What’s the ROI of thought leadership?

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My journey into thought leadership has been a long one. From interviewing hundreds of industry leaders for my book to my Inc. column and research, and now with speaking and engagements. I’m constantly seeking to learn from as many thought leaders as I can. 

Through all this, one fact has stood out:  thought leadership delivers results. 

The market has never been a simple place. But today’s dynamic world of business is seeing rapid growth in complexity. People are seeking the wisdom and leadership of those with genuine insights. 

Companies and individual leaders that leverage their expertise are rewarded because the demand for thought leadership has never been higher. 

Seeking to further my understanding of thought leadership and its ROI, I decided to speak to three B2B leaders in the emerging tech landscape. Here’s what they had to offer. 

Genuine thought leadership — not repackaged old ideas.

Beneath all the inspiring words and rhetorical flourish lies the core of thought leadership: actionable insights

There’s a disconnect between those who provide genuine thought leadership and those who repackage thought leadership simply to market a product. According to Santo Criscuolo, SVP Strategy, Sales, and Business Development at New Engen, clients know the difference.

Tangible direction, the ability to operationalize an idea at scale, that is where the real fun (and value) begins.

Ideas are wonderful — but they have to coincide with an effective course of action. Santo notes that all too often he sees creative organizations with great ideas and technology floundering due to a lack of operational direction. They know where they want to go — they just don’t know how to get there. This is why true thought leadership offers a tangible direction.

Summing up the philosophy of tangible thought leadership, Santo offers, “Without the ability to execute, an idea may be an entertaining thought exercise but it doesn’t go anywhere. Tangible direction, the ability to operationalize an idea at scale, that is where the real fun (and value) begins.”

Hands-on transparency

According to Jason McClelland, Chief Marketing Officer for Domino Data Lab, there’s a value to hands-on transparency. In Jason’s data-centered business, there’s no room for easy sales strategies. As he puts it, “My clients are data-scientists — they’re on the hunt for BS. These technologists are hands-on and want to see how things are built, so we show them.” This means that most traditional sales tactics would be spotted a mile off. So, his approach is to let prospective clients get hands-on with Domino’s tech and see how it really works. 

My clients are data-scientists — they’re on the hunt for BS. These technologists are hands-on and want to see how things are built, so we show them.

People in today’s business world are getting ever more savvy in their approach. It’s not enough to offer a ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ or gimmicky fluff. Rather, people are looking for the value add every step of the way.

For Jason, the way to provide valuable content is to provide ‘practitioner content’. That is, content geared toward the doers in their industry. Because, if those who make organizations happen find value in your insights — they’ll come to you later with greater and greater needs. 

Bring yourself to the conversation

Thought leadership isn’t about having the final word. Thought leadership is starting and guiding conversations. 

According to Ian Ferguson, Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Alliances of Lynx Software Technologies, “You’re not going to be right for everyone all the time.” The best way to get yourself into a dynamic, competitive landscape is to provide value right off the bat.

You’re not going to be right for everyone all the time.

Ian finds the best way to offer value is by providing a constant stream of educational content. By providing valuable content and resources, people will utilize these. The end result — being included in all the right conversations.

Final Thoughts

Thought leadership is not an easy marketing technique, but a company-wide strategy for providing value. It’s not an investment to take lightly but delivers serious returns. 

The ultimate value in providing thought leadership is the trust and authority you build with your clients and customers. The long-term value that this authority confers may not be easy to calculate — but it is the factor that makes the difference between stagnation and growth, decline and staying power. 

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