Building Thought Leadership: White Papers, Blogs, and More

I had the pleasure of brainstorming with Rogers Corp. recently. Market Development Manager Ken Kozicki came up with this great idea of Knowledge Sharing Days for the new group he’s put together. They gather every quarter or so to spend some time together, expanding their knowledge base. This week they started with a great technical presentation about vibration, isolation, and damping. Then I lead a marketing strategy discussion.

My assigned topic was white papers, but the bigger issue is thought leadership. How to develop it, how to distribute it, and how to really own a differentiated position in your market. I started with my favorite ad, an old piece from McGraw-Hill:

After he tells you point blank that he knows nothing about you, do you really expect you can sell him something? Of course not. First you need to pave the way with a variety of credibility-building communications. Then your salespeople can more quickly and efficiently close sales.

Thought leadership is all about innovative ideas and actionable insights. There are 9 Steps to Establishing Thought Leadership:
• Take a position
• Tell customers and prospects something they don’t already know
• Be vertically famous; the more you focus, the better
• What is your competition missing?
• Develop your voice
• Speak in public
• Get published
• Talk less, listen more
• Focus, but don’t succumb to tunnel vision

This leads us back to white papers et al., today’s tools for delivering thought leadership. They can take a variety of formats:
• White papers & articles
• Blogs
• eBooks
• Multiple formats: audio, video
• Tweets
• Speeches

The old days of white paper tomes with dozens of pages are long gone. The Internet has changed our expectations. Now we’re looking for something shorter, more to the point, lots of bullet points and images and block diagrams. But the essence of the white paper or eBook or blog remains the same…to provide new insight into complex business problems that your customers face and provide ways to address them.

These thought leadership communications have many uses:
• Lead generation: customers, prospects, sales channel
• Public relations: placement as articles in industry journals
• Blog: core theme for a series of posts
• Branding: supporting your technology leadership position

Social media expert Paul Gillin wrote an interesting blog post about how to go about writing such important pieces. He states that it is difficult to teach an in-house engineer how to write from a marketing perspective…a compelling, readable style that takes into account issues like customer value, branding, competitive positioning, all without turning the paper into a blatant product pitch. I concur. But I disagree with Paul when he recommends hiring a journalism graduate and then teaching them about your technology/products. In automation and tech, the products are complex. Save yourself a lot of hassle and find someone who understands the products AND the market AND can write. We’ve spent more than our fair share of time, coming in after the fact to clean up the fluffy mess left behind by someone from outside the industry.

And don’t be fooled by the New York Times spin that blogs are a thing of the past. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially in B2B, where social media is ramping up fast. A recent survey by IT Toolbox found the following:
• Among IT professionals, social media consumption outpaced editorial and vendor content consumption. Respondents consumed social media at a rate of 6.77 hours per week, versus 4.29 for editorial content, and 4.16 for vendor content.
• Social media represents 45% of total media consumption among IT professionals (compared to 28% for editorial and 27% for vendor content).
• Over 81% are motivated to participate in online communities by the desire to help peers solve problems.
• Over 67% use social media to stay current and learn what their peers know.
• eBooks with interactive features are the most preferred source for information about new products, followed by videos and self-assessment/ROI calculators.


  1. […] Would you ask someone not connected to your industry expertise to author a technical press release with lots of detailed specs to a technical editorial audience?  (we have had our share of cleaning up fluff) […]

  2. […] response to our recent blog post, Building Thought Leadership: White Papers, Blogs, and More, we received an interesting bit of news from Vance VanDoren, PhD, System Integration Editor for […]

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