Thoughts on Thought Leadership

08 January 2011

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to think differently.  It’s a vague notion and I don’t want to use hackneyed phrases like “out of the box” so I started considering the term “thought leadership” and how everyone strives to be a thought leader.  According to Wikipedia, thought leader is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas.  The term apparently was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz, Allen & Hamilton magazine “Strategy & Business.”  “Thought leader” was used to designate interview subjects who had business ideas that merited attention.

Wikipedia also reports that “According to commentators such as Elise Bauer, a distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is ‘the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.’”  Isn’t this just basic hygiene for any organization?

LinkedIn has a relatively short section on thought leadership dating back to 2007.  And there are countless other definitions, essentials and how-to’s when one does a search online.  But it seems to be that thought leadership is one of the most mis-understood and confused terms in business.

I tend to think of thought leadership as being first to market with a truly different thought, owning the idea and then merchandising it.  How does one get there?  Sometimes thought leadership comes about from attacking and solving a challenging problem, but more often than not, it comes through reflection and identifying patterns and/or anticipating trends with a completely new idea or a new way of doing something.  It has to be authentic and of substance – not gimmicky or superficial.  And in today’s market, a thought leader has to be very quick indeed to call it out and own it.

Interested in others’ views on the subject of thought leadership.

Trending in 2011 – Part 4

08 December 2010

As marketers are increasingly challenged to innovate and make more with less, the will continue to expand their remit and absorb additional functions as new audiences and new routes to market become key, and “reputational intelligence” becomes absolutely critical.  Topping the list of the marketing group’s new responsibilities will be public relations, employee communications and corporate social responsibility because all of these disciplines provide the opportunity to participate and engage with key audiences–from consumers to employees to influencers of all types

As a result, marketers will need to adopt a longer term view on key performance indicators in addition to the quarter-by-quarter KPIs such as sales, brand preference and consideration rates.  And, in-house communications functions will need to understand traditional marketing metrics so that they can deliver above and beyond earned media output and share of voice-type measurement.

In the more innovative organizations, a new discipline will be borne which will be “mash-up” of the individual specialisms as we know them, making for interesting times for traditionalists versus new world thinkers.

Trending in 2011 – Part 3

07 December 2010

US brands will continue to increase marketing spend outside the US where growth potential is greatest versus the saturated and depressed US market. This week’s AdAge is well worth a read on this subject – with 95% of the world’s population outside the US, there’s a staggering shift of marketing spend by US brands looking to increase market share in countries like China, India and Brazil.  And my discussions with CMOs and CCOs also bear out an increased focus beyond the US border.

 At the same time, more non-US brands will look to tap into the lucrative US market.  Expect to see a lot of “new” brands competing with well-known and loved American brands, providing even more choice in a market where people are seeking greater simplification.  (According to a recent GfK Roper Reports® US study, across 13 categories measured, an average of 30% of consumers say the amount of choice is “too much,” ranging from 19% for music to 37% for beauty/skin-care products. 

As a result, US brand marketers will need to become more innovative in order to break through the clutter and stand out from new competitors who could appeal to American consumers on the sheer basis of novelty.

Marketers also will need to become more conversant in international trade and business. For example, they’ll need to understand where the biggest growth opportunities exist in non-US markets and determine how best to go to market given cultural differences and market landscapes.

Trending into 2011 – Part 2

03 December 2010

The rise of influencers from all quarters continued in 2010 and will only become stronger in 2011.  As Guy Kawasaki says, rather than “sucking up” these days, it’s best to “suck across” and even “suck down”.

Influencers of all types will provide increasingly important routes to: connect meaningfully with niche and broader audiences; endorse and advocate for brands; participate with brands; and spread the word both on- and off-line.  However, some influencers will continue to act as brand “terrorists”, thwarting brand progression and creating barriers to brand acceptance.

In 2011, marketers will need to more fully understand the influence wielded by both their brand fans and foes, and in order to do so, they will need to get a better grasp of the movement of word-of-mouth and the relative level of influence individuals and groups have on others.  As a result, there will be a greater need to subscribe to services that can map and analyze the movement of influence with a brand and/or category.

Additionally, new services and approaches for identifying and harnessing these influencers are likely to spring up from all quarters, but beware!  The human “listening” element will be absolutely key to understanding nuances and truly making the most of influencer marketing.

Guy also was quoted in the November issue of Fast Company: “The nobodies are the new somebodies” – from YouTube Stars to chief social media officers.  But it’s important to understand the level of influence they hold and with which audience, “one click at a time”.

Trending into 2011

03 December 2010

With the ANA conference only a couple of short months ago, I am reminded how prevalent the subject of “purpose” has become in the latter half of 2010.  Is that phenomenon driven by the economic situation we face and a burning need to have a higher purpose?  Or are brands taking more seriously the role they can and should play in the greater community?

I don’t have the answer, but I feel certain that we can expect to see a growing presence of purpose-inspired brands as marketers look to provide a higher-order benefit rooted in the brand’s heritage.  The aim will be to improve the quality of people’s lives while at the same time creating a meaningful alignment between the employees and organization behind the brand and the consumers the brand serves.

In 2011, purpose-inspired brand building will set a higher bar for brand development and communication by elevating the emotional appeal and shifting the mindset for marketers to a more service-oriented platform. 

 In some cases, measuring and affecting social capital that creates a common good will become important aspects as brand marketers aspire to contribute to the well-being of society.  Short-term business success will continue to reign – of course, but longer-term brand-building and brand reputation goals will begin to become just as important.

Data Proves PR is on the Rise

02 November 2010

I took a swipe at the PR industry last week for not stepping up to meet the marketing challenge and be the sort of serious partners CMOs want or need.  I do not refute that PR is  gaining broader acceptance and respect amongst CMOs, and indeed the C-suite in general.  There are studies that prove the point – from the USC School of Annenberg’s GAP studies to the survey we did earlier this year with the CMO Club, and from Forrester white papers on the “power of three” (earned media combined with paid and owned media) to my anecdotal conversations with fellow Marketing 50 members.  But the fact remains that those of us who are truly connecting with CMOs, able to speak the marketing language, understand the marketing KPIs and “get” the notion of truly big ideas that transcend pure media play are  not supported by the necessary critical mass.

I’ve been back in the US for nearly nine years now, and I continue to be surprised at how siloed we are.  When I worked in Europe, most of our consumer marketing clients were CMOs, marketing directors and brand managers.  Corp comms clients led corp comms and public affairs assignments.  We spoke the language of marketing, marketing disciplines were more blurred, and integration was more prevalent.

 The topic of silos arose at the recent ANA conference in a panel with Brian Perkins of J&J, Lisa Cochrane of Allstate, Eduardo Modrado of Motorola and three senior agency folks – Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter, Andrew Robertson of BBDO and Bill Tucker of Mediavest.  One of the explanations for more silos in than outside the US was size of corporation.  US companies tend to be larger so silos proliferate.  I would add that I think risk adverseness, tradition and historical “baggage” help perpetuate silos.  But I digress.

 Back to the business of PR.  While PR is elevated in organizations and CMOs are inheriting and in fact seeking ownership of PR, I would question how much of the relationship is built on true partnership, trust and collaboration.  The data suggests a state of symbiotic relations, but dig deeper and you find that everything is not as integrated as it should or could be.  We PR types approach a problem or challenge from a different perspective than traditional marketers, but we need be able to translate what we do into language (and KPIs) that our marketing brethren will understand and appreciate.  And we need to more firmly establish PR as offering a unique point of view and a valuable skills set that is not readily available in any other type of agency.  One of the real points I was making in last week’s blog was that agencies specializing in other disciplines are trying to eat our lunch, claiming that they can do big PR ideas, and in some cases delivering success (though not in all!).

I still maintain that we need to step up – as a profession.

The Perfect Storm for PR?

28 October 2010

Closing the perfect storm of conferences including the ANA, the PRSA international conference and the Council for Public Relations Firms Critical Issues Forum, I’m wondering about the health of my profession.  P&G global marketing and brand building officer Marc Pritchard talked about purpose-inspired brand building at both the ANA conference and Critical Issues Forum, which became a theme of the former and elaborated on in the latter as he extolled the power of public relations.  But he also said that PR has to step up and make it clear what PR can do, and in order to do so, we need to get brand-building expertise, stake our claim in digital, and create and be adept at delivering big ideas. 

In a Socratic debate panel at the Critical Issues Forum, Heineken USA CMO Christian McMahan claimed that he was “shocked that the ATL agencies are coming to me to do the community management online, and not the PR firms.”  IKEA USA CMO Leontyne Green said that PR firms are passive when we need to be the experts, coming to the table prepared to bring the big idea.  And Monster Worldwide CMO Ted Gilvar claimed that PR hasn’t done a good enough job at connecting what we do to ROI. 

We’re clearly missing a trick here.  If this is PR’s time, as Pritchard reflected, why aren’t we stepping up?

Long ago, PR executives fought for a seat at the top table, and reporting directly to the CEO remains a coveted position.  I know that PR, together with HR, finance and operations, can play a broader role than contributing to the marketing mix.  And I realize that it’s akin to blasphemy to many PR folks to suggest that PR should report to marketing.  But there’s a middle ground to be found where integration and collaboration are key to the success of a brand, the company and indeed the health of the overall business.  And I worry that PR practitioners may be getting so wrapped up in historical theory and turf protection that they are losing sight of the practicality currently required to grow business.

Most if not all of the ANA presentations from CMOs featured PR-inspired activations and amplification by earned media and word-of-mouth.  But the presence of PR folks there was scarce.  Are we surrendering our claim on what is becoming the most important aspect of marketing to other disciplines?  Digital agencies are hiring the odd PR expert to build legs around their campaigns, and likewise advertising agencies.  Ad agencies are entering PR campaigns at Cannes – and winning.

So, are we just going to roll over like lapdogs and let “our” time pass us by?  Or are we going to rise to the occasion and bask in the glory?

Good Old-Fashioned Male Dominance

08 February 2010

There was a nasty rumor going around that this year’s Super Bowl ads would be far more targeted to men than last year’s rise of female-targeted commercials.  You can’t get much more macho than kicking off the first ad break with Rogaine, Callaway, Bud Light and Nike Basketball.  Well, maybe “macho” is the wrong word – more “new man”. 

It was all there last night:  man cave humor, gorgeous girls, cheesy drama, adultery (E*Trade’s Girlfriend), and, for the more tender chap, Dove’s Manthem.  Even the animals were more suitable to a male audience – less of the cuddly variety that appeal so well to women, and more robust animals featured by Bridgestone in its Whale of a Tale, and in Coke’s Sleepwalker.  The only cutesy animal was Monster’s Fiddling Beaver, and he got the girl in the end.  And let’s not forget the parade of the tighty-whities featured by both Career Builder’s Casual Fridays and Dockers’ Men Without Pants with a call to action that it’s “Time to wear the pants”. 

Why is that women were virtually ignored this year… when women have more purchasing power than ever before?  Did advertisers think women would take a bye on this year’s Super Bowl (perhaps working over the weekend)?  Or have marketers realized that it takes more than the traditional push-marketing approach to appeal to the feminine senses?  Women are much more “surround sound”  – they want to hear about brands and products from their friends, they want to have conversations about them, to touch and feel them, try and sample them, and generally engage more.  That can still be sparked by a Super Bowl ad, but needs to be followed up by more participative marketing engagement.

I will look forward to next year when perhaps we’ll see more of a mix.  For the time being, I’ll console myself with my favorite ads of the evening – Doritos’ Underdog - because the dog wins over man, and I love dogs!…and the short Late Night ad featuring David Letterman, Oprah and Jay Leno all sitting together on a couch.  You won’t find that one featured by Advertising Age, but all of the others are there.

CMOs must drive greater collaboration internally for their brands

16 November 2009

We’ve long recognized the shift of control from the brand to the consumer or customer, who is more empowered than ever to comment, engage and be heard, both positively and negatively.  To further understand how this movement is affecting CMOs, we (Hill & Knowlton) worked with Pete Krainik, founder & CEO of the CMO Club, to field a survey  in September/October among members, and we discussed the findings late last week with a panel of leading marketers at the bi-annual CMO Club summit in San Francisco.  We’re releasing the results today.

One of the most surprising findings was the lack of social media policies within companies.  Only 3 out of 10 (29%) of CMOs reported having a social media policy that is widely adhered to within their company, with a further 31% currently developing a policy.  And implementing these policies is proving to be a challenge, with just over a quarter (26%) of CMOs stating that they have a policy but compliance is an issue within their organizations.  Given the perceived level of risk in this space by marketers, with the inherent lack of control in social media channels, I’m particularly surprised that more brands don’t have clearly stated and enforced guidelines for outreach to bloggers and non-traditional media outlets – a social technologies rule-book.  We’ve long had one at H&K, which continues to be updated and which I’m happy to share.

Even with the lack of policy in place for employees, two-thirds (66%) of CMOs who responded encourage open discussion about their brands, with only one third (34%) still reticent to do so – even though today’s consumers and customers don’t need an invitation. 

Another surprising finding, though, was the proportion of resources/budget being spent on experimentation with social media.  More than 4 out of 5 (84%) of CMOs allocate less than 10% of their budgets on experimenting through social media and non-traditional channels, with more than half (55%) allocating just 5%.  According to the survey, 7 out of 10 CMOs say they have medium or high levels of comfort in dealing with non-traditional media, yet few are adopting these strategies for their own brands, missing out on learning from and contributing to the conversations that are taking place online.  That said, given what our panelists said as the survey results were revealed, it would appear that CMOs are spending a disproportionate amount of time (certainly more than 10%) in watching this space.

Finally, it’s clear that more advanced brands realize that they need to listen and engage a variety of audiences including customers, employees, local communities, NGOs and the investor community among others, as the growing participation of these audiences in the dialogue influences reputation and ultimately brand strength.  Generally CMOs have adopted a strong connection internally with their HR community and employees, but beyond this internal audience, the interaction with other key audiences is patchy.  Nearly half of CMOs surveyed (48%) said they have no interaction with the department responsible for NGOs.  More than one third (38%) do not liaise with their investor relations department, and just over one fifth (22%) work with those departments working with financial analysts.  And yet, external AND internal communications seem to be increasingly important to be integrated and leveraged. 

From a tracking perspective, not surprisingly, the majority of CMOs (95%) track the attitudes or opinions of their customers or consumers, falling to 7 out of 10 (69%) among potential customers.  Other non-revenue generating audiences take a clear second priority – 4 out of 5 CMOs (84%) do not gauge the opinions of NGOs; 59% to not survey the general public; and just less than one third (32%) do not gauge sentiment among their employees.

What does this all mean?  Marketing used to be a linear process, with a discussion flowing from the CMO to the target audience.  In today’s digital age, communication has evolved into a new model that requires active listening and engaging in numerous conversations.  And we heard that CMOs are finding the additions to the job more challenging and the need to lead beyond the marketing department is increasingly critical for their success.  Thanks to my panelists last week:  Chris Moloney, CMO and Executive Director of Customer Intelligence, Scottrade; Erin Hintz, VP Worldwide Consumer Marketing, Symantec Corporation; and Kent Huffman, CMO, BearCom Wireless.

The next 6 months?…

17 August 2009

AdAge reported last week that the advertising industry won’t recover in the second half of the year.  It’s not shocking news given the recent article in The New York Times reporting that while consumers spent more in June, they did so because prices of food and energy were rising, and not because they were ready to spend freely again.  Personal incomes continued to sag as employers continued to cut wages and reduce working hours.  And the personal saving rate, which had been rising, dropped sharply from a month earlier as one-time transfer payments from the government stopped arriving in people’s bank accounts.

I personally don’t think the business will be considerably better – or worse for that matter – in the second half of the year.  It’s likely to be fairly flat, and all indications are that retail will remain in the doldrums through the back-to-school season and the holidays.

What does that mean for the agency business?  There probably won’t be a significant up-tick in agency spend in Q3-4 since consumer spending won’t be fuelling investment.  That said, hope still exists for 2010, and some CMOs will understand that they need to start planning (and spending) now in order to leverage change when it happens.  And they will continue to look for new avenues and means with which to connect with their core consumers most cost-effectively.  This puts digital, earned media opportunities, and niche-targeted initiatives at the forefront of some marketers’ thinking. While we’ve heard a lot of talk about “switch spending”, we haven’t see much action yet, but I believe that will change in the coming months because even if the economy does begin to turn around, continued pressure on budgets will encourage marketers to explore alternative routes.  Additionally, some consumer values and buying habits may have changed irrevocably, so it will become increasingly important to foster brand relationships – ideally loyalty and advocacy – and this is more difficult to achieve through traditional TV push marketing.

In Jon Fine’s Media Centric column in last week’s Business Week, he commented on the marketing discipline’s shift away from media (he’s talking paid media) and an increased attraction to “below-the-line” channels.  Why not?!  “Below-the-line” channels – some of which are still media-based by the way (it’s just not paid media) can provide a far greater opportunity to really connect and “participate” with the consumer in a way that no mainstream advertising route can.

Fine also points out that “experimenting decouples the success of the marketer from the success of the media they once relied on more exclusively.”  I don’t see a problem with that – we can’t be held to a traditional model when our environment has completely changed.  Besides, it’s healthy to change and to be challenged.  After all, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!