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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Designing the Private Cloud – Top Down or Bottom Up

In the quest to build a private cloud, it’s important to note how the individual parts fit.  Designed well, and you’ve created an automated, cloud optimized data center allowing the enterprise to respond to the dynamic pace of the changing business landscape.  Designed poorly, and you’ve added another layer of data center controls further emphasizing IT as a cost center, not a business enabler.   

There are two ways to go about the design of your private cloud.  Top down, choosing orchestration component like OpenStack and utilizing commodity parts to build out; or bottom up, utilizing hardware components already in place and determining the best orchestration layer to fit those components.  For many large enterprises, the typical choice is bottom up; utilizing existing architecture and infrastructure already in the production environment and centering on the corporate standard hypervisor and embedded staff expertise.  Others however have shed any preconceived notions of their existing infrastructure and are building from the ground up; based on open standards with the plan to migrate existing application (or building all new applications) to function in the open standards cloud environment.  For purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the bottom up approach.  Information on building an OpenStack environment can be found at OpenStack.org and will be discussed in a future article.

 Cloud Management Picture

Virtualization-enabled Core Infrastructure:  Embedded and entrenched infrastructure can be the cornerstone of your cloud build.  However, that infrastructure must be able to take advantage of some of the enhanced attributes of the hypervisor.  Capabilities like vMotion, Live Migration, Replication, VDS, vShield, Virtual Switch, etc. are only supported on specific vendor hardware.  If your storage, server, or network can’t take advantage of these capabilities, you pay for unutilized features in both CapEx and OpEx.  Or worse, you pay extra for software and services to make up for the deficiencies in your hardware.

Converged Infrastructure:  A recent trend in the industry is converged infrastructure.  In simple terms, a Converged Infrastructure (CI) allows you to manage you storage, networks and servers as a single unit, from a single console, gaining data center automation and management simplification.  With CI, you can provision a VM from a single console including all storage provisioning, memory allocation and network connections.  This solution though poses the very possible risk of vendor lock-in.  Many vendors sell their version of a converged infrastructure that ties you to their compute, network and storage choices.  They want you to purchase their version of the client-server mainframe.  Vendors need to recognize that customers have entrenched infrastructure that needs to be integrated into the CI, not excluded.  As the consumer, you need to ask how will my existing infrastructure integrate with the CI, and what happens in three years when I need to refresh.  Some vendors currently offer a more open CI while others are moving in that direction.  Caveat emptor.

Virtualization Layer:  The two leaders in virtualization for better or worse are Microsoft (Hyper-V) and VMware (ESXi).  To discuss which is better is to get into a political debate.  Alternative to these entrenched hypervisors, XEN and KVM stand out as excellent alternatives.  Although Hyper-V and ESXi are feature rich and industry leaders in hypervisor technology, XEN and KVM typically don’t have the same price tag associated with them and fit better into a more open standards environment.  For most enterprises, you’re already invested in the skill set and standardized around one of these four hypervisors making the decision easy.

Orchestration Layer:  Quite simply, the orchestration layer, or cloud layer if you will, provides for the five essential characteristics of the cloud.  That doesn’t mean that your cloud must include all 5 to be considered a cloud; only that cloud is made up of at least some of these characteristics.  I would argue though that a fully functioning private cloud comprises of the first three (On-Demand Self-Service, Broad Network Access, Resource Pooling) with only the fourth (Rapid Elasticity) and fifth (Measured Service) being optional.

Cloud Essential Characteristics (per NIST)

  • On Demand Self Service
  • Broad Network Access
  • Resource Pooling
  • Rapid Elasticity or Expansion
  • Measured Service

Cloud Management:  It is only when we reach Hybrid Clouds that Cloud Management becomes a critical construct.  Cloud Management allows for both the management of multiple clouds, and the movement of workloads between clouds, in an automated fashion.  This is really the wholly grail of a strategic, cloud optimized data centers.  The degree to which you can move workloads from one private cloud to another is made possible by the cloud management layer.

 

Ultimately, designing your private cloud is dependent on your entrenched infrastructure and software, the skill set of the team managing the data center, and your future vision.  Whether top down or bottom up, the only wrong choice is status quo.

 

Future Data Centers are Built for Change, Not Built to Last – Gartner

I recently sat through a Gartner presentation “Automation: The Linchpin for Cloud and Data Centers” where I believe they hit upon something profound.  “Future Data Centers are built for Change, Not Built to Last”.  I’ve brought this up with a few large enterprise business leaders and positioned it in this way; if there was a disaster and your entire data center was lost including all applications, how would you design your new data center?  Most when hit with this question sit back, smile, and dream of the possibilities.

To address this, we can look at the start-up market for inspiration.  Most new companies today are completely in the cloud.  They’ve outsourced infrastructure to public cloud providers.  They don’t want to be in the infrastructure business, they want to be in the “thing that creates revenue” business.  As they have grown into mid size businesses,  they are now looking at the migration to hosted private clouds to gain the feeling of greater security and operate in more of a hybrid mode.

Large Enterprises for right or wrong, need their infrastructure; how they would approach building out a new infrastructure however would be vastly different.  Gone would be many of the monolithic compute structures, in would be a more flexible, automated, and open standards environment with application built for cloud (i.e. built on the premise that infrastructure fails but the application must live on).  They would build a more organic, flexible, automated environment that allows for change.  They would deliver services-centric IT.

So, how can we detach ourselves from our infrastructure of today?  The answer is typically, we can’t; at least not immediately.  But we can plan for a future that is built upon these principles.  To achieve this, we have to adopt design platforms, development applications, and infrastructure that will take advantage of a more heterogeneous environment.  We have to envision a future data center that was built to change, not build to last.

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