Not Your Mom’s Thought Leadership Strategy

According to Earnest Agency, approximately 41% of B2B buyers, including software buyers, follow and are influenced by “thought leaders” in making their purchasing decisions. For big-budget purchases—such as software with a price tag of over $10,000—70% of buyers in the B2B space read four or more articles or other pieces of content in making their choices.

Thought leadership is particularly important in the software realm, where the problems you’re seeking to solve are often complex and expensive to fix. Much of your job as a software marketer involves educating your buyers on the problems they may not know they have—and consulting with them on specific ways your software can help them solve those problems. If your voice stands out in the market as particularly informed on the challenges your customers face and predictive about the trends that will affect their business, you’re a thought leader.

There are lots of ways to become a thought leader, and many are a slow burn. Posting consistently on your company blog and social media, contributing to LinkedIn discussions, and forming industry connections that get you invitations to speak on panels and at conferences—these are all good tactics, and will doubtless pay off in qualified leads over time.

But you want leads now. And thought leadership can deliver that, too—if you do it right. In fact, with the right incisive e-book or report, you can make a splash in your industry—and jumpstart your reputation in this area.

For this project, you’ll need to develop a single white paper, report, or e-book addressing specific concerns your prospects have. While white papers and reports can be effective, e-books are most likely the best strategy in this case. Even if they’re electronic, books carry a certain cachet that reports don’t—and, especially if you don’t already have a strong following, you’ll need all the cachet you can get.

I just really like saying that word. Cachet.

Know what keeps your buyers up at night. Before you can start developing your e-book, it’s crucial to understand what challenges the people who make the buying decisions are dealing with. There are a number of ways to find this out—listening in on social media conversations to discover which questions don’t get adequate answers; monitoring the topics at technology and business conventions to see which seem hottest; or just asking prospects directly by sending out a survey.

You may find that there are several pain points that your software can address, and that’s fine—that gives you plenty of options for content, and a wider net of prospects to target your marketing to. Ideally, you’ll find three or four complex questions for which there is no easy answer. Your goal isn’t to give an easy answer here—but to position your company as the one that really “gets it” and can help guide yoru buyers toward solutions that work for them.

Challenge common wisdom. Now that you’ve found the problems, you’ll need to position your software as the solution. Look for a way that lets you challenge accepted practice in some way. This is a great way to build buzz and generate interest—it lets you develop a headline with a very strong hook, and marketing copy that will get people curious about the claims you’re making.

If you’re going against what everyone else is saying—and you can back that up with solid expertise and experience—you’ll stand out from a sea of voices in your field, and more easily establish yourself as a thought leader.

Keep sales out of it. It’s crucial to avoid any sense of a sales agenda in this piece. The idea is to provide value to your prospects and customers, not sell them on something. Your e-book will lose credibility in the market if it’s perceived as a sales tool—and that’s exactly what you want to avoid.

Make it personal. Don’t just tell your readers the solution. Show them. Back up your claims with interviews from experts within your company. Talk to them to get their take on how to solve the problems you’ve identified as pain points. Provide in-depth interviews. This allows you to introduce your employees to prospects, humanizing your company and demonstrating the expertise prospects get when they choose to work with you.

Refine your message. Your marketing should target all the specific pain points you address in the piece—consider each of them a separate audience. If you found four pain points, for example, develop four landing pages, each with marketing copy that speaks to one of those concerns.

Separating your marketing messages is more effective than developing a single marketing campaign trying to address all the pain points at once. Prospects need to be hit over the head immediately with the answer to that one specific problem they’re mulling over—not sort through a lengthier sales page to find the part addressed to them.

The copy on your landing pages should clearly communicate the benefits of downloading the e-book, demonstrating what your audience can expect to learn and do after reading it. Quotes from your expert interviews can add credibility, but don’t make it too long—keep your call to action above the fold.

Gate it up. Of course, you lose the advantage of qualifying your prospects if you don’t gate this content. Offer it as a free download, but require visitors to fill out a form and provide their contact information in order to get it. While common wisdom says that it’s better to build a simple download form, the truth is that the more fields your audience has to fill out to get the content, the more strongly they qualify themselves.

Get the word out. There are numerous ways to drive traffic to your landing pages. They should be keyword optimized—so anyone doing a search for an answer to these specific problems will find you. You can use Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms, although it’s more difficult to target this way. A targeted email campaign can be effective as well, especially if the recipients are carefully chosen. Ideally, all three of these methods should be working in tandem to drive traffic to your microsites.

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