A world of difference: master the art of global thought leadership

Posted by Andrew Rogerson | 13-01-20


While the ultimate aim of any content produced by a business is to be helpful, it is easy to overlook the needs of the reader when developing global thought leadership programmes.

Often the business need can come before the audience’s – what it is we want to tell people about us, rather than expertise we could impart to help them achieve their own objectives.

That approach, though, won’t help you to gain cut-through required to make a campaign successful. To stand out – and especially to get the attention of senior business leaders – you need to not only be truly useful, but to also reach the audience where, when and how they prefer to receive information.

This is particularly true when developing content assets across multiple regions, where cultural nuances can make or break campaigns.

To help understand those audience needs better, Grist surveyed more than 500 senior executives across the globe and compared the differences in how C-suite members in North America, Europe and Asia view and use thought leadership.

Following the growing importance of data and how the C-suite view and use thought leadership, our final report in the series looks at the differences across regions and how global thought leadership programmes can best tailor distribution strategies to local preferences.

Regional nuances

Our research found that across the globe, senior executives share the same reasons for reading thought leadership: they want to get an edge over competitors; they want to stay informed of emerging industry trends; and they want to be enabled to make better business decisions.

There are slight nuances worth considering though. For example, senior executives in the US have more commercial interests while Asia’s leaders seek support in decision-making.

Across all regions it’s the customer’s view that is most important, with peers and industry experts in second and third place. Interestingly – and perhaps showing the maturity of thought leadership in this region – European business leaders want to hear from inspirational individuals outside the industry too.

And if you’re targeting Asian business leaders, be aware that the respondents’ attributes are important, especially their age – understandable in a culture where experience is so highly respected.

What are the stumbling blocks to B2B global thought leadership campaigns?

These findings were echoed by the attendees at our report launch event at The Anthologist in London in November. In attendance to get a sneak peek at the results was a range of senior B2B marketers keen to share their own experiences with global thought leadership creation and distribution.

Attendees discussed several challenges they face in getting their thought leadership campaigns created and in front of their audiences.

  • Planning on a global scale: Does one size really fit all when it comes to thought leadership campaigns? And how far should localisation go? Is it better to centralise planning and production or devolve to the regions?
  • Connecting marketing and sales: When is the right time to bring sales into the planning and production process? Does the sales team have a right to be involved? And what can they bring to proceedings?
  • Proving ROI: Thought leadership campaigns involve a lot of time, effort and budget, so how can you tell if it’s worth it? Is there a magic formula or number to aim for or is it totally dependent on the company in question?
  • Connecting with stakeholders: How can you get buy-in from stakeholders to get thought leadership done in the first place – and then how can you make sure it’s done correctly, not devolving into a sales-based snooze fest? How can you get those stakeholders to both input into ideation and generation but also help with distribution?
  • Providing differentiation: What have you got to say that no one else has said before? How can you make sure you’re not just contributing to the noise but are genuinely leading thought in the industry?

How can B2B marketers cut through the noise with thought leadership?

Law firm CMS and consultancy firm BearingPoint spoke with attendees about their very different approaches to global thought leadership.

Alex Bellinger, Head of Brand and Sector Communications at CMS UK, found that using ‘flagship content’ to explore issues that are absolutely essential in the clients’ worlds, and not about technical matters, has led to some really interesting and rich conversations with prospects.

The firm’s Urban Being report looks at the ‘beds sector’, a very hot market, and made sure to include the consumer’s view in their research – that made the findings very valuable to clients and prospects.

Julie Short, Director, Market Influence and Knowledge Group at BearingPoint, says the firm has a tried and tested formula for getting its thought leadership programmes off the ground: the important first steps are to find an executive sponsor, build a supportive culture around the programme, then decide the themes and develop the positions you want to test with research. It’s about being methodical, starting small and building on it.

Interestingly, BearingPoint doesn’t always approach research from a campaign perspective, using thought leadership to develop and articulate its position on key issues.

Both firms agree that there is a tipping point with cutting through the noise. Whether trying to connect with stakeholders or readers, find those few advocates who can help to amplify your message and get extra eyeballs for your hard work.

Download our latest report for more insights on planning global thought leadership campaigns.

Andrew Rogerson

Written by Andrew Rogerson

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