First it was SEM, then SEO, digital marketing, content marketing… now the key to growing a B2B company is Thought Leadership. Because it builds awareness, credibility, and trust with your audience, perhaps in the most sustainable and long-term way.
So how can YOU become a thought leader? Here are 4 of the best ways, along with tips to help you maximize your ROI.
1. Publish whitepapers
These are often 10+ page research papers that address a niche audience’s questions or present solutions to their problems. A whitepaper could be “What does it cost to set up a call center for your tech support”, or “The challenges in targeting millennials as banking customers”, or “Top trends in the IoT industry for 2018”, etc.
Side note: One way to get whitepaper ideas is to look at the topics covered at the best conferences in your industry, and the titles of their panels or keynote presentations.
Whitepapers typically take 2-3 weeks to write and cost $4-8,000 (based on rates quoted at popular outsourced writing agencies).
Having a “Whitepapers” section on your website increases your credibility and gives your visitors an opportunity to engage with your expertise without the fear of getting on the phone with a sales person.
Of course, a popular option is to “gate” access to this high-value material by asking for your visitors’ email, where you can send them the whitepapers. This is a great way to start nurturing a potential lead (perhaps you can send them more whitepapers in the future or invite them to a local industry event as your guest).
The risk with whitepapers is that many of your visitors – no matter how interested to engage with you – won’t have the time digest 10+ pages of text.
How to boost the ROI of whitepapers
You can boost the ROI of this investment (often by 10x or more) by capturing the gist of the whitepaper in a very short video (it can be as short as 20 seconds). Your goal is to engage on a key pain point, demonstrate that you’re an expert, and offer a glimpse of what you can accomplish for potential clients.
Another way to boost ROI is to use longer-form videos to help your audience truly understand what your whitepaper is about. For example, this is especially relevant for cryptocurrency token offerings: they put out a complex whitepaper that retail investors are unable to digest, but they could make their ideas much more approachable to a broader audience with a video. It can be very powerful when you combine visuals with language that’s written specifically to explain.
Board Studios is such an “explaining agency” that specializes in converting whitepapers into short & easy-to-digest videos.
2. Present & speak at conferences
We’ve been interviewing many highly-successful B2B companies’ CEOs. The majority of them swear by conferences. Nothing beats one-on-one connections. Go to as many conferences as you can, and make it a point to speak with as many people as possible. One trick is to give yourself 5 minutes to make a connection, then move on. The ultimate goal is to meet everyone attending the conference!
How to maximize your ROI?
Attending is a large investment of time and money (your team’s time to prepare and attend, the money to travel and stay at a hotel, and of course the fees to attend). These expenses can be even higher if you have a booth at a tradeshow. So you want to make the most of your investment.
Here are 2 ways:
- Become a speaker! This will instantly catapult your credibility in the industry. You’re elevated above all attendees. Everyone sees you as an expert. You present your ideas to a larger audience, and it’s easier to connect with attendees. Just ask “what did you think of my panel or presentation?” and go from there. Most events will ask you to “sponsor” them somehow in order to secure a speaker seat, but if you can share a powerful case study or industry data it can be well worth it. You’ll have everyone’s attention for some time, which you can’t get any other way.
- Get the right video for your booth! Your sales reps often waste 10-15 minutes explaining what you do, sometimes to people who aren’t event interested. That’s a huge waste of time… imagine having a great video that attracts more foot traffic from the aisles to your booth, visitors watch your short video and ‘get’ what you do – how you’re different and better than competitors, and those truly interested engage with your sales reps to have a better-qualified conversation.
Keep in mind
But you don’t want any video. Often companies invest in a generic video that’s 1.5-2 minutes long, perhaps has cute graphics but takes too long to get to the “meat”…
- You need something around 30 seconds so that a visitor won’t have to wait too long for the key message to cycle through to the beginning.
- And you want typography on-screen because you can’t rely on sound at these events.
- Even better, you can leverage the video’s graphics in your booth, so you can have poster graphics of key scenes, or a trifold / pamphlet you can give visitors to reinforce your branding and messaging.
3. Get on the podcasting trend… the easy way
There are approximately 65 million people in the US listening to podcasts every month, and that number is growing >20% annually.
Of course, it would be great if you could start your own podcast, but that requires serious effort and commitment to regularly post incredible content. Podcasting is very serious business (who knew, right?) and it’s super competitive.
The smart way to launch a podcast
There’s actually a way to hack podcasts, and that’s by creating a short series of 10-15 evergreen episodes, meaning that it’s not an ongoing commitment (because it’s very difficult to do that unless it’s your part-time job).
- Create a launch team – a group of people in your network who will support your effort by downloading your podcast episodes. You want to have them ready to go so when you launch you’ll get an immediate bump in demand. iTunes will notice and bump you on their podcast charts, leading to much more awareness than you could possibly get otherwise.
- Find 10-15 industry experts that you’d love to interview for your audience. Do all the interviews before launching the podcast, so you have all the material ready.
- Launch the podcast and ask your launch team to binge-listen to your episodes.
With this strategy, you stand a decent chance to create a podcast that remains at the top of lists for quite some time and you keep getting engagement for 1+ years.
If you don’t have the resources and would rather be a podcast guest
First, narrow down the list to the industry podcasts that your audience is likely to listen to and where you think your expertise could be a good fit. Search for them using keywords on iTunes and on Google.
Podcast hosts are always looking for content, and having an industry expert on their show can add tremendous value to their audience. Start building a relationship with the host, because they are trying to build their thought leadership as well and there is always room for partnerships.
Customize your outreach message
During your outreach to podcasters, customize your message to each host and the ‘brand’ of their podcast. And send the emails yourself, because response rates will be much higher if the host sees that you reached out (and not your assistant).
Here are just a few B2B podcasts worth checking out:
How to maximizt your ROI?
After you’ve done the interview, ask the host for access and permission to repurpose the material. The idea is to isolate a number of clips with your pithiest remarks, and create a series of short animations for your company’s YouTube channel (another great asset to build for communicating your thought leadership!).
4. Write a Book or eBook
Nothing gives you more credibility than publishing a book. And it’s an incredible marketing tool: you can mail it out to potential clients, get emails on your website in exchange for a free chapter or download of the entire book.
Writing the book
First things first, you have to put your ideas on paper, and that’s a lot of work. If you are a self-starter and want to go the eBook route, here is a comprehensive guide for everything you need to know. But if writing’s not your forte, find people who are experts at it and are willing to co-write, or even ghostwrite for you. Here are just a few ghostwriting services:
How to maximize your ROI?
It’s all about distribution! The more people that get exposed to your ideas the better. So keep mailing out the book, but that probably won’t be enough. Because most people are already bombarded with too much stuff to read. There are 10,000+ solid business books published each year… which one to read first?
Tip #1: BookBub
Create a limited time offer where you give away your eBook for free through BookBub. They can give you access to millions of people. You should have 1 page in the front of the book where you ask readers to go online and download free materials – in exchange for their email address, of course, so you can provide additional value and nurture them.
Nurturing has to be done carefully though, so you don’t alienate them after a few emails. B2B companies have the benefit that they don’t typically push for a sale via email, unlike B2C offerings.
Instead, you want to keep promoting your thought leadership so you’re top of mind throughout the year.
You don’t know when the need will arise, but when it does you want to be in their mind. Your clients don’t want to waste valuable time resaerching solutions, interviewing vendors, and trying to figure out who’s better and why. They’d rather go with someone they already see as a leader and trust.
Tip #2: Book Video Club
One way to further boost distribution is to convert the key ideas from your book into a short 2-3 minute video. A company that specializes in that is Book Video Club. They’re experts at getting at the core of your ideas, and you can leverage their large and growing following on YouTube and their proprietary mailing list.
Mimic the masters
Perhaps the best way though to hone in your “thought leadership” game is to follow the masters. Who are great thought leaders that you admire? Look at industries outside your space to get great ideas. How do they engage their audience to grow their email list, Twitter following, YouTube subscribers, podcast subscribers and downloads, etc. etc.
Here are just a few thought leaders that we recommend you follow.
All in all, thought leadership is about selling your ideas and your business, without engaging in overt sales. But once everyone’s on the scene, you have to stay cutting edge in order to stand out. Copy the “professional” thought leaders and stay on top of trends so you’re not left behind.