For those looking to stretch their marketing budget, I can’t think of a more cost effective way to attract clients than Thought Leadership. The more a prospect can experience your thinking, writing or speaking, the more they perceive you as an expert, and the less “selling” you have to do. Content Marketing is effective for Thought Leaders because prospective clients can get to know, like and trust them in a no pressure, non-sales context. Here are some tips on how to position yourself, or Principals within your firm, as Thought Leaders.
1. Designate Ambassadors
Designate someone in your firm to be the Thought Leader for each market sector in which you seek work. For example, our client Aquatic Design Group is a market leader in designing and engineering competitive swimming pools (a market sector). They happen to have an Associate who is a former collegiate All-American swimmer. Combined with strong writing and speaking skills, he has instant credibility within this tribe.
2. Discover Where Your Audience Gathers
Ask your best clients which market specific trade publications they read and which conferences they attend. Then introduce yourself to the editors of these journals and offer your Thought Leader as a resource for journalists. Journalists constantly need credible references to interview for stories. Once the relationship is established, inquire about submitting an article or offering story leads. For national conference speaking opportunities, you’ll need to respond to a RFP a year in advance. But there are plenty of local trade organizations hungry for great speakers. Your Thought Leader doesn’t even need to speak. For example, I have put together panels and have emceed for SMPS, Pecha Kucha and USGBC events. This allows me to benefit from the halo effect of being onstage moderating the speaker panel. While it’s tempting to write or speak to your peers (fellow professional service providers), remember to focus most of your efforts where potential clients, not competitors, congregate.
3. Create a Content Ecosystem
Start with writing to develop mastery in articulating your subject matter. Then move to speaking using content you’ve written about. Give away free samples of your knowledge. Leaders demonstrate confidence by sharing their abundant expertise, not hoarding it. Tell real success stories and don’t be afraid to offer up your failures and share lessons learned. This is what makes you human, and will draw people to you. Communicate that you care about your audience’s world and challenges, and you will be invited in.
Thought Leadership requires an investment of time. This guide should help you get started. Be sure to promote your speaking or writing using the power of Social Media. Also, find multiple channels to distribute your content to maximize ROI. For example, this blog post began as an email marketing letter. It has also been broken down into a series of tweets. It could be made into a short video or podcast. Don’t overlook print to distribute your writing. You can a create a 1-page printout of a relevant post to pass out at events where you attend or present.
Whether writing or speaking, Thought Leaders are perceived as experts. Clients like to hire expertise. What are some methods you have used to demonstrate expertise? How do you promote your Thought Leadership activities? Has it ever led to new business?
As Professional Service Marketers, we have the challenge of persuading prospects to purchase something that doesn’t exist. Prospects cannot “test drive” their future multi-million dollar building. Sure, you can show past projects, but that doesn’t guarantee future success. Especially if the project incorporates new technology.
The solution to this dilemma is to have a unique project delivery process that demonstrates your ability to solve problems and deliver successful projects. This communicates to the prospective client, “we don’t know all the answers to the questions your project may present. But, we have a proven process that consistently allows us to find the right answers.” By showing how you’ve helped other clients with your unique process, you put the prospect at ease, and you differentiate your firm from your competition.
1. Process Defined
Process is simply your project delivery method spanning from initial meeting through the life cycle of the building.
2. Why Brand Your Process?
There are many reasons to make your process a persuasive tool to convince clients to select your firm. First, services like Architecture, Engineering, and Contracting are simply a promise. So, we need to empathize with the scary leap of faith our clients make in entrusting us to deliver on our promise. A proven process helps to soothe client fears during the emotional sales cycle. Also, process is an opportunity to differentiate you from your competition. Process is scalable and can be implemented at firms sized from 1″“1000 to reinforce brand consistency across all branch offices. Finally, process is an asset that can live beyond the founding principals of your firm. This can add value in the event of ownership transition, merger or acquisition.
3. Develop, Articulate and Brandâ„ Your Process
Begin with listing the various steps your firm goes through to successfully complete a project. Determine all the key checkpoints for quality assurance. As you make this list, filter it through the positioning of what makes your firm unique. In other words, don’t focus on things that everyone else does. Work with a writer or brand communications firm to articulate your process in a way that is simple and compelling to a prospective client. Then brand it with a memorable name and even register it as a service mark. Our process, called The Joy of Six, is described in greater detail here. I recommend a circular process to close the loop by measuring results of the completed project. This informs an improved next project and hopefully get you re-hired.
4. Demonstrate How Your Process Yields Success
When meeting with prospective clients, don’t just show a portfolio of completed projects. Demonstrate how you reach successful results by presenting highlights of each project phase in the context of your newly branded process. Show sketches, talk about overcoming challenges, and share how intelligence gained in one project phase informs success in the next. When a prospect sees how your process delivers on past promises, it plants the seed of future success in in that prospect’s mind.
FREE .pdf of this advice
I’m in the process of finalizing the LecoursDesign Marketing Plan so I’d like to share my thoughts on the subject.
1. Why Have a Marketing Plan?
A Marketing Plan helps your firm shape its destiny by proactively defining what you want. Marketing plans are necessary for the same reason builders have plans: to know why, how, what, where, and when to build. This document is a declaration to the outside world and to internal staff. There is something powerful about sharing a written plan that makes it real and makes you accountable. In short, failing to plan is planning to fail.
2. Start with a Strategic Plan
Your Marketing Plan is a 1 year segment of your strategic plan which should include:
Mission – Why are you taking this journey?
Vision – Where are you headed?
Target Markets & Clients – Who will join you?
Positioning – Compelling reason for clients to join you
Goals – Specific, Measurable, Time-based Milestones
3. What to Include in Your Marketing Plan
Budget – Healthy firms typically invest 10- 15% of total operating revenues in marketing.
Staffing – Who will do what and by when. I’ve found that marketing plans often fail when the people tasked with implementing the plan are not involved in creating the plan.
Timeline – Prioritized sequencing of implementation because you can’t do it all at once.
Marketing Mix – Allocation of marketing budget to these possible marketing tools: branding, brochure, project sheets, direct mail, advertising, event sponsorship, PR, public speaking, expert writing, holiday promo, web site, professional organization networking, community involvement, trade shows, newsletters, e-mail blasts, video. I know a great consultant that can help with this!
It’s best to start creating your marketing plan about three months before implementation begins. To help you get started, click here for a FREE .pdf map that we’ve created to guide you through the process.
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