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How To Make Your Next Thought Leadership Program a Success

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How To Make Your Next Thought Leadership Program a Success

In the late 1990s, I searched the internet (yes, it existed) to figure out what people meant by the relatively new concept of thought leadership connected to corporate branding.

Since then, I’ve developed thought leadership campaigns for many global brands. And, today, nearly every B2B marketer uses thought leadership in their content marketing strategy.

But despite its effectiveness and staying power, the concept still isn’t well understood – nor is it used to its potential.

What is thought leadership really?

Business leaders and marketers slap the “thought leadership” label onto a lot of marketing activities. Some narrowly define it. Others, as Forrester principal analyst Lisa Gately did at Content Marketing World, define it as  “an intentional exercise of knowledge, skills, and expertise to increase awareness, elevate perception, and drive preference related to key issues that an audience cares about.”

To me, thought leadership shouldn’t be defined too narrowly or too expansively. Thought leadership is the strategic and well-planned coming together of original research and compelling, purpose-built marketing content to engage a defined audience.

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Some use my definition more specifically for “industry thought leadership” because it captures macro trends affecting business and works for existing and prospective clients.

#ThoughtLeadership is the well-planned coming together of original research and compelling marketing #content for a defined audience, says @JanieJaniehulse via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

But the goal remains the same: to position your company as an authority on a topic by providing useful insights independent of your brand’s products and services.

In other words, don’t approach thought leadership as a commodity, reducing it to listicles or unsubstantiated infographics, as fellow writer Jonathan Crossfield warns. Thought leadership is not a single interview with a CEO, a webinar about new solutions, or a blog article about a product.

Thought leadership in content marketing relies on original or novel research. It combines the rigor of an independent academic study with the sizzle of a targeted ad campaign. It’s difficult to pull off and often takes a village of researchers, analysts, writers, editors, UX specialists, digital designers, videographers, IT managers, project managers, and media strategists.

Example: Oral health brand Haleon supported a fantastic thought leadership piece – the Health Inclusivity Index (registration required) produced by The Economist Group. It brings together professionals from around the world to build a program that combines both substance and sizzle. It combines data, case studies, and multiple content formats to create a go-to thought leadership resource on the topic.

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Boost your credibility and be useful

Regardless of the means, well-planned and executed thought leadership campaigns educate the target audience on broader macro trends and relevant implications for their business. But let’s face it; executives are busy people looking for ways to propel their businesses forward and bolster their own knowledge bank and expertise. They don’t need an overly prescriptive narrative; they want easy-to-understand thought leadership with helpful key takeaways.

Executives don’t need overly prescriptive narratives. They want easy-to-understand #ThoughtLeadership with helpful takeaways, says @JanieJaniehulse via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Example: The 53-page report, Opportunity 2030: The Standard Chartered SDG Investment Map, serves this purpose for the British multinational bank (Standard Chartered) and is supported by Oxford Analytica research. It crystalizes and visualizes the research findings related to UN Sustainable Development Goals. It even provides figures for private sector investment opportunities in 15 countries in Asia and Africa.

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Tether thought leadership to business outcomes

The more targeted, substantive, and useful the thought leadership, the more apt the content can generate leads. LinkedIn’s B2B Institute recommends a nearly even budget split between lead generation and brand building in marketing. Thought leadership programs can help achieve both goals. They can earn brand attention from new companies or firms venturing into new areas. Thought leadership programs also can set the stage for the sales process, especially given almost three-fourths of B2B buyers in a 2020 study engage with at least three pieces of content before ever talking with a salesperson. Plus, a new thought leadership piece is a good reason for the sales team to contact past clients and new prospects to share it.

#ThoughtLeadership helps a marketing budget in two ways – awareness and lead generation, says @JanieJaniehulse via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Example: Well-designed thought leadership programs garner more attention through media distribution and awareness-building events while generating relevant business leads. Insurer Willis Watson Towers does both with its annual Political Risk Index. Visitors can peruse a content hub featuring a summary of the research, access a visually impactful e-book, and register to receive the full report, which was gated to capture leads.

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Expand beyond the PDF format

Marketers often anchor thought leadership programs in a longer-form report underpinned by new research. But the distribution of those findings doesn’t have to be limited to that report (often in the form of a PDF). They can be shared at events big and small. Your brand’s speaker could incorporate them in a presentation at a conference, or your company could host in-person or virtual events with prospects and clients to exchange the value and let your reps build relationships and strike up conversations.

Your thought leadership program should live on the company’s website or its own landing page hosted by a third-party publishing partner to add validation and exposure. It can be chopped into visually engaging short-form content assets to share and consume on social media easily. The research findings can inform derivative multimedia content pieces like videos, films, or podcasts. Doing so allows you to meet the audience where they are with content formats they want to consume.

I really like Rob Mitchel’s VARK acronym to ensure your thought leadership appeals to all learning styles:

  • Visual – infographics, animations, data visualization
  • Aural – podcasts, audio interviews
  • Read/write – long-form reports, short-form content, written opinion pieces, case studies
  • Kinesthetic – webinars, client events, conferences, workshops

Example: I worked on a program for the Project Management Institute’s Brightline Initiative to bring thought leadership to the stage during the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2018 and 2019. The resulting panel discussion Humans 2.0: Designing and implementing a future-proof strategy, hosted by The Economist Events, took place live at the event.

Then, the team evolved the in-person presentation into three content pieces for the Brightline Initative website  (as you can see in the screenshot below):

  • A video of the full panel discussion
  • A shorter video showing the highlights
  • Video commentary featuring the Brightline Initiative’s executive director.

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Find your secret to successful thought leadership

What’s the secret to conjuring content that doesn’t get dismissed in the cacophony? Before you begin, consider your objectives, your audience, and how you want the audience to react to the insights shared. With that understanding, you can bring together a smart team to consider the ideal brand positioning, associated trending themes, and potential research hypotheses worthy of exploration.

In other words, do some brand soul-searching and find the white space you can fill. Consider the white space as your playground. Shaping it takes a bit of work. Happily, that effort usually is just a search away. Systematically Google key terms related to your project and to see what pops up. Track the results to see players and patterns emerge. Then, you can find where your unique point of view fits within the coverage. That unique point grounds your white space.

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Don’t stop short

The Edelman Trust Barometer is the gold standard for thought leadership programs, given its longevity and impact. For more than 20 years, Edelman has put forward annual research on the influence of trust across society — government, media, business, and non-government organizations. In doing so, the company has led the conversation and driven results for its business.

You don’t need to put in 20 years to produce well-founded original ideas, but you must invest for the long haul.

The most successful thought leadership campaigns I’ve worked on were long-term, multi-year engagements. The marketers approached publishing partners 12 to 18 months before launch. These larger projects often require longer upfront conversations to define and refine the theme and research hypotheses. That’s not to say you can’t whip up a strong thought leadership engagement in five to seven months, but that usually happens after the upfront brand and theme work exists.

When you take the time to identify your topic areas, conduct the research, and produce multiple content assets, the thought leadership you produce will be more likely to attract attention. It will have a better opportunity to gain awareness among an executive audience.

Executives spend an average of two hours every week on thought leadership content, according to a 2021 IBM survey. Given that thought leadership informs 80% of CEO buying decisions, according to the same survey, your program also will position your brand for quality leads.

Thought leadership programs have worked well for decades, but understanding what they really involve and how they can work for your brand – and, more importantly, your target audience – will allow your content to stand out in a sea of misunderstood, misused, and unhelpful thought leadership.

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If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institut



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The Role of Enterprise Mobility Management in Modern Businesses

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The Role of Enterprise Mobility Management in Modern Businesses

In today’s fast-paced business environment, Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) has emerged as a critical facilitator for enhancing operational efficiency and competitiveness. EMM solutions streamline workflows, ensuring that enterprises can adapt to the rapidly changing digital landscape. This blog discusses the indispensable role of EMM in modern businesses, focusing on how it revolutionizes workflows and positions businesses for success.

EMM solutions act as the backbone for securely managing mobile devices, applications, and content that facilitate remote work and on-the-go access to company resources. With a robust EMM platform, businesses can ensure data protection and compliance with regulatory requirements, even in highly dynamic environments. This not only minimizes the risk of data breaches but also reinforces the company’s reputation for reliability and security.

Seamless Integration Across Devices

In today’s digital era, seamless integration across devices is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity for maintaining operational fluency within any organization. Our EMM solutions are designed to ensure that employees have secure and efficient access to the necessary resources, irrespective of the device being used. This cross-platform compatibility significantly enhances productivity by allowing for a unified user experience that supports both the agility and dynamism required in modern business operations. Leveraging cutting-edge technology, our solutions provide a cohesive ecosystem where data flows securely and effortlessly across mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, ensuring that your workforce remains connected and productive, regardless of their physical location. The adoption of our EMM solutions speaks volumes about an organization’s commitment to fostering a technologically forward and secure working environment, echoing its dedication to innovation and excellence.

Enhanced Productivity

EMM facilitates the seamless integration of mobile devices into the corporate environment, enabling employees to access corporate resources from anywhere. This flexibility significantly enhances productivity by allowing tasks to be completed outside of traditional office settings.

Unified Endpoint Management

The incorporation of Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) within EMM solutions ensures that both mobile and fixed devices can be managed from a single console, simplifying IT operations and enhancing security.

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Advanced Security Protocols

Where cyber threats loom larger than ever, our EMM solutions incorporate cutting-edge security protocols designed to shield your organization’s data from unauthorized access and breaches. By consistently updating and refining our security measures, we ensure your assets are protected by the most advanced defenses available. This commitment to security not only safeguards your information but also reinforces your company’s reputation as a secure and trustworthy enterprise.

Data Protection

EMM solutions implement robust security measures to protect sensitive corporate data across all mobile devices. This includes encryption, secure VPN connections, and the ability to remotely wipe data from lost or stolen devices, thereby mitigating potential data breaches.

Compliance Management

By enforcing security policies and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards, EMM helps businesses avoid costly fines and reputational damage associated with data breaches.

Driving Operational Efficiency

In the quest to drive operational efficiency, our solutions streamline processes, reduce redundancies, and automate routine tasks. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, we empower businesses to optimize their workflows, resulting in significant time and cost savings. Our approach not only enhances operational agility but also positions your organization at the forefront of innovation, setting a new standard in your industry.

Automated Workflows

By automating repetitive tasks, EMM reduces manual efforts, increases accuracy, and speeds up business processes. This automation supports operational efficiency and allows employees to focus on more strategic tasks.

Real-time Communication and Collaboration

EMM enhances communication and collaboration among team members by providing tools that facilitate real-time interactions. This immediate exchange of information accelerates decision-making processes and improves project outcomes.

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Testimonials from Industry Leaders

Leaders in various industries have witnessed tangible benefits from implementing EMM solutions, including increased productivity, improved security, and enhanced operational efficiency. Testimonials from these leaders underscore the transformative impact of EMM on their businesses, solidifying its vital role in modern operational strategies.

Our commitment to innovation and excellence propels us to continually refine our EMM solutions, ensuring they remain at the cutting edge of technology. This dedication not only solidifies our standing as industry leaders but also guarantees that our clients receive the most advanced and effective operational tools available, tailored specifically to meet their unique business challenges.

Looking Ahead

The evolution of EMM solutions continues at a rapid pace, with advancements in technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT) further enhancing their capabilities. These developments promise even greater efficiencies, security measures, and competitive advantages for businesses willing to invest in the future of mobility management.

Our proactive approach to integrating emerging technologies with EMM solutions positions our clients at the forefront of their industries. By leveraging our deep technical expertise and industry insights, we empower businesses to not only adapt to but also lead in an increasingly digital world, ensuring they remain competitive and resilient amidst rapid technological shifts.

In conclusion, the role of Enterprise Mobility Management in modern businesses cannot be overstated. Its ability to revolutionize workflows, enhance security, and drive operational efficiency positions it as a foundational element of digital transformation strategies. We invite businesses to explore the potential of EMM solutions and partner with us to achieve unprecedented levels of success and innovation in the digital era. Together, we can redefine the boundaries of what is possible in business operations and set new benchmarks for excellence in the industry.

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Lessons From Air Canada’s Chatbot Fail

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Lessons From Air Canada’s Chatbot Fail

Air Canada tried to throw its chatbot under the AI bus.

It didn’t work.

A Canadian court recently ruled Air Canada must compensate a customer who bought a full-price ticket after receiving inaccurate information from the airline’s chatbot.

Air Canada had argued its chatbot made up the answer, so it shouldn’t be liable. As Pepper Brooks from the movie Dodgeball might say, “That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.” 

But what does that chatbot mistake mean for you as your brands add these conversational tools to their websites? What does it mean for the future of search and the impact on you when consumers use tools like Google’s Gemini and OpenAI’s ChatGPT to research your brand?

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AI disrupts Air Canada

AI seems like the only topic of conversation these days. Clients expect their agencies to use it as long as they accompany that use with a big discount on their services. “It’s so easy,” they say. “You must be so happy.”

Boards at startup companies pressure their management teams about it. “Where are we on an AI strategy,” they ask. “It’s so easy. Everybody is doing it.” Even Hollywood artists are hedging their bets by looking at the newest generative AI developments and saying, “Hmmm … Do we really want to invest more in humans?  

Let’s all take a breath. Humans are not going anywhere. Let me be super clear, “AI is NOT a strategy. It’s an innovation looking for a strategy.” Last week’s Air Canada decision may be the first real-world distinction of that.

The story starts with a man asking Air Canada’s chatbot if he could get a retroactive refund for a bereavement fare as long as he provided the proper paperwork. The chatbot encouraged him to book his flight to his grandmother’s funeral and then request a refund for the difference between the full-price and bereavement fair within 90 days. The passenger did what the chatbot suggested.

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Air Canada refused to give a refund, citing its policy that explicitly states it will not provide refunds for travel after the flight is booked.

When the passenger sued, Air Canada’s refusal to pay got more interesting. It argued it should not be responsible because the chatbot was a “separate legal entity” and, therefore, Air Canada shouldn’t be responsible for its actions.

I remember a similar defense in childhood: “I’m not responsible. My friends made me do it.” To which my mom would respond, “Well, if they told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

My favorite part of the case was when a member of the tribunal said what my mom would have said, “Air Canada does not explain why it believes …. why its webpage titled ‘bereavement travel’ was inherently more trustworthy than its chatbot.”

The BIG mistake in human thinking about AI

That is the interesting thing as you deal with this AI challenge of the moment. Companies mistake AI as a strategy to deploy rather than an innovation to a strategy that should be deployed. AI is not the answer for your content strategy. AI is simply a way to help an existing strategy be better.

Generative AI is only as good as the content — the data and the training — fed to it.  Generative AI is a fantastic recognizer of patterns and understanding of the probable next word choice. But it’s not doing any critical thinking. It cannot discern what is real and what is fiction.

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Think for a moment about your website as a learning model, a brain of sorts. How well could it accurately answer questions about the current state of your company? Think about all the help documents, manuals, and educational and training content. If you put all of that — and only that — into an artificial brain, only then could you trust the answers.

Your chatbot likely would deliver some great results and some bad answers. Air Canada’s case involved a minuscule challenge. But imagine when it’s not a small mistake. And what about the impact of unintended content? Imagine if the AI tool picked up that stray folder in your customer help repository — the one with all the snarky answers and idiotic responses? Or what if it finds the archive that details everything wrong with your product or safety? AI might not know you don’t want it to use that content.

ChatGPT, Gemini, and others present brand challenges, too

Publicly available generative AI solutions may create the biggest challenges.

I tested the problematic potential. I asked ChatGPT to give me the pricing for two of the best-known CRM systems. (I’ll let you guess which two.) I asked it to compare the pricing and features of the two similar packages and tell me which one might be more appropriate.

First, it told me it couldn’t provide pricing for either of them but included the pricing page for each in a footnote. I pressed the citation and asked it to compare the two named packages. For one of them, it proceeded to give me a price 30% too high, failing to note it was now discounted. And it still couldn’t provide the price for the other, saying the company did not disclose pricing but again footnoted the pricing page where the cost is clearly shown.

In another test, I asked ChatGPT, “What’s so great about the digital asset management (DAM) solution from [name of tech company]?” I know this company doesn’t offer a DAM system, but ChatGPT didn’t.

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It returned with an answer explaining this company’s DAM solution was a wonderful, single source of truth for digital assets and a great system. It didn’t tell me it paraphrased the answer from content on the company’s webpage that highlighted its ability to integrate into a third-party provider’s DAM system.

Now, these differences are small. I get it. I also should be clear that I got good answers for some of my harder questions in my brief testing. But that’s what’s so insidious. If users expected answers that were always a little wrong, they would check their veracity. But when the answers seem right and impressive, even though they are completely wrong or unintentionally accurate, users trust the whole system.

That’s the lesson from Air Canada and the subsequent challenges coming down the road.

AI is a tool, not a strategy

Remember, AI is not your content strategy. You still need to audit it. Just as you’ve done for over 20 years, you must ensure the entirety of your digital properties reflect the current values, integrity, accuracy, and trust you want to instill.

AI will not do this for you. It cannot know the value of those things unless you give it the value of those things. Think of AI as a way to innovate your human-centered content strategy. It can express your human story in different and possibly faster ways to all your stakeholders.

But only you can know if it’s your story. You have to create it, value it, and manage it, and then perhaps AI can help you tell it well. 

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

While many brands talk about focusing on the customer, few do it. Less than a quarter (24%) of global brands are mapping customer behavior and sentiment, according to Braze’s 2024 Customer Engagement Review. What’s worse, only 6% apply customer insights to their product and brand approach.

“At the end of the day, a lot of companies operate based on their structure and not how the consumer interacts with them,” Mariam Asmar, VP of strategic consulting, told MarTech. “And while some companies have done a great job of reorienting that, with roles like the chief customer officer, there are many more that still don’t. Cross-channel doesn’t exist because there are still all these silos. But the customer doesn’t care about your silos. The customer doesn’t see silos. They see a brand.”

Half of all marketers report either depending on multiple, siloed point solutions to cobble together a multi-channel experience manually (33%); or primarily relying on single-channel solutions (17%).  Only 30% have access to a single customer engagement platform capable of creating personalized, seamless experiences across channels. This is a huge problem when it comes to cross-channel, personalization.

The persistence of silos

The persistence of data silos despite decades of explanation about the problems they cause, surprised Asmar the most.

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Screenshot 2024 02 27 140015
Source: Braze 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review

“Why are we still talking about this?” she said to MarTech. “One of the themes I see in the report is we’re still getting caught up on some of the same stumbling blocks as before.”

She said silos are indicative of teams working on different goals and “the only way that gets unsolved is if a leader comes in and aligns people towards some of those goals.”

These silos also hinder the use of AI, something 99% of respondents said they were already doing. The top uses of AI by marketers are:

  • Generating creative ideas (48%).
  • Automating repetitive tasks (47%).
  • Optimizing strategies in real-time (47%).
  • Enhancing data analysis (47%).
  • Powering predictive analytics (45%).
  • Personalizing campaigns (44%). 

Despite the high usage numbers, less than half of marketers have any interest in exploring AI’s potential to enhance customer engagement. Asmar believes there are two main reasons for this. First is that many people like the systems they know and understand. The other reason is a lack of training on the part of companies.

Dig deeper: 5 ways CRMs are leveraging AI to automate marketing today

“I think about when I was in advertising and everybody switched to social media,” she told MarTech. “Companies acted like ‘Well, all the marketers will just figure out social media.’ You can’t do that because whenever you’re teaching somebody how to do something new there’s always a level of training them up, even though they’re apps that we use every day, as people using them as a business and how they apply, how we get impact from them.”

The good news is that brands are setting the stage for the data agility they need.

  • 50% export performance feedback to business intelligence platforms to generate advanced analytics.
  • 48% sync performance with insights generated by other platforms in the business.

Also worth noting: Marketers say these are the four main obstacles to creativity and strategy:  

  • Emphasis on KPIs inherently inhibits a focus on creativity (42%).
  • Too much time spent on business-as-usual execution and tasks (42%).
  • Lack of technology to execute creative ideas, (41%).
  • Hard to demonstrate ROI impact of creativity (40%).
Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952

Methodology

The 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review (registration required) is based on insights from 1,900 VP+ marketing decision-makers across 14 countries in three global regions: The Americas (Brazil, Mexico, and the US), APAC (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea), and EMEA (France, Germany, Spain, the UAE, and the UK).

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