thought leader

White Papers As Thought Leadership Tools.

bernieBubo-250White papers got their start in the government sector as reports outlining policy or offering authoritative commentary on a major issue. The origins of the term date back to early 20th century England, where it referenced brief research reports used by the British Parliament.

White papers were short government reports in comparison to longer, more detailed documents that were bound in blue covers and referred to as “blue books.” Since the shorter government publications were bound in the same white paper as the text inside, they took on the term “white papers.” When the use of white papers became standard practice during this time period, the term became associated with a document having a high level of importance.

White Papers Today.

White papers are now part of the corporate world. Klariti, an Ireland-based technical writing firm, offers this definition, “White papers discuss a specific business issue, product or competitive situation. In many cases, they summarize information about a topic; for example, the results of a survey or study and then suggest a proposal for action, with the research data providing the justification for the action.”

Why They Work.

Business people are increasingly searching for quality content. Studies show that company decision makers often use white papers as their initial external information source. White papers are an effective medium capable of educating, informing and influencing your targeted customers and prospects. Done properly, a white paper serves as reinforcement for preferring your company to the competition.

Consider these statistics noted by Senior Reporter Sean Donahue of SherpaBlog:

  • In 2008, 44 percent of business prospects said they were reading white papers more often than in the past. That’s an increase from the 39 percent who said in 2007 they were reading white papers more often.
  • More than 50 percent of business decision-makers and influencers said they read two to five white papers per quarter.

White papers can serve as excellent relationship starters followed by other thought leadership events such as invitations to webinars, podcasts and conference presentations. They also have terrific pass-along capabilities that tend to cross departmental borders as internal groups collaborate on business initiatives.

Elissa Miller, a senior marketing consultant for Hoffman Marketing Communications, a business and technology writing company, points out that “publishing white papers at third-party information sites such as Bitpipe.com [geared toward IT professionals] generates goodwill and ‘mindshare’ by making research and analysis widely available. In addition, it drives interested prospects to the company, prospects that might not otherwise have known that such an offering existed.”

Why They Don’t Work.

Corporate-sponsored white papers are strategic marketing documents. But that is also frequently the root cause of a white paper’s downfall. It’s fine to carefully weave in positive points for your company through techniques such as case studies, but white papers unravel when sponsors lose objectivity. Most readers will quickly see through marketing propaganda disguised as legitimate research.

Further, many white papers provide an inadequate balance of technical details and the larger business context they address. They sometimes lack a compelling persuasiveness that helps people understand complex issues and how they can apply a solution.

Finally, a lot of marketing types shy away from white papers thinking that their other collateral, from brochures to product sheets, serve the same purpose. If they do get involved, they frequently fail to realize that white papers are unique communication vehicles that not only fill an important gap, but also require writing skills different from marketing communications and even technical writing.

To White Or Not to White.

The evidence is clear that white papers are highly effective thought leadership tools that do not require a huge monetary investment but do require handling with care. You’ll have the most success if you choose the writer carefully, and then develop the white paper through a collaborative process between the writer/researcher and your internal subject matter experts. The entire experience provides an opportunity to delve more deeply into important topics and can be a stimulating professional experience for everyone involved.

By Larry Bauer

Want Expert Advice?

MondoVox Creative Group can help you develop white papers and other components of an effective thought leadership strategy. For more information, email Julia Moran Martz.

You can connect with Julia Moran Martz on LinkedIn. Or follow her on Twitter.

Do’s and Don’ts of White Papers.

vernVulpes-250White papers aren’t particularly expensive to create, but that doesn’t mean anyone can just slap one together. They take some careful planning and decision-making to serve as true thought leadership builders. Here’s how to get your white papers off on the right foot.

Do

  • Know your audience and focus on their interests.
  • Identify problems and concerns and provide a solution.
  • Understand that people with different responsibilities view the same problem differently—accounting vs. sales vs. technical people.
  • Think of your audience as a group of investors.
  • Attract interest immediately or risk losing the reader.
  • Assume that your reader is new to the topic.
  • Tell people what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them.
  • Subtly and carefully craft your own message into the white paper—case studies and customer quotes are a good approach.
  • Include an executive summary—many people will only read this portion or read it first.
  • Use compelling graphics to reinforce your message—charts, diagrams, illustrations, etc.
  • Adopt a conversational style that includes the word “you”—no one wants to read a term paper.
  • Let your first draft sit for a few days before you begin editing—you’d be surprised how much a little distance can help.
  • Identify key words for Web-hosted white papers before you begin and use them in your white paper.
  • Edit, edit and edit again.

Don’t

  • Make your white paper self-serving—no one wants to read dull details about your product or service.
  • Forget to read a few white papers in your field—you’ll get a quick sense of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
  • Attempt to write the white paper yourself if you don’t have the depth of knowledge or the writing skills.
  • Overwhelm your audience with techspeak and acronyms—offer clear definitions when you do use technical terms.
  • Get lost in theory and forget to provide real world, supportive examples.
  • Neglect to include a brief About Us section at the end—include telephone and email contact information.
  • Task technical people with the writing assignment—make them information sources and members of the editing team instead.
  • Make the white paper too long (6-10 pages are about right, but they could be as short as 1-2 pages—break longer topics into multiple publications).
  • Write a user’s manual if your white paper is addressing a product or technology solution.
  • Skimp on the promotional side—use news releases, email, postcards, social media, etc. to promote your latest white paper.
  • Shortchange the introduction, conclusion and executive summary.
  • Hesitate to use eye-popping color to attract attention and encourage readership.
  • Neglect the title or the look and feel of the white paper—they are two of the key drivers of readership.
  • Forget to ask yourself what action you want people to take upon reading your white paper.

White Papers Play Well With E-newsletters. Sending an e-newsletter highlighting your white paper and offering a free download from your website or a landing page is effective. MondoVox Creative Group can write and design both your white paper and newsletter, create a landing page and broadcast the message through our MailVox system. You’ll get all the reporting you need right from your desktop, to say nothing of the benefits of working with an experienced single source.

For more information, email Julia Moran Martz.

By Larry Bauer

Fundamentals of Thought Leadership.

cogiTo-250We all want the same thing as marketers: to establish our company as a trusted adviser, so when a prospect is ready to buy, he or she will think of us first. Part of this we accomplish through traditional marketing communications, but integrating thought-leadership content is also essential to reaching our goals.

Further, it is altogether possible—and terribly important—to differentiate your company by the way it thinks and not just by the products and services it offers. Building your business today is as much about being ahead-of-the-curve as it is about the four P’s of price, product, place and promotion.

Thought leadership is all about building reputation. Consider what Brian Carroll, the influential blogger, author and lead generation guru had to say in a RainToday.com interview: “I found that when you’re selling something that is more complex and intangible, reputation is more important than your brand, because your reputation causes people to make conclusions about your brand. Questions in people’s minds are, ‘Have you done this before’?, ‘Have you helped companies like me’?, ‘Can you do it’”?

Size Really Doesn’t Matter.

You’re dead wrong (and probably dead in the water) if you think thought leadership belongs to the big players. So whatever you do, don’t dismiss your company’s thought leadership potential based on size. Here are four good reasons why:

  1. Thought leadership is more time intensive than dollar intensive.
  2. Being quick, nimble and aggressive is a big advantage.
  3. New channels make it easier than ever to connect your thought leadership messages directly to your targeted audience.
  4. Not every idea has to be original. You can also develop thought leadership by advancing and establishing emerging ideas.

What’s more, when your company establishes thought leadership, you level the playing field. People seek your company out when they have problems. It’s the number of cells in your corporate brain, not the number of employees on your payroll that counts.

Start With Customer Education.

If you’re still lacking confidence about climbing into the thought leadership ring, start by establishing a really good customer education program. One of our smallest customers has done a great job for years by presenting live seminars on timely topics with a follow-up print newsletter that offers additional insights. In between, they offer informative e-newsletter blasts on a variety of subjects with links to more information.

One of the keys to any successful customer education program is the timeliness of the content. Look for gaps in your customer’s knowledge that your competitors aren’t addressing. For example, another one of our customers made a big hit by publishing a white paper that discussed design trends in a segment the company serves.

They also establish a lot of credibility by publishing newsletters and white papers on industry-sensitive issues while offering a fair and balanced approach. Too risky? The issues don’t go away because a company chooses to ignore them. And their customers go elsewhere for information and ideas, thus ending the dialog.

We had another company secure a speaking engagement at a major trade conference by carefully matching its content to typically underserved segments. In this case, it involved a presentation geared toward smaller players and startups, which played right into the company’s strengths and flew under the radar of big competitors seeking audiences of big potential customers.

Be Strategic.

The worst (dare I say dumbest) thing you can do is to try establishing thought leadership with a haphazard approach. You and your team must carefully research your markets and identify your opportunities. If you have a great topic but lack the time or internal expertise, hire it out.

And don’t forget to develop a multi-channel distribution plan. Take a simple white paper, for example, which could be:

  • Announced to the media through a traditional news release.
  • Tweeted to your followers.
  • Announced at business social networks such as LinkedIn, both on your company profile page and through group discussion posts.
  • Linked from a company newsletter, blog or e-newsletter.
  • Used in sales presentations.
  • Presented at industry gatherings or your own customer event.
  • Posted at your company website.
  • Converted to a PowerPoint presentation and offered through SlideShare Presentations.

By Larry Bauer

Want Expert Advice?

MondoVox Creative Group can help you develop an effective thought leadership strategy and provide tactical execution. For more information, email Julia Moran Martz.

You can connect with Julia Moran Martz on LinkedIn. Or follow her on Twitter.

Do’s and Don’ts of Thought Leadership Building.

erGo-250Being known as an authoritative resource is powerful in today’s marketplace. The more recognition your company gets, the more powerful it becomes. With so much at stake, it pays not to make missteps in the thought leadership arena. Here’s how to get your strategy off on the right foot.

Do

  • Establish goals you can reach—then move on to bigger things.
  • Immerse yourself in your professional domain.
  • Look for topics that your competition misses.
  • Encourage thought leadership development among your staff—thought leadership isn’t a one-person show.
  • Search for new things to say and add value through what you offer.
  • Be willing to risk rejection in the interests of finding better ways to do things—admit if you’re wrong.
  • Keep customer needs at heart—thought leadership shares the selfless characteristics of servant leadership.
  • Employ leadership vision—point toward a new future or a change in direction.
  • Deliver thought-leadership messaging that is actionable.
  • Ensure that ideas are relevant to your peer base—know your audience.
  • Present solutions grounded in experience.
  • Invest in good research.
  • Make your content actionable.
  • Be fair and balanced in your presentations

Don’t

  • Confuse being a thought leader with being a pundit.
  • Forget that you need to earn the trust of your audience.
  • Lose patience—your company won’t establish instant thought-leadership status.
  • Fear being a little controversial if you’re making a bold projection—just back up what you’re saying.
  • Use a voice that doesn’t match your company’s personality.
  • Fail to communicate thought leadership through multiple media—newsletters, by-lined articles, blogs, social media networks, webinars, symposiums, panels, white papers, case studies, surveys, research studies, speaking engagements and road shows.
  • Neglect to seek an outside perspective before publishing any thought leadership piece.
  • Trip customers’ “BS” meters with your content—demonstrate your desire to help them by being authentic, genuine, generous and accessible.
  • Obsess about giving away too much information—you’ll get more benefit from leveraging your knowledge than trying to hoard it in today’s fast-moving markets.
  • Make thought leadership purely a marketing responsibility.
  • Forget that thought leadership still needs to be part of a larger marketing strategy.
  • Get sucked into believing that thought leadership requires being big—quickness and agility can be huge advantages.

Be a Vertical Market Star. Becoming a thought leader doesn’t require being recognized when you walk down the street. The idea is to become a household word within your narrow business domain. Pick your audience and become famous there. And while being labeled the “rock star of nutraceuticals” might not seem all that glamorous, it can make a lot of money for you and your company.

Source: Larry Chase’s Web Digest for Marketers

By Larry Bauer

Boosting Your Brand With Thought Leadership.

suM-250Being a thought leader in your industry is critical to supporting and expanding your brand. The strongest brands are those owned and managed by thought leaders. That’s because thought leaders understand that there are key building blocks enabling their position.

Thought leadership building blocks:

  • Design & engineering (product/service, process, store, graphics, interactive)
  • Marketing & sales (multichannel media, sales methodology)
  • Service (phone, online, social media, mail, in-person)
  • Operations (raw materials, manufacturing, warehousing, delivery)
  • Ethics (your brand’s moral compass including aspects such as fair trade, labor practices, environmental responsibility and community support)
  • Empowerment (employees, vendors, partners, customers)

thought-leadership-circle-LG

The strength of the Thought Leadership Circle is only as good as its weakest link.

A solid network of thought leadership building blocks enables trust in the reputation of your brand. Imagine a perfect circle made of building blocks surrounding your customers. As the thought leader in your category, you must continually excel at all of the above to prove your leadership worthiness. Any misstep impacts your position and ultimately, your brand’s integrity.

In this article, we’ll review the design component of thought leadership.

Using Design As A Thought Leadership Building Block.

Looking the part of the thought leader ensures your customer pays even closer attention to what you say and do. For example, let’s look at IKEA, arguably THE thought leader in the modernist home furnishing market.

IKEA spent the past 50 years building its reputation as THE expert in affordable modern design for the home. Going way beyond just designing modern products, IKEA modernized the process of buying home products and designed stores that include everything for the home. They managed to instill a global and modern design sense in every aspect of their business, thus building the ultimate modern brand. IKEA is the thought leader of modernist home furnishings. It is the go-to expert if you want affordable, cool, modern stuff for your crib with that special IKEA shopping experience.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but,’ right?

Very recently, IKEA enlisted in a rebranding project and as a result, changed its corporate typefaces from their customized versions of Futura and Century Schoolbook (a.k.a. IKEA Sans and IKEA Serif) to Verdana. The objective was to unify the company’s online and print typefaces to save costs on global implementation. While a respectable goal, this brand maneuver is resulting in a huge outpouring of criticism in the blogosphere, Twitterverse, newsfeeds and online forums, ultimately questioning their future position as thought leader for modern home furnishings.

Why Is This Even an Issue?

On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal. But what IKEA failed to take into consideration is that the typography component of design is a method by which we express the brand’s voice, and a significant portion of their customer base is design-centered. Most of the commentary critical of this change focuses on the future:

What does this mean for IKEA’s position as modernist thought leader?
Who will they turn to for leadership in affordable furnishings for their homes?
Who do they trust?

To better understand why this venture is risky, let’s first review a little background info on the three typefaces and their applications:

  • Futura is a modernist typeface designed during the Bauhaus years and uses the perky geometric forms of that day. Because of it’s geometric and modern design, Futura is often used for both display and body text applications. IKEA Sans is a slightly customized version of Futura designed by Robin Nicholas.
  • Century Schoolbook is a serif typeface based on research that showed young readers more easily identify letterforms that used contrasting weights. It also has a larger x-height and slightly increased tracking to further improve readability at smaller sizes, making it perfect for body text where it enhances communication. This feature is so critical that the Supreme Court of the US requires briefs to be typeset in Century.
  • Verdana, designed by Matthew Carter in 1994 for Microsoft, served a very specific application: on-screen use in websites. Verdana includes features that make it more legible on backlit monitors including: larger x-height, added tracking and enhanced pair kerning. It is the extra tracking and padding that make Verdana inferior for print use. As a display headline, all that padding and special kerning requires adjustment downward to increase readability. Thus, using Verdana in print actually makes more work for the print designer.

Typeface usage falls within two traditional categories and one new one: display, body and screen typefaces. Display fits larger needs such as headlines in ads and text on outdoor billboards. Body faces are appropriate for smaller text such as paragraphs and captions. Screen faces are exactly that, faces that increase readability on computer monitors or overhead projectors.

Yeah, Yeah—Get to the Point.

Most consumers don’t purposefully think about the exact ingredients that go into the products they buy or the brands they love. They don’t think about the thickness of steel on the body of a Mercedes or the method by which Mercedes applied the paint. They just know that it’s the color they want, it looks good and they trust that the engine won’t fail them. But if the paint job were flawed, you can bet they’d notice it immediately, and the integrity of the Mercedes brand is then open to debate. This is a great example of the invisibility of good design and engineering.

Likewise, Futura reflects the modern IKEA product ‘design equals function’ aesthetic and reinforces their modernist thought leadership position even though consumers don’t directly think about it each time they open the IKEA catalog. Century Schoolbook reinforces that modernism while increasing readability in body text and again, consumers don’t directly think about just how easy it is to read the tiny type in the catalog. It all just works and looks good.

Verdana is arguably the best sans-serif typeface for use on websites, its specific design purpose, but it has no basis in print. Typeface selection, along with color, imagery and other seemingly aesthetic design choices, directly affects functionality and has the power to affect our emotional connection to a brand, thereby playing a key role in maintaining the thought leadership position of a company.

While functionality is obviously measurable, the emotional connections are harder to attribute to design. This is why corporations, even IKEA, so often overlook them.

So, is IKEA thinking ahead of the curve or are they driving blind?

“Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners.”
Bruce Nussbaum
Editor, BusinessWeek’s innovation and design coverage

Very few corporations understand that good design plays a key role in building a thought leadership position. For example, companies like Apple, Target and Trader Joe’s all use design as a method of creating and retaining their respective leadership positions. Companies that pigeonhole design as marketing department fluff are not taking full advantage of their thought leadership tools.

IKEA became the thought leader in modern home furnishings by integrating design as a key brand-building component. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

By Julia Moran Martz