When David Silverstein launched Breakthrough Management Group (BMG) in 2001, he sought ways to establish BMG as business performance improvement specialists in the financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Knowing that advertising was not a viable strategy, he embraced thought leadership marketing to establish BMG in key target markets. Silverstein spoke at industry conferences and commented on industry trends in his Leadership and Business blog. He co-authored INsourcing Innovation, a book that articulates BMG’s approach to developing core business competencies that drive innovation. He offered his expertise to the media, helping BMG garner coverage in over 100 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Business Finance magazine, and Investor’s Business Daily. He also appeared on CNN’s Squeeze Play. In roughly five years, thought leadership took BMG from an unknown startup to a global organization with eleven offices on five continents. “Our reputation as a thought leader helped us expand into core markets, including Asia and Latin America, where credibility and name recognition go a long way,” says Silverstein. “Our reputation now helps our sales team get their foot in the door in key markets.” The Age of Thought Leadership Marketing used to be about “getting in front of” prospects, delivering your pitch and making the sale. Today, the Internet has permanently changed the way people and companies find and evaluate products and services. Consumers now find companies through their own efforts, often through a search engine. Moreover, buyers increasingly distrust marketing “claims” and expect businesses to show, not tell, when demonstrating their products and services. They shun self-serving salespeople and seek businesses that focus on making a difference, not getting a sale. Thought leadership centers on earning trust and credibility. Thought leaders get noticed by offering something different—information, insights, and ideas, for instance. Thought leadership positions you and your company as an industry authority and resource and trusted advisor by establishing your reputation as a generous contributor to your industry. Thought Leadership in a Virtual World The Internet has permanently transformed marketing. Regardless of your company’s size or industry, people expect to find basic information about your company at the click of a mouse. The Internet empowers prospects that now expect easy access to information about your products and services. Prospects often form a Virtual First Impression ™ of your company in an Internet browser. They expect your company to be “findable” on the Web, and demonstrate a credible record of results. If you appear lackluster compared to your competitors, you lose potential clients or customers and risk becoming obsolete. To make the Internet an effective part of your thought leadership strategy, you must focus on showing your value, demonstrating your worth, and making a difference. Your website should provide fresh, educational content that helps prospects see your business as a solution. Elements of a Thought Leadership Program Thought leadership centers on sharing your knowledge and giving your expertise generously and frequently in a variety of formats. Thought leaders position themselves as centers of influence who are always “present” within their target markets. Seek opportunities to be seen, read, and heard on a regular basis by the people who matter most to your company. Media Strategies The public values the media, and so should you. In one way or another, the media reach and influence everyone with a direct impact on your business. As a thought leader, your should establish relationships with editors and publications in the trade, and in local, national, and international media to enhance your credibility, build your brand, and reach far more prospects than you could in person. The Internet Share your knowledge by creating and distributing content online contributes incrementally to growing your business brand. As the Internet evolves to an interactive online community, new technologies collectively labeled “Web 2.0” enable people to collaborate, co-create, and share information online rather than simply peruse information. Syndicate articles on web sites that reach your marketplace. Embrace blogs, podcasts, social networking websites, social bookmarking websites, and online communities as virtual platforms to demonstrate your expertise and engage in two-way dialogue with your prospects. Speaking can be the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to establish yourself as a thought leader, and it gives you tremendous credibility that increases over time. Identify trade shows, associations and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending, and get on their panels or lead workshops. You don’t have to be personally present to give a talk that reaches your target market. Online chats and teleconferences, using your own or others’ Websites or telephone lines, can help you reach a lot of people eager to hear your message. Publish Valuable Content Thought leaders create and distribute information, such as white papers, books and reports, that educate their target market about issues related to their business. White papers can be easily created in Adobe pdf format and offered from your own or others’ web sites. When done correctly, a white paper is a powerful vehicle for a thought leadership marketing strategy that attracts prospects via search engines and other online channels. Thought Leadership Starts at the Top Regardless of a company’s size or industry, thought leadership always starts at the top. When you are deemed a thought leader, it is a broad acknowledgment that your company, in a real, authentic sense, leads the thinking in your industry. Thought leadership is most effective when led by a company’s top management, who develop and express new ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change.