If you don’t already know about Mark Ritson, where have you been? The potty-mouthed marketing professor has won over LinkedIn. With 54,600 followers he has greater reach on the platform than most major brands.
His approach is as simple as it is effective. He has his perspective - effective vs efficient marketing - and it allows him to comment on the week’s marketing news as it comes up both quickly and consistently. And his style - very sweary - is distinctive and entertaining.
And it’s not just winning him new followers on LinkedIn. By his own admission, he charges a lot of money to a lot of big brands. And they know what they will get; a straight-talking marketing professor who will focus on results.
In this way, Prof. Ritson shows us the template for B2B thought leadership.
In the rest of this article, I’ll unpack a few of the key elements with the hope that it can inspire you and your business to engage in more consistent thought leadership activity
Positioning and perspective
There are over 680,000 management consultants in the US, 28,000 creative agencies in the UK and 7000 SaaS businesses in the marketing space alone. That is a lot of competition. Your B2B brand’s positioning cannot, therefore, simply be about sectors and services. It must also be your perspective.
The value of defining and communicating your perspective goes beyond brand awareness. It should be the common thread that runs from your LinkedIn ads to your lead gen campaign, to your presentations and proposals. When prospects come to you for your thinking, they are more likely to work with you and pay more for the privilege.
We have found the best way to get started developing a company's perspective is via the company values. No matter how bland they are, they often contain a kernel of truth around which a perspective can be built. Interrogate your business leaders with classic coaching questions (such as ‘what would it feel like if we were/were not living this value?’) to find out what they really value.
At this point, it's worth pointing out the obvious - that the goal is not to exactly replicate the Ritson persona. He is who he is and most businesses would best avoid being as confrontational and sweary.
It is also the right moment to say that your brand’s thought leadership is a work in progress. Through producing and publishing content, your perspective is developed and refined. Better to get started with something safe and build confidence than wait for the killer point of view.
With your perspective defined we can now begin creating content. Here, again, Ritson shows us the way.
At the top of the funnel, he has his marketing week column and social media activity. All are based on his editorial point of view.
What I would like you to pay attention to is his LinkedIn activity. I believe that he has built his reach on the platform as much with his comments on other people’s posts as he has with his articles and LinkedIn posts. He takes a strong stance and people react and comment (positively and negatively) and increase his reach.
The takeaway for you here is this; if you have the budget, consider paying for an opinion column in a relevant trade mag. It will add weight to your profile and increase reach. Regardless of your budget; don’t just produce content. Set aside time or have an agency monitor LinkedIn for opportunities to comment. Awareness is key, and that’s exactly how you get it.
As mentioned earlier, a thought leadership program is not just about awareness. It can and should play a part in each stage of the marketing funnel…
create awareness through PR and social
capture leads through downloadable assets that build on that point of view
approach your account-based marketing (ABM) targets by applying that point of view to their commercial issues
convert prospects into clients with diagnostic tools and consultancy that link to your thought leadership
To bring this to life, let's look at an example…
The Marketing Centre (a client of Future Content) believes that all businesses deserve access to great marketing talent. Their editorial point of view is that SMEs should focus on marketing fundamentals and not get distracted by the shiny new stuff. Their ebooks - Marketing Mythbusters, Marketing Theory for Non Marketers - flow from that point of view and each of those map to their lead capture tool the marketing 360. The marketing 360 is how they approach their first engagements with business owners.
There is a clear line from each blog post through lead generation and the sales process. And that process has led to them working with hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses, fulfilling their mission.
As this example shows, thought leadership is more than just content marketing (a strategy) and LinkedIn (a channel). It covers PR, social media, inbound, UX and sales and marketing alignment.
It is difficult - both to persuade a reluctant business owner to do and to execute consistently - but it is an increasingly effective way to build awareness and convert high paying clients. And that, as Mark Ritson might say, makes it a f*****g no-brainer.
image credits: Myst