At the intersection of Thought Leadership and Brand Management
How do companies without a strong, centralized editorial function encourage employees to build thought leadership platforms, while also ensuring quality control and brand adherence?*
As thought leadership platforms evolve into audio/video/digital experiences, there is a greater risk that poor production quality or poor execution can undercut the carefully crafted look/feel/voice of the brand.
Here are 6 things you can do to set up some brand controls while fostering the development of new content.
Definition: Thought leadership platform
Any number of vehicles that go beyond the one-off to serve as a channel for new editorial content - i.e. A recurring podcast, video blog or webinar series, or even a newsletter or traditional blog.
1. Clarify authorship.
The first step is to determine whether this platform is coming from the individual on their own, or if it represents the voice of the company.
If a person is doing this on her own - representing her own thoughts/views, not establishing her platform as a vehicle for the company – this means a limited role for brand oversight. The employee and leadership need to discuss the parameters, do's and don'ts before moving forward. (Keep the company name off of it, don't use company lists, be mindful of competitive issues or conflicts, etc.)
A company platform is a different story – and this takes us to:
2. Define the content strategy.
“I want to make a podcast” is not a strategy. Work with the employee to create a theme or a point of view that will define and distinguish this platform from other materials your company creates – and within the market at large. While you may wish to note that the views of the content creator are their own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the company, in practice that line is going to feel a bit blurred for your customers. All parties need to acknowledge and be comfortable with this premise from the outset.
3. Create tools and resources.
Tangible tools, templates and guidelines – addressing things like tone, content, design requirements, etc. – are invaluable to a decentralized approach that maintains an appropriate level of consistency and quality. When it comes to more technically involved media (podcasts, video blogs), media training 101 will go a long way. Step-by-steps with specific software, maybe even some design templates (like titles or audio files) that define what’s on-brand / what’s off-brad are also helpful.
4. Don’t be afraid to invest in your employees’ star power.
The freedom to publish comes with organizational risk. But for companies looking to show themselves as forward-thinking environments built on individual perspective, this is a compelling model. From a brand management perspective, you can create some filters - perhaps appointing the marketing team to an editorial role, or even to serve as copywriters or audio/video producers, building on employee's input. Of course, creating more centralized processes comes at the expense of individual voice and immediacy.
5. Learn, improve, repeat.
Strive for continuous improvement. This is not just about publishing stuff. The goal of a thought leadership platform is to build a channel for strong/relevant content that drives engagement. Put digital resources at the employee’s disposal to help maximize performance. Use analytics to understand what people are responding to and share this information with the content creators. Where there is significant activity, probe deeper on the subject in a future post. If you have a large mailing list, try some A/B testing with headlines/subject lines/imagery to see what works best for target audiences.
6. Optimize content
Great content is gold. Chunk up the content in different ways and formats to get more bang across more channels. This will help your company leverage your employee’s intellectual capital to attract new audiences, and will reinforce the materials to your core audience. Here, too, the employee will likely need the support of digital and/or marketing teams.
B2B relationships are built on personal connections and thought leadership. In a recent study among 1200 decision makers and influencers by Edelman and LinkedIn, nearly 70% indicated that thought leadership was one of the best ways to get a sense of the caliber of thinking an organization can deliver. And 58% cited thought leadership as a factor that led directly to awarding the business. So the upside for strong thought leadership is tremendous. But, it is not without its risks: nearly half noted times where thought leadership decreased their respect for an organization.
For brands built on their people, thought leadership offers the power the shape market perceptions. A cohesive strategy, supported by the right resources and mindset, will enable your company to turn thought leadership platforms into powerful tools for growth.
*Thanks to Umbrex Co-Founder Will Bachman for posing this question to me on LinkedIn recently.