When marketing leaders come to me looking for feedback on their messaging and value proposition, it usually sounds like this (with blanks inserted to protect the guilty):

“We were founded in 19__. We’re the leading provider of _____ products serving the ____ industry. Our products are faster, more reliable, easier to use, more full-featured, and deliver better ROI than any of our competitors.” 

Painful to listen to. Marketers have to realize that in the age of the customer, business buyers don’t “buy” your product; they “buy into” your approach to solving their problem. Read that last sentence again. Your products aren’t as unique as you think. In fact, in most markets, the products and services are fairly commoditized. Buyers want to do business with firms that share their outlook on the world and have philosophies on solving key problems that align with their own. Yet so many marketers only talk about their features and benefits.

What do you do about it? Establishing a position of thought leadership in your market is becoming the next arena for differentiation in B2B marketing. When done right, thought leadership marketing is a way to stand out from the competition, create interest, and earn the trust of potential buyers early in their problem-solving process.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Many companies already practice content marketing, but thought leadership marketing takes it much further:

  • It doesn’t just educate people on an issue; it provides your firm’s strong point of view and insightful thinking on the issue. It is provocative, challenging conventional thinking.
  • It is conversational, delivered in a tone and through channels that invite people to join the dialogue, expand on the ideas, and even disagree.
  • It makes no mention of your products.

Think about UPS. It ships packages. But it is building a thought leadership platform around “New Logistics” — how small business owners need to embrace new global trade practices to drive growth, with bold positions on issues such as improving customer service through better distribution. iCrossing is a marketing agency but is becoming a recognized thought leader in how CMOs must engage consumers across the digital world with content.

Most firms don’t have a process or framework for managing thought leadership marketing initiatives, so they practice what I like to call “random acts of thought leadership” . . . an occasional white paper, conference presentation, or byline article. In my most recent report, "Thought Leadership: The Next Wave Of Differentiation In B2B Marketing," I introduce the four-step IDEA framework used to develop a thought leadership platform and mobilize the experts in your firm to share these ideas through digital, social, mobile, and offline channels.

What companies do you think of as thought leaders? What are you doing to demonstrate thought leadership in your market?