the editorial process of such an effort – consider appointing someone who understands the intersection of business development and content marketing.  Too, that this person has deep experience in researching and writing thought leadership publications.  And finally, that this person also understands fully the mechanisms by which inbound marketing and content production fit in the mix between outbound sales and business development.

Thought leadership, as is explained above – is not easy to achieve.  It takes time, patience, and the work of both marketing professionals, writers and subject matter experts.  Working together, however, these professionals can help an organization achieve substantial revenue growth.  Which begs the question:  If you’re not focused on building a thought leadership effort – shouldn’t you be considering it?

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Want to achieve thought leadership status? Hire a professional writer

If you work in a large business that is seeking to become an industry thought leader, the assistance of a professional writer is imperative to achieve success.

As thought leadership expert Russ Alan Prince has detailed in Forbes, competition for high-caliber clients is “becoming more intense”, and thought leadership has become a powerful way to secure new business amid a sea of “increasingly fungible” competitors.

McKinsey & Company is the example to aspire to

The bar to superior thought leadership is a high one.  The leader in thought leadership for professional services is, as Prince explains, McKinsey & Company, who first published McKinsey Quarterly in the 1960’s.  It’s effectiveness, he details, “has resulted in many other management consulting firms following suit”.

Vital for firms to consider is Prince’s prediction that: “There will be an increasing bifurcation…between the relative few [firms] that are thought leaders and the majority that are not.”  

Becoming a thought leader requires hard work

But Prince also cautions that: “More often than not the biggest obstacle to a professional services firm becoming a thought leader…is a willingness to put in the requisite hard work.” Firms aspiring to thought leadership, he explains “have to seriously commit to the endeavor, or they should avoid it altogether.”

He cites Hannah Shaw Grove, Executive Editor of Private Wealth magazine, who explains that: “‘originality and quality are the keys to lasting success as a thought leader. The barriers to entry are pretty low right now; virtually anyone can make a three-minute video or produce a six-page white paper. But if you can demonstrate depth of knowledge and bring fresh insights to areas and industries that have suffered from decades of conventional thinking you have the ability to transform the game. Nothing else will make the cut.’”

Why a professional writer is helpful

Any large organization seeking to become a thought leader requires a professional writer.  As Maria Wood explains on McGuire Editorial Blog, corporate CEO’s under tight time constraints regularly utilize the services of ghost-writers to help them craft “thought-provoking articles that build their personal brand and show their companies as cutting edge pioneers in their respective industry.”

Addressing corporate content marketing managers specifically, she explains her reasoning for the need to hire ghost writers capable of producing thought leadership pieces: “You know that your company’s leadership and other individual experts in your organization hold a lot of valuable insights in their heads, but you’ll never get them to sit down and write a “big idea” piece.”  “But”, she continues, “you’re hesitant to do thought leadership writing for several reasons: Writing isn’t your CEO’s forte (as it isn’t for many executives and entrepreneurs), and the process would take precious time away from his or her real job of building and growing the business. Fortunately, working with a ghostwriter provides the perfect answer to those challenges.”

“A great ghostwriter”, she explains, “elicits expertise and enthusiasm during… interviews [with corporate leaders]”. A ghostwriter then helps put into writing a CEO’s “big ideas and point of view”. She concludes by explaining how: “A packed schedule shouldn’t prevent your leadership from [publishing thought leadership]. If they don’t have the time to craft a stellar article personally, hire a ghostwriter.”

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5 digital thought leadership platforms worth emulating

Thought leadership initiatives require social media platforms in order to succeed, according to a 2015 article in Law Practice Today by Guy Alvarez, founder and CEO of Good2bSocial, and Lee Garfinkle, chief marketing and business development officer of the Americas at Allen & Overy LLP.

They explain that a thought leader is someone whose views on a subject are recognized as a major influence in their field.  But they note that in the internet age, access to useful information is easy to access, making the achievement of thought leadership more difficult. Thought leaders, they explain, should also seek to actively and consistently understand their client’s businesses and the challenges they face.

Owned social media channels also important to achieving thought leadership status

Alvarez and Garfinkle underscore the importance of harnessing not only social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn to both publish and engage, but the need to utilize owned channels like a firm blog.  This permits firms wishing to achieve thought leadership status access to data on readers which can then be utilized to improve thought leadership efforts, as well as for business development purposes.

While Twitter and LinkedIn can be utilized to broadcast, engage and collect market research on existing and prospective clients, they will not provide the depth and breadth of information an owned blog will. The digital marketing and social marketing ecosystem created by a digital thought leadership platform, they explain, will with time and perseverance lead you to a thought leadership position in your industry.

Integrating thought leadership social media with business development

Integrating thought leadership social media efforts with your business development strategy is vital. As Liz Cerasuolo, Stefanie Marrone and Gina F. Rubel advise in a recent article on Law.com: “Develop a lead-focused content strategy” in order to effectively convert prospective clients into new clients.  This includes placing calls to action in your thought leadership articles, funneling inbound new leads into your business development team and working closely with them to create thought leadership they can use in their engagement with prospective clients.

Plan for the challenge of producing consistent thought leadership content

It’s also vital to consider the time commitment required to publish regular, thought-provoking, and client-centric thought leadership.  To do this, firms need to work with a professional writer capable of not only articulating your ideas in writing to your key audiences, while also helping you adhere to ambitious publishing goals (e.g. four blogposts per month).  Most professional writers who focus on marketing as a niche are also often very capable of assisting you adopt and manage all the relevant social media channels you may need to create the all-inclusive digital platform Alvarez and Garfinkle recommend.

5 examples of thought leadership effectively integrated with social media

With all this in mind it’s important to consider who already appears to be working toward perfecting these efforts in their own industry niches in various parts of the world.  While there are many examples of what might be considered excellent digital thought leadership platforms, I’ve selected 5 which you may wish to emulate (and perhaps you know of others you’ve already contemplated emulating).  Each is not only utilizing its’ own blog, but is also active on important social media channels to distribute content and engage with key audiences:

  1. UPS Longitudes – As United Parcel Service explains: “UPS created this blog as a forum to share not just our thoughts and views on the trends reshaping the global economy, but those of the true thought leaders in topics ranging from trade to transportation, ecommerce to emerging markets, Big Data to … well, whatever the future holds.” View it here: https://longitudes.ups.com/
  2. World Economic Forum — As the BBC reported in 2016— in the past few years – WEF has gone from opposition to social media use – to a highly active and successful example of its’ best use. Read a more extensive description of their social media success here. And view their site here: https://www.weforum.org/.
  3. Interel – Interel is “an integrated global public affairs and association management consultancy…with offices in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Beijing & New Delhi, along with [a] worldwide network of affiliate firms.” View their blog here: https://interelgroup.com/blog/
  4. Corporate Finance Associates is an investment banking firms serving middle-market companies in North America. Their blog is located here: http://www.cfaw.com/blog/
  5. King & Wood Malleson’s China Law Insight – This multinational law firm with a substantial China mainlaind presence blogs in both English and Chinese on their blog, located here: https://www.chinalawinsight.com/

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How to use online content marketing to increase Middle-Market deal flow

Sophisticated content about the details of the Midmarket deal making process will generate more deal flow for Middle Market advisors, according to a webinar conducted by John Carvalho, President of Divestopedia and Stone Oak Capital Inc.

The webinar, entitled The Changing World of Private Equity Deal Sourcing, notes how the Middle market deal space is extremely crowded, but that great deal sourcing practices can significantly help middle market advisors source more deals.  

Online publishing complements traditional deal flow efforts

Notably, Carvalho details the tremendous cost and effort some Mid-Market advisors are currently making to source good deals.  In some cases, this deal sourcing requires travel of up to 30 weeks a year, with spends of between $450,000 to 1 million annually.

He explains how an online strategy would make these efforts more efficient and less costly.  A sophisticated online effort that strengthens your firm’s brand awareness would sit beside other sophisticated deal flow initiatives, including a carefully defined deal focus, more interaction with M&A intermediaries, and increased targeting of companies that might sell. Importantly, Carvalho explains that if more relevant and high quality deal flow finds you from this online effort, it’s succeeding.  

Carvalho also cites industry thought leader on the subject, David Teten, who has identified 5 best practices to generating more deal flow, which are the establishment of a specialised outbound origination program, via the deployment of a dedicated business development professional, creating opportunities instead of waiting for them, targeting companies that are flashing deal signals, installing a CRM system, and leveraging social media. Also important to note: Another industry leader in advocating social media use by Mid-Market advisors, Axial, in a survey of their members, found that 89% of CEOs research potential contacts online before doing anything else.

There’s scepticism about social media in the Middle Market, but it does work

Carvalho notes that there’s a lot of scepticism about social media among Mid-Market advisors, hence they’ve been slow adaptors. He explains that there’s a perception that deal flow found online may be low quality. And that Middle-Market dealmaking is seen as a relationship business, which social media will never replace.  Efficiencies can, however, be achieved, as Carvalho explains, by initiating connections online that become conduits to deals.

As a counter to the scepticism about social media, Carvalho notes that social media should be seen simply as a distribution channel to increase outreach. He cites in particular how:

  • Social media savvy Millennials already in corporate decision-making positions are increasingly turning to social media to find Middle-Market advisors  
  • Indirect online-generated relationships can be a significant source of deal opportunities.  
  • Educational content can build brand and build investment leads.  
  • Among the top reasons companies select a Middle-Market advisor is brand recognition and the firm’s demonstrated expertise (which online content marketing can amplify).
  • The Riverside Companies have said their brand recognition helps bring in more deals.

Designing a middle market focused social media strategy

Carvalho details how there should be 4 goals for an online social media strategy for a Middle-Market advisor: Build Brand; Drive Traffic; Demonstrate Expertise; and Generate Leads.

What type of content?

There’s an appetite from the C-Suite to learn more about the deal process. The most successful forms of content involve digging deeper into topics and issues for business owners to know about before doing transactions – things beyond the superficial. Middle-Market advisory firms, therefore, can create content from their experience in dealmaking, Carvalho explains. Case studies, videos, and articles about the process can be created from this experience. But most firms don’t have staff able to do this, he details (this is where firms can work with a social media savvy writer with knowledge of the Middle Market, to help them develop and distribute content)

Which distribution channels?

Deal sourcing platforms, your firm website, third party publications, and social media sites including LinkedIn and Twitter (the two prime sources for promoting midmarket content, with YouTube becoming more popular) are ideal as distribution channels for your online content, Carvalho detailed. He also suggests the possibility of using sites not often used by mid-market advisors as a means by which to generate even more exposure.  In a workplace increasingly composed of millenials (35% of the workforce by 2020), expanding the scope of your sophisticated online presence is an important long-term strategy to consider for expanding deal flow

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How to write blog posts that generate new client leads

The ultimate goal of any content marketing initiative is to generate new potential client leads.  

Julie Neidlinger, writing in Single Grain, explains that: “There’s a general misunderstanding among most bloggers: you think that simply getting people to read what you’ve written is the point.  In an ideal world, they just read your blog post and immediately (and happily) sign up for your newsletter, download your “ultimate guide,” and head on over to your online store. Your amazing content leads to conversions which translates to cold hard cash in the bank. It’s as simple as that, right? Yes, that is what can happen. That is what should happen. But as long as you hold on to that initial misunderstanding, that isn’t what will happen. The truth is, readers don’t automatically become customers. They tend to stay readers unless you make a concerted effort to convert them into a customer.” [emphasis added]

How to generate leads from blog posts

Strong Social has detailed what is required to avoid the pitfall Julie Neidlinger details above — and create successful, lead-generating blog posts.  Their recommendations include:

  • Be clear and concise — “Clarity is the key to mutual understanding between you and your customers.” This requires removing excessive language in blogposts.
  • Ensure your blog posts are client-centric.
  • Break the blogpost up into subheadings and bullet points –  They cite a Nielsen Norman Group study which “found that 79% of readers skim, while only 16% read every word on a page. Breaking up your page with subheads and bullets will make it easier for those 79% to digest the copy—and ultimately take a desired action—on your website.”
  • Avoid buzzwords and industry jargon which can reduce the clarity of your message.
  • Include a compelling call to action — The call to action (CTA) is one of the most important aspects of web copywriting. Ensure the reader knows what to do next. This is perhaps the most important element of a good blogpost, as well as perhaps the most overlooked.
  • Be aware of the web copy your direct competitors are using as a means to keep fully up-to-date with the market.
  • Know your audience — Understand their needs and address them in your blogposts. “Figure out why people buy your product or service, how they buy it, what they use it for, and what really matters to them.”

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Harold Evans explains “why writing well matters”

Former editor of Britain’s Sunday Times and Editor at Large for Reuters Sir Harold Evans explained why he’s driven crazy by a lot of the “increasingly incomprehensible” business language today in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.  “What Orwell predicted would happen has happened” he told Rose, in introducing his recent book entitled “Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters.”  The book is now a New York Times Bestseller which The Financial Times calls: “practical advice for those seeking to improve their writing skills.”

Evans explained the increasing incomprehensibility, citing the example of a friend who got a call from someone who wanted to help him sell a company.  The caller, Evans detailed, identified the sale as a “liquidation event” instead of referring to it in more simple terms.

He says he wrote the book “because euphemisms are used more than they should be” — and that  “with the arrival of digital – the velocity of information is speeding up.  To find the real message [it] takes longer than it should ‘because there’s so much verbiage’”.

Evans identifies 10 ways to make writing clearer:

  1. Get moving – use the active voice.  Passive voice creates more words and is harder to understand.
  2. Be specific – all great writing focuses on simple, concrete terms – not abstractions
  3. Ration adjectives and raise adverbs
  4. Cut the fat – check the figures
  5. Organize for clarity — sentences should be short because they’re easier to understand and speak
  6. Be positive – sentences should assert a positive instead of a negative
  7. Don’t be a bore
  8. Put people first. Using a healthcare example, Evans advises: use a name — not a case number
  9. Propositions are pesky and can confuse who’s doing what
  10. Down with monologophobia — don’t be afraid of using the same word twice

Evans’ life and career

Evans love of journalism began in World War 2 – where he encountered a soldier who’d died of tuberculosis at 27.  Evans explained how he became “obsessed by many bad things that were hidden” in Britain’s railways and coal mines.  He made his name in helping investigative teams for the UK’s Sunday Times – in particular his work on exposing the treatment of babies impacted by thalidomide — as well as the Kim Philby spy case.  He later worked for US News and World Report and Conde Nast. He explained the difference between British and US journalism:  In American journalism news and opinion are separate.  In the UK, he explained, opinion-editorial and news were fused during his career.

Evans went on to detail how he first fell in love with the writing of Tina Brown, then a writer for the Times and later Tatler, Vanity Fair and the Daily Beast. He later fell in love with Brown herself and they’ve been married ever since.  “Long may you flourish as the Great interpreter of American life”, he told Rose to end the interview.

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