Is Your Thought Leadership Strategy Using Research Wisely?

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Clare McDermott

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September 27, 2013

According to CMI, 57 percent of marketers feel publishing original research is an effective content tactic. But let’s be frank, much of what passes for “research” is just a small cut above a Survey Monkey experiment led by your summer intern (no offense to hard-working summer interns).

Tellabs happens to do original research well. Really well. And George Stenitzer, CMO of Tellabs, did not disappoint when we asked him to talk about Tellabs’ success using original, robust original research as part of its thought leadership strategy.

This is the difference between what is normally thought of as thought leadership versus what is thought provoking. A lot of thought leadership is like your term paper in school. You’re proving you know your stuff, but you’re not offering a new viewpoint or challenging the status quo in any way. We shoot for thought provoking content that challenges customers’ notion of the status quo and shows change is needed.

Every marketer who works in professional services — those industries that have been doing thought leadership for 20+ years — should read the above paragraph twice. Thought leadership strategy is not about proving your intelligence to customers, but rather it’s about moving beyond “showing off” and actually providing something of value.

Explains Stenitzer, “We think it’s important to bring customers thought-provoking content… content that helps identify trends coming 2-3 years in the future, and enables them to address needs now, rather than later, when course-corrections are more expensive.

Using Analysts to Stay Ahead of the Trends

And yet anyone who has produced content for a C-level audience in a niche field knows this type of stuff is not easy. To teach something new and valuable to an executive audience takes deep intelligence, access to data, and a bevy of talented writers and the keen eye of an analyst. Says Stenitzer, “The best people we’ve found to help us look into the crystal ball are industry analysts. We work with a variety of analysts to identify and quantify trends in a way that’s meaningful to our customers.

Stenitzer credits Tellabs’ success to the work of CC Group, an agency based in London. CC Group specializes in mobile and telecom, knows what the key issues are, and can identify which analysts to partner with to create the most powerful content. Stenitzer also says the marketing group works closely with sales to understand their customers and their particular pain points.

Unique Positioning of Thought Leadership Content

Tellabs’ most successful research report in recent years is, The End of Profitability. Relying on original research and analyst interviews, Tellabs’ report discusses the biggest threats to telecom profitability and how telecom companies can bend the curve to forestall the end of profitability.

Explains Stenitzer, “At the time, we fielded calls from huge companies we had not worked with before — such as [the chief technology office at] Telefonica S.A. — to discuss the findings. (Telefonica S.A. later became a customer.) The report was subsequently published in article format with Tellabs’ media partner, Total Telecom, and by year-end became one of their top 10 stories” (according to Nielsen NetRatings).

Because Tellabs publishes content that is regarded to have such high value, it can do something most marketers might only dream of: use content to have a one-on-one, in person conversation. (No, we’re not talking a 3-second tweet with a customer, but rather a face-to-face meeting. In the real world.)

After completing an original research report, Tellabs provides the findings to its sales force exclusively in the form of a slide deck, an executive summary, and a full report. This gives the sales team time to share it with their customers and prospects before the research gets released more widely.

Next, Tellabs releases summary forms of its report to the public (specifically a news release, executive summary, infographic, and video). To get the full report, however, readers must make an appointment with a member of the sales team. This one-to-one engagement opportunity is the most prized aspect of Tellabs’ content marketing program.

Explains Stenitzer, “The big opportunity with content marketing is to provide your customers with information that’s so valuable it compels the conversation. We are looking to have an in-depth conversation. We share part of our content publicly, but the majority is shared in private. We are focused on getting the right conversation going — one that points to a solution. My job is to turn conversation into revenue.

Stenitzer says he arrived at this way of working after reading “The Challenger Sale,” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. “Dixon changed our thinking,” says Stenitzer. “He writes that the most successful salespeople are those who challenge the status quo. We realized we had content that could do that.”

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This article has been republished with permission from the Content Marketing Institute. You can view the original post here.

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  • Dr. Liz Alexander

    What a wonderful example of thought leadership in action. As Joel Kurtzman, who coined the term originally, said in a recent business article: “(Thought leadership should deepen that conversation in a way that the client has never thought about before. And it should cause a reaction like ‘I need to have a deeper, closer relationship to that firm because these guys are smart, they can really help me, have thought about my problem and how to solve it’.”

    Which is precisely what Mr Stenitzer at Tellabs is doing. It’s also what one of the case studies, Sinclair Knight Merz in Australia, that we showcase in our new audio series (http://leadingthought.us.com/courses/), also does. In SKM’s case, they package insights by their highly technical engineering experts into content that is more easily digestible by lay clients, with the aim of provoking deeper, mutually beneficial conversations.

    As we point out in our book #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign, some key characteristics of truly thought leading content are that it is novel (i.e., unseen anywhere else) and provocative. Unless such content causes the reader to think differently and then act in accordance with that new perspective, it’s not thought leading. Unfortunately, too many content marketers believe that anything they put out is. It’s therefore refreshing to read articles like this, about Tellabs, a company that truly gets it!