“Thought leadership is a way to build a relationship with prospects based on knowledge—not on products and services.”
Companies today market thought leadership based on their expertise, knowledge, and a vanguard mind-set. A thought leader is an acknowledged leader in one’s field. What distinguishes a thought leader from any other expert and knowledgeable company is the broad recognition from the outside world that the company is always ahead of the curve in its industry. Events do not create thought leaders, they exhibit thought leadership. Thought leadership is not about sales pitch, it is about vision and ideas. Thought leaders are missionaries for your company.
Events provide you access to a community where you can be identified as a thought leader. For each circle -customers, partners, employees, media, analysts etc.- you can identify someone to represent your company as the chosen thought leader. The research, expertise, insight, knowledge, and vision are what make the individual become a thought leader. The persons you designate should be at the forefront and should be able to live up to what they profess. Their charisma and knowledge invigorate the brand image. The individual who is recognized as a thought leader can lift your sales and brand recognition.
Every company has its own personality with business leaders and subject matter specialists. Events give you an opportunity to leverage such individuals within your company advance your message. It takes some work to ascertain who in your company can be advantageously used for public speaking, gatherings, and schmoozing. Thought leaders in your company are evangelists that you must know to use in live presence environments. Most companies have both internal (board members, founder, experts etc.) and external (analysts, raving customers, writers, speakers etc.) thought leaders available to them. Through them, events afford your company a platform to talk about more than just your products. It gives you an opportunity to talk about significant developments in your industry and your target market. Any time you get a speaking engagement, it is a chance to address the issues and present your vision.
Your events strategy will be more cogent if it is studded with speaking engagements. At a business gathering, the quality of speakers is mostly the first area that an attendee looks at to decide whether or not to attend. Speaking engagements are often a major reason for the companies to host their own events. Identify the events that your customers or industry leaders are attending and get on panels or lead workshops. Focus on providing useful information as people haven’t turned up there to hear about your products or services. Use the opportunity to educate and articulate a unique outlook.
Here are some steps to securing a speaking engagement for your company.
- Identify the people you can present as thought leaders to the managers of an event.
- Develop a marketing piece in the guise of a bio, explaining why the conference organizers should select your thought leader to speak.
- Prepare a précis that addresses the subjects of the conference to find the topic that best matches your delivery repertoire.
- Call conference organizers to get their insight on what their audience really wants to hear, based on their experience or plans?
- Involve your thought leaders early on to make sure that you book your slot on their calendar.
- Make sure people turn up. Confirm and reconfirm. Work with your sales and PR people to have the target audience in attendance.
- Brief the thought leader thoroughly on your key messages and provide the reference material in advance. Create a briefing kit.
- Where appropriate, boost the speaking engagements with a special offer or a promotional item.
Press and Analyst Relations go a long way in promoting your thought leadership. Assess the topics being covered and tone with the press and analysts to determine which individuals are important for an event. Take advantage of the media list the conference organizer generates. Schedule meetings with the journalists and analysts in advance and extend the discussion. Treat press and analysts as you would treat your top customers, cultivate relationships with them. Invite them to a private VIP dinner and lure them with exclusive meetings with the senior executives. Preparation is critical. Set up pre-briefings. Putting unprepared customers or executives in front of press and analysts can be counter-productive. Content is a part of the event that is hard to deliver. You can drive publications to have the editors provide you with a voice and show up the best in what your company offers.
Finally, let’s briefly discuss how does one become acknowledged as a thought leader. It starts with being open with what you know and being generous with your time and knowledge. Here are some of the steps involved in becoming established as a thought leader:
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH MEDIA: Have a list of media people who cover your industry and marketplace. Make sure you call them and meet with them from time to time. Help them with leads, insight, or stories.
WRITE: Write pieces that have useful information for your target market. Write articles, whitepapers etc. show that you understand the issues of your industry and have some suggestions to solve them. Be generous with your expertise.
GET PUBLISHED: Use press, your website or blog etc.
DO PUBLIC SPEAKING: Find opportunities to address trade shows, conferences, seminars etc. Get on panels. Lead workshops.
MAKE YOUR WEBSITE USEFUL: Use your website for active and greatly informative exchange of knowledge. The more useful information your website has the more it will be linked to.
MAKE THOUGHT LEADERSHIP A PRIORITY: You do not need to have a dominant market share in order to reach out to the market with useful ideas. Look at your company from an outsider’s perspective and see whose insight or expertise can be useful to establish thought leadership credentials.
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