Thought Leadership Insights, Episode 8
Best practice in managing and establishing a successful thought leadership programme
In the eighth episode of FT Longitude’s Thought Leadership Insights podcast, Rob Coveney, Head of Brand and Internal Communications, DNV GL – Oil & Gas, talks about best practice in managing and establishing a successful thought leadership programme.
Rob shares his insights on how the company developed the DNV GL’s oil and gas industry outlook report, a barometer to assess sector priorities and sentiment. Now in its eight year, Rob discusses how DNV GL has ensured this initiative remains relevant and insightful for the market. We also explore how the outlook has advanced over the years, drawing on richer data and a widening portfolio of marketing channels to connect thought leadership with lead generation.
- 00:00 Introduction
- 01:01 About the role
- 02:46 DNV GL’s Oil and Gas Industry Outlook Programme
- 03:41 How the programme has evolved
- 06:55 Segmenting the audience and targeting the thought leadership
- 09:01 Targets and outcomes of the report
- 10:21 Measuring these outcomes
- 12:30 Internal advocacy for senior stakeholders
- 13:28 The role of social media in low-level advocacy
- 15:56 Long-term trends vs. short-term insights
- 18:40 Recommendations in campaign planning
- 20:47 The 2018 programme
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Fergal Byrne: You are listening to the FT Longitude Research podcast: Thought Leadership Insights, where senior figures from the firm together with leading marketing executives explore key trends, shaping the evolution of thought leadership and marketing. I’m your host, Fergal Byrne.
I’m very pleased today to introduce Rob Coveney to the podcast. Rob is Head of Brand and Internal Communications at the Oil and Gas division of DNV GL. Rob has managed DNV GL’s annual industry outlook, an oil and gas industry barometer, for almost eight years. In that time, this research has grown and evolved to adapt to a changing landscape in a volatile market.
In this interview, Rob shares his insights as to how DNV GL has ensured this flagship Thought Leadership initiative has remained relevant and insightful over this time. How the firm measures success and discusses the importance of internal advocacy.
So thank you very much, Rob, for taking the time today to speak to FT Longitude Thought Leadership Insights podcast.
Rob: Thanks ever so much for having me Fergal, I look forward to speaking with you.
Fergal: Yes, I’m very much looking forward to talking to you today about the great thought leadership programmes you’ve been doing at DNV GL, particularly the Annual Industry Outlook and various other research reports and surveys that you’ve been working on over the years. Maybe a good place to start, Rob, if you could tell me a little bit about your role at the company, and maybe also about the scope of the business.
Rob: Yeah, of course, so I’m Head of Brand and Internal Communications for the oil and gas business of DNV GL. We’re a risk management and quality assurance organisation, working as technical advisors to a number of different industries, including Oil and Gas, Power and Renewables, Maritime and Life Sciences as well. We’re an organisation of around 13,000 technical experts, based in over 100 countries and our head office is in Oslo, in Norway.
Fergal: So you’re Head of Brand and Internal Communications, Rob, what’s that entail exactly?
Rob: So from the brand side of things, Fergal, one of the key elements of my role is to develop DNV GL’s position as a provider of foresight and insight to the industries that we serve. That’s really key for us because we’re an organisation of technical experts, we sell our expert’s knowledge and expertise. And so to come across in the market as an authoritative commentator, not just on technical issues that support the efficiency, sustainability, safety of the oil and gas industry in particular. But also to be able to come across as an authoritative commentator on macroeconomic industry trends, where’s the Oil and Gas industry going in the years ahead? It’s very useful for our customers, and it helps to build the brand position that we’re looking to achieve.
Fergal: Right, now can you tell me a little bit about the Oil and Gas annual industry outlook?
Rob: Yeah, so our industry outlook programme has been running for just nearly eight years now. The purpose of the research programme is to survey, nowadays, just over 800 senior oil and gas professionals, across the industry, across the oil and gas value chain, we use this as one of our flagship communications and thought leadership programmes for each year. The industry outlook programme is pulled together into a report identifying key trends for the year ahead identifying key trends for the year ahead, but it also goes much wider, it forms the backbone and the context for much of the media relations work we do as an organisation, many of the events that we attend as an organisation. So it helps to provide context to the industry issues that we help our customers overcome, and it also helps to position us, as I’ve said before as a key commentator on what we expect and where we expect the industry to be going in the year ahead.
Fergal:Can you talk a little bit, Rob, about how it’s evolved over the past seven or eight years – that’s quite a while in the world of thought leadership and content marketing?
Rob: Yeah, of course. One of the things that have kept the industry outlook perennial over the past nearly eight years now is the flexibility of the programme, the fact that we have been able to use it to help shape senior oil and gas professionals thoughts about key trends for the year ahead, in an ever-changing market. And over the past seven years, the oil and gas industry really has changed rather radically, and we’ve been able to reflect that in the research.
We started the programme in 2011 with a key purpose in mind, and that was that we’d identified that we were very good as an organisation at technical thought leadership. So, for example, going to events, writing papers in journals that really look at the nuts and bolts of the industry, and how from a very technical and academic perspective we’re helping oil and gas companies across the value chain, to become safer, more sustainable, more efficient in their operations.
What we noticed was that we didn’t have a position as a commentator at the macroeconomic level. We weren’t talking alongside our clients about key trends across the oil and gas industry, that we were expecting to see, and we felt that we needed to pull the two elements of thought leadership together and this is why the Industry Outlook Programme was important for us, at the time.
We launched our first report in January 2011, and it was just some months after, I don’t know if you remember the Deep Water Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, which had a large bearing, not only on the way that the industry was perceived, but also the way that the industry worked. We noticed that our clients and our customer’s patterns were going further up the hierarchy of command, I suppose. So more senior people among our clients were taking a greater interest in the services that they procure. Partially as a result of what we saw from that incident, and that meant that we needed to be able to position ourselves, talking about issues, alongside more senior clients, that we didn’t necessarily have to do before. So it was an ideal time for us to launch a research programme that really focused towards the c-suite.
It’s evolved quite dramatically since then, if I remember back to 2011 we surveyed 120 senior professionals across the industry and produced a report on key trends based on that. Now, we’re just going through the process of surveying senior oil and gas professionals about what they see to be their confidence and their priorities for 2018. We’re just shy of 800 survey respondents there so it’s grown a lot in scale, and that’s really helped us over the past seven years, or so, to have much richer sets of data. So we’re able to segment the survey, and segment the survey results, to be able to look at different regions for example, rather than the global picture, or different segments within a very large and varied industry. And then target the thought leadership more specifically towards those segments of the audience. That’s really helped us develop and evolve the research programme over recent years.
Fergal: Different audiences – can you talk a little bit about that? What the motivation is there, and how that’s worked for you Rob?
Rob: So customization of the survey data, and of the research programme itself into different geographies, different target markets, different segments of the oil and gas industry, has been quite critical to the longevity of the programme over recent years. One of the reasons behind that is we saw a massive dip in oil price back at the end of 2014, and it’s completely reshaped the industry. The industry has gone from very centralised business models, where oil and gas companies have been buying, using global framework agreements across their operations around the world, to taking a more regionalized model, looking at procuring services like technical advice from DNV GL, on a regional basis, based on the individual operations.
So what we needed to do from a marketing and communications point of view is not just talk macroeconomically about global trends, but also support colleagues in the business who are selling to regional customers, with more customised regional, more segment specific data. So as we’ve grown the credibility of the report, as we’ve grown the number of respondents to our survey, we’ve been able to segment the survey responses with data.
So the campaign, when we launch nowadays doesn’t just focus on launching a global report at the beginning of January, on key trends for the year ahead, but we also look to take our thought leadership to market, be it through social media, digital campaigning, through media relations, on a regional basis as well. And help communicate to the market on some of the key trends that we’ll see in specific regions. And that relates very closely to the strategy that DNV GL has as a business. I think that’s one of the quite key elements of ensuring that you have a long-term thought leadership programme that is able to adapt to your business strategy, whilst I suppose keeping the core purpose that you’ve always had.
Fergal: Can you tell me, Rob, what are some of the main outcomes that you seek to achieve in this programme?
Rob: Absolutely, so for us, I think it was initially about positioning ourselves as a credible commentator on macroeconomic industry trends and trying to elevate that position of our brand among senior stakeholders within that client base, the c-suite essentially.
If I think back to 2011 we set ourselves an objective to have fifteen top management among our audience that download the research report that we publish every January, and that number has grown, so it’s now around 650 in 2017. We now have around 7,000 downloads of the report each year, compared to just 1,000 when we started back in 2011.
The popularity and scale of the impact that we’re producing has grown tremendously, and I think what we see now is that it’s grown beyond targeting the c-suite. One of the things that’s been really important for us in the long-term success of the programme over the years has been having that flexibility of richer data coming into the research programme. We’re able to target now not just for c-suite, but allowing our colleagues around the business to target audiences that matter to them.
So I think it’s really useful to have that level of flexibility in the programme, and allowing our people to talk about one piece of thought leadership to many different audiences.
Fergal: Yes, so over the course of this thought leadership programme, over the years, you’ve helped elevate the position of the brand amongst senior stakeholders within the client base, within the c-suite and I’m just wondering, what are some of the main outcomes that you’re seeking to measure in this programme?
Rob: The communications programme that we put out each year surrounding the industry outlook research is very much mapped towards a model for measurement. So we’re trying to achieve a number of different things here. We group the activity and the metrics, our measurement of that activity, around four areas. The first one, Fergal, is reach, so how’re we broadening the number of people who know us as a commentator on industry trends. And the metrics around that research could be, for example, the number of media mentions we receive, or the number of visits to relevant pages on our websites, for example.
The second metric group is reputation. So that’s about promoting trust in DNG VL as a technical advisor, and provider of industry foresight. So we’ll focus on having metrics that might focus on the number of quotes in the media from our spokespeople, or engagement with social media activity related to the industry outlook.
The third group is around creating relations. So how are we creating a positive perception of DNV GL? And here we might measure for the Industry Outlook Report, the number of downloads of the report itself among our target groups.
And finally, we have a measure around revenue enablement. So, how are we turning to stakeholders into advocates and business prospects for DNV GL. How are we pushing our potential prospects through a funnel where they’ll come closer to a meeting with our business development people, or an inquiry regarding a particular service that we might have. So, can we for example successfully get executive clients to attend a briefing session on the research, and how many invitations are we getting, and what does that mean, how does that then convert into business. So, what we tend to do is use a model where we’re pushing our potential prospects, our audiences, through a traditional funnel towards a more tangible sale for the business.
Fergal: Very multidimensional approach there Rob. Presumably, this has evolved over time, and you’ve been able to fine-tune it over the years?
Rob: Yeah, we have indeed, and one of the things that I’ve noticed most importantly is the way that we have created credibility and advocacy, not just externally for the research programme, but internally as well.
One of the great things about having a long term research programme such as this is it gives you time to develop credibility with your senior stakeholders, and that is great for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve noticed over time our senior people become far more involved in how we shape the survey that goes out, how we shape the trends and the research. But also, they’ve become increasingly involved in going out to their own network and securing interviews for us, for example among c-suite contacts in their own networks. So contributing to the development of the research has become a lot stronger over recent years.
The other aspect of internal advocacy that has become prevalent over the years is how our people, how our 13,000 employees engage with the research programme, and how they take the research to their own networks, and the networks in which they sell into.
Rob: So, if I take social media for example at DNV GL we have about 11,000 LinkedIn followers, but if I were able to look at the networks of each of the 13,000 people around the business and look at the number of followers that they have, the total followers is far greater than the channels that we have in the communications team.
So the more advocacy that I can build internally among our employees to share findings from the research towards their networks, the greater profile we’re able to have. I’ve seen that build quite significantly over the past few years, there’s still work to be done there. But we’ve really noticed the value of spending time creating internal advocacy at a senior level, and also across the wider employee base, to help promote the research.
Over the past, I’d certainly say three years, we’ve been thinking about the role of social media in campaigning the research results at a much earlier stage than we ever have done before. So I’ll give you an example of just a couple of weeks ago, where the team at FT Longitude and the team and DNV GL came together to start brainstorming some of the initial key trends that we’ll be putting into our 2018 reports, based on an initial cut of data from our survey for 2018.
One of the elements that we brought in mind was not just the trends that we will include in the overall global report, which we’ll of course promote and make available for download from our website, but we’re also looking into pieces of content that could be of use just for social media towards target audiences. And who are the target audiences that we’ll look to target using social media? So it becomes part of the plan an awful lot earlier, but it’s not just a case of thinking about how we might make content shorter, quicker to digest as it often is within social media, but how do we make sure that we’re using for example, LinkedIn to target specific segments of audiences and push research findings towards those specific segments. Now that we have this much greater set, much richer data set than we’ve ever had before.
Fergal: I’m interested in the how you build a long-term piece of research like this, a long-term research programme. On the one hand presumably, you need to make sure there’s a consistency, something at the core of the research programme over time. I guess at the same time there’s a need to keep it fresh and reinvent things?
Rob: Yeah, that’s a really good question Fergal, and it’s something we constantly have to bear in mind each year when we begin the programme again. Because I think there can often be a knee-jerk reaction to want to reshape the research, reshape the survey that will inform the research, and start from scratch, year on year. Actually, that can be something that’s quite dangerous to do over the course of a long-term programme such as this.
If I think back to 2011 the purpose of the research, which is to measure confidence and priorities in the oil and gas industry, among senior oil and gas professionals, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the scope and the scale of the research, and how we take it to market. So when we’re designing the survey each year there are a number of questions that we haven’t changed at all. We still ask and have done for the past seven years, we still ask respondents to give us their insights on industry confidence. We still look at investment priorities and how investments will change, and what that allows us to do is create trend data, which is absolutely fascinating in a market that has changed so dramatically as the oil and gas industry over the past five years or so. You can start to be able to correlate pieces from the research together and we can start to look at segmentation of that research and give a picture of how the industry has changed over the past seven years.
Had we decided to throw those questions away, even just for a couple of years over the past seven years, and ask something else instead we wouldn’t have that consistent trend data.
The market has come to expect this piece of research from DNV GL and they’ve come to expect something particular from it. And so the core of the research I think has to be consistent, and it has to stay the same. That doesn’t mean that some of the elements, some of the questions that we ask in the survey, some of the themes that we explore within the research can’t change depending on the strategy of our business, depending on the changing nature of the market, and of course we always make sure there’s a fresh element to the survey year on year, by focusing on a topic that may be completely new, or that we might not have focused on for the past few years, for example. But what I would say is that you do need to have that consistency in the purpose of the research, and some core data each year, that you’re able to look at from a trend point of view.
Fergal: Absolutely, it’s a very rich discussion Rob. I’m just wondering, looking back over the last few years whether you have got some recommendations around campaign planning in thought leadership for other B2B marketers?
Rob: I think a key piece of advice that I’ve learnt over the past few years has been to ensure that in a long-term programme you keep the purpose of your thought leadership programme, but you make sure that it has enough flexibility to be able to answer, year on year, to the changing needs of the business, the changing needs of the markets, and to make sure that the data you’re gathering is rich enough to be able to segment it towards what’s important for your business, and what’s important for your market. That’s been really useful for us.
Each year I’m tremendously surprised at how long we can take those trends to market for. Initially I’d already thought to myself well we’ll be able to flog this until maybe March or April time, by that point key trends for the year ahead essentially becomes old news.
But we tested something out just earlier on this year actually, in October of this year. So October of the year that the report had come out in and we created a dedicated campaign on a particular theme where we offered the download of the report based on the research, and it had tremendously high download rates: it was still popular and it was still important to our customers three quarters of the way through the year that we’re talking about.
So I think there’s a lot that can be done with thought leadership research to reinforce messaging, take the report, or elements of the report, elements of the research back out to market across the year, and always think back about what more you can do to milk it even further, for want of a better term.
Fergal: Yes, that’s great advice, particularly in a world where the half-life of thought leadership and the constant barrage of ideas, time frames are getting shorter and shorter, but yet throughout the year you will see these themes emerge again, don’t they? And being able to blend them into your research is certainly an important lesson. So that’s great advice, thank you, Rob.
Rob: Not a problem at all.
Fergal: Now, what’s next? You mentioned 2018, can you talk a little bit about what you’re looking for in the content of the survey, and what the next year holds?
Rob: Yeah, so our 2018 survey has been out in the field for just around three weeks now, we are just shy of 800 respondents, which is great, it gives us the richness of data to be able to do some great things when we come to taking the programme to market in January of next year.
I think for 2018 and the years to come what we’ll be focusing on is making sure that we are keeping the purpose of the report very true to what we’ve been doing over the past seven years, but thinking about the way that we take it to market. How can we make sure that we’re carving up content to make sure it is digestible to those who have very little time in addition to making sure that we’re giving a great piece of long-form content to an audience who have built up a certain appreciation and built up a certain regard for it.
I think also what we’ll be looking to do is seeing how in greater levels of detail we make the link between the thought leadership programme and how we can drive qualified leads for the organisation. And I think the scope of our work in 2018 and beyond will be focusing on how we bridge the gap between those two.
Fergal: Well, I wish you the very best of success with that Rob.
Rob: Thanks Fergal.
Fergal: And thank you so much for sharing your experience and fresh thinking on thought leadership today.
Rob: It’s been a pleasure talking with you, thanks.
Fergal: Thanks to everyone listening today. If you’d like to find out more about how to create high-impact thought leadership campaigns, please go to longitude.co.uk and click on “Our Thinking.”