Small companies have to work hard to get visibility, especially when the market is crowded with competitors all vying for the same business. In high tech they face the added dilemma that IT departments don’t want to buy from a small unknown vendor, and the vendor can’t become large and reputable unless it has major customers. So, how does a company become better known with limited resources? By becoming an industry thought leader.
What’s a thought leader?
A thought leader is a recognized leader in one’s field. What differentiates a thought leader from any other knowledgeable company, is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.
Trust is built on reputation and reputation is generally NOT built on advertising. It is built on what others say about you. Become a thought leader in your field and it won’t matter as much how big you are. Companies will look to you for insight and vision. Journalists will quote you, analysts will call you, websites will link to you.
How does one become a thought leader?
Before one takes the first actionable step, a fundamental shift in mindset is needed. Thought leadership requires a spirit of generosity – generosity of one’s time, intelligence and knowledge. It requires a trust that by being open with what you know, and by sharing your time and knowledge, the world will reward your efforts. With that in mind, here are steps that will help you on your way to being a thought leader:
1. Cultivate the press. Don’t leave it soley to your PR agency. If you are the CEO or the VP of marketing of your company, you should have a list of 20 writers and editors who regularly report on your market. You should be calling them, meeting with them, and calling them some more. Journalists are very busy people, often working on ridiculous deadlines. So, when you call you need to give them something that they can use to make their life better – a lead, a story, some insight, a quote, customers to whom they can talk for quotes. Warning. Journalists have a sometimes well deserved reputation for being incredibly curt, arrogant, and annoying. You may find this true or not. In any case, you need to treat them with respect. You need them more than they need you.
2. Write. White papers, case studies. Prepare lists of useful resources. Show that you understand and care about the problems that your customers are trying to solve. Assemble a valuable knowledge base of materials that demonstrate not only your expertise but also your commitment to solving your customers’ problems. Write industry specific pieces that have useful information for potential customers rather than sales pitches for your products.
3. Spread the word. Get what you’ve written into the hands of anyone who might care. Submit articles to editors of newsletters, trade magazines. Post them on your website. Make them free and easily accessible. Put your name on them and give them to anyone who will listen.
4. Speak. Identify trade shows and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending and get on panels or lead workshops. Find out about the local associations that host speaking events and submit yourself for giving a talk. Again, focus on providing useful information. No one wants to listen to you pitching your product. You are there to inform and educate, to provide a unique perspective.
5. Use your website. Your website should be a source of useful information for customers, potential customers, and influencers. It is surprising that so many companies still view the web as a place to park their corporate brochures versus a dynamic, highly interconnected exchange of knowledge. The web is a marketplace of ideas, not a kiosk. Your website increases in value the more people know about it and link to it. The more reference-able your website is, the more it will be referenced.
6. Unlock your white papers! Don’t make people register to learn more about you. You want as many people to know about you as possible. If you want to do lead generation, use direct response ads rather than holding the information on your website hostage. Be generous with your expertise. Or the market will favor someone else who is.
Finally, 7. Make thought leadership a strategic imperative for your company. Ideas and insight do not require dominant market share or millions in capital expenditures. Your company does not need to be a leader in sales to be considered a thought leader (though of course it doesn’t hurt). In high tech especially, the rules of the game change so quickly that insight becomes currency. But becoming a thought leader does require work and commitment. It demands the often difficult task of looking at your company from the perspective of the world outside. Most companies fail miserably at this. Generating an ongoing effort towards thought leadership is the best way to ensure that it actually happens.
Links to articles on thought leadership
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