As thought leadership is a central plank of many public relations strategies it, like PR in general, frequently has the challenge thrown at it of ‘can it make us money?’ The answer, it seem, is a very tangible and measurable yes. But let’s not forget the difficult to monetise value of an excellent reputation, either, which is a currency no organisation wants to do without.
The question of thought leadership making money for an organisation is one of a number of topics which came up in a discussion I had with Craig Badings and Dr Liz Alexander, who recently published a compelling e-book entitled 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign. Written as a series of tweetable insights, it works both as an inspiration for thinking about effective communication, as well as a practical ‘how-to’ handbook.
Other topics which came up in our discussion were methodologies which can be used to measure the impact of thought leadership and the challenge of carving out a thought leadership ‘space’ in an area already occupied by a rival organisation.
Increasing revenue through the practice of thought leadership
Craig gives three examples from the ebook: Thought Leadership: How to differentiate your company and stand out from the crowd, written by Mignon van Halderen, Kym Kettler-Paddock and himself (you should check it out as it is a substantial piece of work with many useful case studies):
According to IBM, its Smarter Planet campaign achieved the following:
- Clients’ preference for IBM increased by 5%-10%
- Brand value increased by 20% (11.3 billion dollars)
- Stock price increased by 64%.
GE’s Ecomagination campaign achieved the following:
- From 2005-2010, GE earned $85 billion in revenue on Ecomagination products
- Ecomagination sales are expected to grow two times faster than the rest of the company
- 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent reduction in water use and $130 million in energy efficiency savings.
According to Unilever, it’s Dove Campaign for Real Beauty achieved the following:
- Within two months of the launch, sales rose in the US by 600%
- within six months of the campaign launch, Dove’s sales rose by 700% in Europe
- The brand is estimated to have had an 11% increase in revenues in Q1 2005 as well as double digit growth in Q2 2005
- As of 2010, Dove sales total more than €2.5 billion
- Sales have grown by more than $1.5 billion in revenue within five years after the campaign’s launch.
Reputation, marketing and stakeholder engagement driven by thought leadership
Craig and Liz also outlined additional business-relevant tangible outcomes thought leadership provides:
- Deeper engagement with existing and new clients/customers and converting prospects into customers.
- Establishing a relationship with clients and prospects based on your insights into their issues or challenges, not your products or services. This enables very different conversations and clearly differentiates your brand from the competition.
- A significant lift to brand reputation as evidenced by the GE figures.
- Opening up marketing opportunities the company would otherwise never had had. For example, Booz & Co’s Global Innovation 1000 thought leadership campaign’s study is cited each year in nearly 200 publications around the globe, spanning 27 countries. It receives numerous invitations to write by-lined or guest articles in other publications. Their employees are invited to speak at innovation conferences around the world. Their employees are invited to join advisory boards of clients and innovation-related associations.
- And, finally, one that is often overlooked: equipping your own employees – especially your sales team and new business team – with rich, valuable data/information which leapfrogs them in terms of the conversations they can have with clients and prospects compared to the competition.
Measurement of thought leadership impact
I asked Craig and Liz what methodology they recommend to measure the impact of thought leadership on achieving new revenue or other business outcomes. They came up with a range of ideas on this topic. Clearly, you need to customise these approaches to your campaign, how it is being rolled out (e.g. online only?) and your budget.
“The critical first step is to define, very clearly and to have it written down, your objectives,” said Craig and Liz. “Based on the organisation’s specific objectives, measurement criteria could include the following:
- Visits to the content webpage
- Email click through rates
- Video views
- Attendance at webinars
- Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook followers
- The number of names who opt in to download e-books or white papers
- Attendance at talks
- Third party support (e.g., validation of your thought leadership by key influencers in the industry and/or research entities like think tanks etc.)
- Media coverage across tier one (mainstream) and tier two media (trade)
- Measurement of tone and the key messages
- Speaking engagements
- One-on-one client contact
- New prospect engagement
- Qualitative, researched client feedback – case studies and suchlike
- Internal impact (i.e. how do employees view it, how do they use it, how useful it is in prompting conversations with clients?)
- New business pipeline
- Brand reputation (using research and then benchmarking tools)
- Google rankings on agreed search terms
- Klout score for your thought leadership champion.
“Depending on the tools you use for measurement,” continued Craig and Liz, “You can start becoming quite sophisticated in your measurement of things like: the segment of clients and prospects that respond best to your thought leadership content and why; seasonal impact; impact depending on the day and the time of day.
“The beauty of almost all of this is that it can be done automatically.”
Entering a competitive space with thought leadership
In Craig and Liz’s book, they mention undertaking research to ensure the thought leadership space an organisation might seek to inhabit is not already dominated by a competitor. Are there occasions, I asked them, when there is a benefit to seeking ‘dual occupancy’ of a thought leadership ‘space’ for a newcomer?
“Yes; there is something called the ‘long tail’, the concept introduced by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine (and formerly The Economist) to describe the shift away from a few mass markets to a much larger number of niche opportunities/markets,” asserted Craig and Liz.
“A good example of this would be innovation. The innovation space is pretty much owned by Booz & Co with their Global Innovation 1000 study which they have been conducting for seven years.
“However, innovation is a very broad topic and within that there may well be a niche market that a company or brand could own (e.g. the long tail). For example, a company specialising in manufacturing might find a niche they could own in manufacturing innovation or a plastics company may come up with a plastics innovation thought leadership platform. Moves are already underway on this niche with the Think Beyond Plastic innovation competition.
Have you implemented a thought leadership campaign and evaluated its effectiveness? What did you find? Were you able to determine a link to financial outcomes?
By the way, if you found this post of value, please go to the PR blog homepage and share it through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Thanks in advance!