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The Path to Thought Leadership Marketing Strategy

Thought leadership campaigns are at the core of any successful marketing strategy, and a key characteristic of successful companies.  They define the business and their products as the premier solutions and their leaders as the go-to experts in their field.  Correctly positioning your company as a thought leader is essential to your strategic marketing plan; regardless of your size.

Detailed below are fundamental steps to consider when defining a though leadership marketing strategy.  They are not meant to be all inclusive however will provide insight and starting points in developing your though leadership marketing strategy.

Carve out your leadership position – what do you want to be known for?

Most companies weren’t born as though leaders; the competency was developed over time.  Thought leadership is an active intent to stake a position in the market that clearly defines leadership; and a commitment to broadcast that position via multiple channels.  Social media gives everyone the ability to create noise broadcasting why their product is the best, and why other products are failures.  But that’s just noise.  Thought leadership requires rising above the noise, positioning your products and solutions as the de facto leader based on the expertise and experience of both the solutions and the industry expertise you bring to market.

Note you don’t have to be knowledgeable about everything in a given industry segment.  Thought leadership requires that you stake out a position on a sub segment of the industry for which you compete demonstrating greater knowledge and insight than your competitors.  If we look at the cloud industry, it’s not that you have to be an expert on the industry, only the segment for which your products and solutions create value for customers.  You’re not going to go up against Amazon or Microsoft for the entire cloud, you only have to go up against a solution stack for which you have competency and can define and demonstrate differentiation like security, analytics, or customer service.

Expertise – You have to know the subject

It can’t be stated enough, you have to know the subject matter.  You need to become the expert on your differentiation in the market place.  What is the specific pain point that your products and solutions fill?  With that in mind, you have to become an expert on that pain point, how that pain point is shared with other customers, and how your solutions are best equipped to solve that problem.

The Voice – not about having the best selling product, about differentiating yourself

Once you have staked out your though leadership segment, you must develop a voice.  Many organizations think of this at how best to promote their products and solutions.  Thought leadership is different.  Thought leadership requires relating to the customer, understanding the customer’s challenges, and offering solutions agnostic advice to help solve these challenges.  It is only through the creation of a rapport with the customer that we become thought leaders, and ultimately turn marketing from a push campaign (delivering product content to customers) to a pull campaign (customers actively seeking product and solutions from you).

Audience – Who do you speak to?

Recognize that your audience is not yourself.  Your audience is segmented across a multitude of axis.  Technical users, decision makers, and even generationals need to be considered when executing your strategy.  How to engage a CXO is very different then engaging an IT director or systems administrator.  Equally, the conversation you have with someone who grew up in the data center is very different than a millennial that has never stepped in front of a rack of servers.  Broadening your message, your tone, and the avenues for which you utilize is determinate on the success of your campaign.

The Avenues – publications that can be used

Thought leadership is earned, not given.  Therefore, you must utilize a multitude of mechanisms to implement your thought leadership strategy.  Examples include social media, industry conferences, personal blogs and electronic publications.  Some examples are listed below:

BrightTalk – leading webinar based content deliver site

InfoWorld – leading online publication features tech bloggers

TechTarget Bitpipe – Leading IT industry content and resource guide

IDG Connect – Leading IT industry content and resource guide

DCIA – Distributed Computing Industry Association weekly email content delivery

Thought leadership is an active campaign strategy that must be employed.  It takes consistency, dedication to the position, and time.

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About Michael Elliott

Michael Elliott is a thought leader, cloud strategist and enterprise data center evangelist focusing on data center evolution with particular emphasis on private and hybrid clouds. Michael previously worked as Dell’s Cloud Evangelist representing Dell’s cloud portfolio and vision at customer meetings, media briefings, and industry conferences. Prior to that, Michael held marketing and consulting roles in the storage and telecom industry. Michael currently works for NetApp as their cloud strategist and evangelist. Michael started his career as a mainframe programmer for General Electric and held the role of adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Akron. Michael has a mathematics degree from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from Pennsylvania State University. Michael’s recent work includes: • Participation in cloud industry panels and private equity discussions relating to the vision of cloud. • Business development activities with a focus on the enterprise data center. • Sales enablement and training on cloud positioning and how cloud impacts hardware and software sales. • Industry conference presentations including the Consumer Electronics Show, Cloud Computing East, Educause, and the Cloud Computing Association. • Presentation at the International Forum on Innovation and Emerging Industries Development in Shanghai, China

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