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Why thought leadership is all about permission

Rob Mitchell

In 1999, the author and entrepreneur Seth Godin published Permission Marketing: Turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers. The premise of the book was simple. According to Godin, traditional marketing has always been about interrupting the audience and trying to attract their attention – consider for example, the advertisements in the middle of a TV programme or alongside a newspaper article.

But, in a world where audiences are bombarded with messages and information from a multitude of different sources, it is increasingly difficult to attract the consumer’s attention with unrequested information. Instead, Godin argued, marketers need to adopt a permission-based model, in which they earn the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to the people who actually want to get them.

So how do these principles apply to the world of thought leadership? At FT Longitude, we believe that good thought leadership should always share those three elements of being anticipated, personal and relevant.

It should be anticipated

    A brand that invests in thought leadership becomes known and valued for its content. Over time, customers will expect to see insightful information – and, when they realise that they can derive value from that content, they are open to being contacted and give their permission for this. This is very different from a more sales-driven approach, in which the information is far less likely to have intrinsic value for the customer.

It should be personal

Good thought leadership

    1. engages its audience and empathises with them. In a business-to-business context, it should speak to them directly and demonstrate understanding of their personal situation. Consider, for example, the

interactive benchmarking tools

    that we have produced on behalf of clients. These allow executives to benchmark themselves against a set of survey respondents, and deliver customised content that can help them assess how they’re performing against their peers.

It should be relevant

    Relevance is the cornerstone of good thought leadership. When every executive receives countless pieces of information from myriad sources, content has to work hard to cut through this noise. Telling customers about why they should buy your services is unlikely to lead to permission. But content that informs its audience and demonstrates understanding of their key challenges, priorities and opportunities will.

To do permission marketing well, Godin says that you need humility and patience. From our perspective as a thought leadership business, we couldn’t agree more. Good thought leadership demands humility, because you should never assume that audiences want to hear about your products and services, however great you as a business think they are. And it demands patience, because a good thought leadership strategy takes time. It won’t yield massive success overnight but, over time, it will lead to much stronger, beneficial and two-way relationships with your clients and prospects.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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