Our article about the rise of thought leadership in the technology sector showed how tech vendors are using thought leadership to transform their image and increase their influence beyond the CIO. But are they any better than the rest at delivering effective thought leadership in the first place?
Our recent research into how companies plan, create and execute their thought leadership includes data from over 100 tech firms, which means we can dig deeper into their approach to help answer this question. The research identifies why some companies are massively outperforming their peers in using research and content to achieve their commercial outcomes. We call these companies the Thought-Leading Brands.
The findings show that tech companies are far more likely to be successful in their thought leadership campaigns than those in other industries we surveyed; financial services and professional services. They are consistently more confident in achieving greater success from their campaigns, measured across 12 key factors that include commercial benefits relating to reputation, revenues and relationships – the three pillars of thought leadership.
A good example is companies using thought leadership content to generate marketing-qualified leads. Our data shows that 72% of technology firms are successful at producing actionable leads as a direct result of their thought leadership content, compared with only half of other firms. And this is a strong trend across the rest of the data.
Why are these companies so much more successful at maximising the return on their investment? Here are four areas where they appear to have an advantage:
1. They automate their marketing
While the use of marketing automation programs isn’t exclusive to our respondents in tech, it’s no surprise to learn that tech organisations have been much quicker to adopt automation that their counterparts elsewhere.
Our survey data shows that while 45% of technology firms use advanced integrated marketing automation systems, such as Marketo, Hubspot or Pardot, to help manage and deliver their campaigns, this is far from the norm in other sectors. Only a quarter of professional services firms use the same platforms as their peers in tech. So the followers lagging behind need not only to think more like tech companies but also to adopt more of their practices.
2. Their strategies come from the top
We’ve blogged before about why a CMO’s involvement in thought leadership leads to better returns. And our Thought-Leading Brands survey backs this up: 85% of those whose CMO takes a leadership role in planning and managing the strategy say they are already recognised as a global thought leader, compared with just 37% of companies where the CMO is not involved.
Three-quarters of tech firms we surveyed say their CMO is substantially involved in their campaigns. So is it any wonder tech is leading the way?
Another notable difference is that tech firms are significantly more likely to have a member of their client-facing team in a leadership role when it comes to producing insights-led content (40% compared with 18% in financial services, for example). In our experience, tech companies recognise that their sales and account management teams have a deep understanding of the client’s needs and use it to their advantage, using it to craft and tailor the thought leadership content specifically with their target audience in mind.
“Thought leadership helps your company to take a position on the issues that matter most to your clients.”
Alastair Gornall – Non-Executive Chairman, FT Longitude
3. Their activation is sophisticated
Thought leadership has to adapt to plummeting attention spans, proliferating content and ever-busier lives, and technology companies are the best at addressing this.
They lead the way in producing thought leadership in innovative, digital-first formats. For instance, the research reveals that tech organisations are much more likely to have access to advanced mobile publishing programs to supplement other areas of their digital publishing strategies.
They are also ahead of the game when it comes to spreading the influence of their campaigns over months – sometimes even years – instead of just promoting it in one short burst.
4. They exploit account-based marketing
Account-based marketing, or ABM, lends itself to extremely well to thought leadership, because it typically has a similar focus on a targeted list of individuals within key accounts.
Technology companies are using this to their advantage: 9 out of 10 use ABM to help deliver their thought leadership campaigns to new leads and existing clients in a more targeted and personal way.
As FT Longitude’s CEO, Rob Mitchell, outlines, we expect the trend for ABM to deepen among producers of thought leadership throughout 2018.
Of course, tech companies are not infallible. They could also benefit from adopting best practice gleaned from other sectors. For example, professional services companies tend to be more comfortable focusing on ideas and issues in their campaigns, whereas tech companies are still more likely to slip into industry jargon and product pushes that are off-putting for audiences outside the tech sphere. While the best tech firms are certainly getting better at talking their audience’s language, there may still be ideas they can adopt from the likes of McKinsey, Accenture and the Big Four.
Thought leadership is rapidly changing the way many organisations go to market, and the leaders are reaping the rewards. Campaigns that follow these examples of best practice – along with other habits of our Thought-Leading Brands – can boost revenues, increase client acquisition and retention, and enhance your reputation.
For more insights and best practice from the Thought-Leading Brands, download your free copy of research report here.