Tag Archives: intellectual capital

7 Signs that You’re NOT a Thought Leader

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Thought Leadership is perhaps the most widely used and consistently abused strategy in professional services marketing. There’s diverse opinion regarding what it is, and fuzzy expectations with respect to its benefits.

Our simple definition is that Thought Leadership is a content marketing strategy designed to leverage intellectual capital as a means to engage target audiences. The practical benefits of Thought Leadership are delivered through the power of “intrinsic selling.”

Without getting overly theoretical, here’s what we mean by that:

“Extrinsic selling” occurs when a seller’s credibility relies heavily on work they’ve performed for other customers. This requires the prospective customer to make a leap of faith; to believe the service provider can match or exceed what’s been done for others. It’s a “trust me” sales approach.

Conversely, intrinsic selling does not require a prospective client to base their selection on work done for others. Instead, it engages the prospective client based on ideas, opinions and advice that enables them to make their own objective decision regarding the seller’s potential to add value. Because no leap of faith is required, it’s a more powerful sales methodology.

The intellectual capital embodied within Thought Leadership is what provides you with credibility, and gives potential buyers the confidence to do business with you. It also serves as a sophisticated sales hook designed to grab their attention.

It’s easier to understand what Thought Leadership is by examining the behaviors that are contrary to its fundamental principles.

So here are 7 signs that you’re not cut out to be a Thought Leader:

  1. You call yourself a Thought Leader. Worse yet, you call yourself a “visionary.” Thought Leadership is not a mantle that can be claimed. It’s a market perception that’s earned over time, and an unofficial stature that’s assigned to you by others.
  2. Your editorial content is self-serving. If you’re unwilling to provide insights, information and recommendations without making yourself the hero, or without directly plugging your firm’s products / services, then you’re not really practicing Thought Leadership.
  3. You lack original or interesting ideas. Repurposing “archived” content (a/k/a other people’s thinking), or providing summaries or news reports of information that’s available elsewhere, will likely position you as an industry parrot, rather than a Thought Leader.
  4. You’re not a true student of your craft. Bona fide Thought Leaders are constantly focused on the current state and future direction of their professional discipline. They appreciate that a rising tide floats all boats, and unselfishly share what they know and think.
  5. You think Thought Leadership has a goal line. If you’re looking for instant gratification, and don’t completely believe, at the outset, in the long-term value of Thought Leadership as an ongoing marketing strategy, then simply scratch it off your to-do list.
  6. You refuse to share the spotlight. The most effective Thought Leaders seek to manage, rather than control, the conversation. Rather than pushing their own viewpoint, they define and promote topics and identify people worth paying attention to.
  7. You’re unwilling to work hard. Consistency is the most significant hurdle in the quest for Thought Leadership. To establish a level of top-of-mind awareness required for your target audiences to form and sustain a positive opinion, you need to generate relevant content on a quarterly basis. And that requires personal (or enterprise) discipline.

Just to be clear…the most effective Thought Leaders are not in the game for altruistic reasons. They expect a tangible return on their investment, in terms of market engagement.

Toward that end, a Thought Leadership strategy must ensure that your intellectual capital – whether it’s initially presented in a public platform (such as a seminar), through earned media (publicity), or owned media (social) channels – is also delivered directly to all relevant target audiences in a manner that’s not self-serving, and that fosters two-way conversations.

For example, rather than publicly touting that you’ve been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, you should leverage that media exposure in a more nuanced, sophisticated manner. You can expand on the underlying topic in a direct communication to clients, prospects and referral sources, soliciting their thoughts, and referencing the Wall Street Journal article (rather than your specific quote in it) as a catalyst for the discussion.

This long-winded perspective is not intended to dissuade you from seeking Thought Leadership status. To get started, you should identify a relevant, respected Thought Leader, study how they’ve earned that status, and then simply jump into the pool. Once you’re comfortable in the water, there will be ongoing opportunities to tailor an effective Thought Leadership strategy.

In true Thought Leadership fashion, please share your opinions, experiences and frustrations involving this battle-worn marketing strategy.

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Bare Essentials: Marketing as a Necessary Evil

Business owners across all industries and professions start companies because they have a specific expertise or interest – whether it involves trading currency futures or replacing car mufflers – and eventually discover that selling their product or service is neither in their wheelhouse, nor something they enjoy doing.

To make matters worse, business owners often engage ad agencies, PR firms and outside (and internal) marketing “experts” who are always ready to prescribe a long list of tactical solutions (white papers, blogs, newsletters, publicity, social media, direct mail, conferences, advertising, etc.)…all of which may be more likely to generate distractions and invoices than new accounts or revenue growth.

As a result, business owners are often left confused, disappointed and angry over the lack of return on their marketing investment. Or they’ve heard all the horror stories and avoid marketing altogether, hoping their “connections” will drive new business.

Because marketing is viewed by many business owners as a necessary evil, a common question they ask is, “What are the bare essentials that I absolutely need to grow my business?”

Here’s a very short list marketing essentials for B2B and professional services firms:

 1. A Website that’s Worth Reading: Your website must provide visitors with a clear understanding of who you are, what you do, how you do it, why you are doing it, and who would benefit most from what you do. Your website should also:

  • Use plainspoken, simple language
  • Not ramble on, or seek to dazzle readers with your brilliance
  • Be written by a professional copywriter; not by you or by your attorney
  • Contain graphic elements that support your firm’s brand (avoid cheesy stock photos)
  • Feature a limited number of sections / pages, and be easy to navigate
  • Take advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics
  • Avoid being overly self-promotional
  • Present your professionals as individuals who are real and approachable
  • Use first-class, consistent photography for people’s portraits
  • Consider using a brief video (under 2 minutes) of your key people, and / or an animated video that explains your business
  • Include contact information; not a generic response form
  • Not require a user name and password to gain access to white papers or other content that showcases your firm’s intellectual capital

Even though your website will be “brochure ware” with little or no functionality, it’s important that it be properly wired into Google Analytics or clicky.com, so that you know who is visiting your site, where that traffic is coming from, what information they are looking at, and how long they are staying. If you don’t monitor website traffic on a regular basis, then you are missing opportunities to follow-up on potential interest, and to make ongoing improvements to your website and marketing strategy.

2. A Device that Helps People Remember You:  The key marketing goal for most service-related businesses is top-of-mind awareness, which means getting people to remember you, and to reach out to you when they’re ready to buy whatever you’re selling. Because you can never know when your target audiences (current and prospective clients, intermediaries, referral sources, etc.) will be ready to make decisions, your firm must create an internal discipline and content to remind them of:

  • Your existence
  • Your intellectual capital
  • Your credibility
  • Your potential to help them

To achieve top-of-mind awareness, you’ll need to establish and maintain scheduled, direct communication with your target audiences, either by email or snail mail. The two necessary component are an up-to-date database (or CRM system), and interesting, relevant content to send to them on a quarterly basis. For many firms, the database creation is relatively easy; but content development can be extremely difficult because it takes time and planning.

Here are some ways to make this process simpler and more effective:

  • Create a repeatable format, such as an interview series, a partner letter, or hypothetical (or real) case studies.
  • Your content should not be lengthy, and should accommodate surface readers through headlines, subheads, sidebars, an intro or summary.
  • Avoid canned newsletter formats and do not promote firm-specific news. No one really cares about your firm’s recent mud run or fundraiser.
  • Address topics and issues that demonstrate the firm’s thought leadership, but don’t present it in an overly academic, ponderous style. Make it readable, and skip the complex charts.
  • Add all the content you generate to a “Thought Leadership” section of your website, so that it gains broader exposure and longer shelf-life.

Remember that your marketing strategy here is consistent contact with decision-makers. So unless you commit to communicate on a regular basis, don’t start a market outreach program. If quarterly is too onerous, then semi-annually is better than nothing. Just keep in mind that there is usually an opportunity loss associated with infrequent contact. And if all this sounds like too much work, then skip to Item #3 below.

3. A LinkedIn Profile that Mirrors Your Website: LinkedIn has become an important market research and due diligence tool for all industries. To leverage this online exposure, and because LinkedIn can drive traffic to your website, your company’s LinkedIn profile should have the same look and feel as your website. This graphic and content consistency suggests to outside audiences that your firm has its act together, strategically and operationally. Here are some other ways to benefit from LinkedIn:

  • Make sure that the individual profiles of all your staff members are a reflection of your firm’s professionalism. Although this effort can be like herding cats, at the very least ensure that your firm is described accurately and consistently in all their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Ensure that all of your staff profiles include photographs. Better yet, bring in a professional photographer and provide all staff members with high quality photos for their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Post all of the Thought Leadership content (described in Step 2) onto your firm’s LinkedIn profile as it’s published, to gain additional exposure.
  • Work at building your LinkedIn connections, which should also be added to your database of target audiences that you reach out to on a regular basis.

If you’re looking to do only ONE “bare marketing essential” from this short list, focus on building a world- class website. Your website still serves as the mother ship of your brand, it’s the one place that all prospective clients will visit, and it can kill interest quickly if it’s not professional-looking and distinctive. And if that’s too much of a marketing burden, then you might consider another profession…perhaps as an astronaut or a rodeo clown.

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B2B Conferences: Essential Marketing Tactic…or Waste of Time and Money?

Regardless of industry, B2B conferences and seminars can be a significant waste of time, money and opportunity. But the conference sponsor is typically not at fault for the lack of return on this marketing investment. It’s often the result of poor planning, lack of creativity, laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues you should address, in advance of investing in a conference of any kind:

Do I understand the inherent marketing value of conferences? Before it became a “pay to play” world, there was some brand stature and inherent 3rd party endorsement associated with participation as a keynote speaker or panelist on a conference agenda. Nowadays, however, even if you’re invited to speak, attendees will likely assume that you’ve paid for the privilege, so the brand cachet is diminished.

The real marketing value of participation in any conference agenda is not based on what you say to the 100 attendees during your 15 minutes on the podium. Instead, it’s based on what you do, both before and after the conference, to reach, influence and engage the 1,000+ or 2,000+ decision-makers who were either too busy or too important to attend the event. In many respects, a conference simply provides a legitimate reason to communicate with those individuals who are most important you.

Do I have the internal discipline to make conferences a worthwhile investment? Because conferences are expensive, inefficient, haphazard and difficult to evaluate, you must establish an internal discipline and specific strategies to harness their marketing value. For starters, you need access to a robust, accurate database of your clients, prospects and referral sources. Possessing a list of conference attendees, either before or after the conference, is of lesser importance.

You also need to create a detailed communications strategy – tailored for each event – that addresses how you intend to:

  • Share intellectual capital associated with the event (either generated by you or someone else), and how to
  • Leverage that intellectual capital to drive engagement with your target audiences either before and / or after the conference.

For example, if you’ve given a conference presentation, you can send highlights of your remarks to your database shortly after the event, and offer to send them your complete remarks or PowerPoint slides. Or you can convert your presentation into a bylined article for publication in an appropriate business or trade journal, and then send target audiences the published piece along with a personalized cover note.

If you’re not on the podium, you’ll need to be more creative. For example, you might send your target audiences a “Sorry I missed you…” communication that provides your insights on the conference’s highlights, or expresses a contrarian viewpoint related to its underlying theme. Or you might even consider hi-jacking the conference agenda, by inviting high-value targets to a roundtable discussion / reception at a very exclusive venue near the event. (Conference sponsors do their best to prevent this type of guerilla marketing.)

In all cases, the strategic goal is to amortize the time and money you’ve invested in the conference, in order to reach a wider and sometimes more appropriate audience. By using the conference credibility (or its related topic / theme) to showcase your intellectual capital, drive top-of-mind awareness and foster direct engagement, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of yielding a connection between the event and tangible business metrics, including new client engagements and revenue growth.

Are my expectations for this conference realistic? Sometimes lightning actually does strike: you’ll make a connection at a conference that eventually leads to new business. But most of the time, putting your company’s logo on a lanyard, participating in a panel discussion, or sponsoring a mid-morning coffee break will lead to absolutely nothing. If there were a consistent direct connection between conference participation and business growth, there would be a very long waiting list for sponsorships.

If you understand that conferences will always be a low percentage marketing strategy, then you have a clear choice. You can either:

  1. Avoid conferences altogether, by hosting your own private events or programs.
  2. Leverage your participation to showcase intellectual capital with a wider audience.
  3. Simply enjoy the camaraderie, the golf / tennis / beach, and the nightlife…and hope for the best. In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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The Road to Hedge Fund Transparency: Marketing Essentials and Potential Pitfalls

To survive and prosper in a marketplace where transparency and trust are now valued by investors and promoted by regulators, hedge funds will be increasingly required to build a rational and risk-averse approach to external communication. Ideally, those plans will also avoid many of the non-productive tactics that marketers are known to promote.

Here’s a marketing roadmap designed to achieve that objective:

Build your brand strategy first. This internal discipline yields a unified view and clear expression of what your firm seeks to achieve for investors, how it addresses that goal, what makes it uniquely qualified for consideration, and why investors should select and trust your firm. An upfront articulation of the firm’s value proposition serves as the cornerstone of a written marketing plan that should include: tangible business goals, appropriate marketing strategies and tactics, calendarized activity, budgets and accountabilities. Any firm that operates without a formal plan (which should be simple, and not take months to create), eventually becomes a victim of “trust me it’s working” marketing. No plan = lots of wheel-spinning + no tangible business outcomes.

Create a bona fide website, not a proxy. In an online world, websites are the mother ship of market transparency. If a hedge fund is unwilling to provide on its website essential information related to its capabilities and credibility, then the firm is not really serious about market communication. Ideally, your website should express institutional values, explain investment processes, showcase human capital, provide examples of thought leadership and include inherent 3rd party endorsements. It’s not a sales pitch or report card. Your website will generate investor interest by allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the firm and its potential to help them achieve their goals.

Leverage your firm’s intellectual capital. Thought leadership – which is overused marketing jargon – is a strategy that leverages knowledge and ideas to engage target audiences. Effective thought leadership can involve a broad range of marketing tactics, but should always be designed to achieve measurable goals; not to simply have people think you’re smart. A hedge fund’s intellectual capital represents its most powerful market differentiator, and can be showcased without giving away any proprietary information or methodologies.

Harness the market reach of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an important due diligence tool for investors, intermediaries and the financial press. Most hedge funds understand this, and either provide a very basic firm profile, and / or allow its employees to post their personal profiles on LinkedIn. But to harness LinkedIn’s enormous market reach and professional clientele, hedge funds must establish a buttoned-up institutional persona that’s consistent with the firm’s (bona fide) website; ensure that its employees’ profiles enhance the firm’s brand positioning; and take full advantage of appropriate user groups on LinkedIn to raise brand visibility and display its thought leadership. 

Hold off on Twitter and other social media sites. Twitter can be a great information source, and most hedge funds should use it exclusively for that purpose: to listen rather than to speak. Few hedge funds have the time or social media sophistication to engage safely and consistently on Twitter, and the compliance risks are significant. Facebook is simply not an appropriate channel for hedge funds, and posting comments on independent blogs or online publications will not yield meaningful results.

Manage press exposure selectively. Beneficial media exposure can provide valuable brand credibility. But this is a high-risk tactic because reporters have agendas, can make mistakes, and are not in business to make your firm look good. However, hedge funds should proactively seek media exposure through participation in targeted editorial opportunities – such as bylined articles, OpEd pieces and certain types of feature articles – if they provide total or nearly complete control over what’s published. Although guest spots on financial news channels such as CNBC can fuel the ego, these are high-risk opportunities that most hedge funds should avoid.

Unfortunately, most media coverage yields no marketing value, because it’s simply hung like a hunting trophy on a firm’s website. To benefit from the implied 3rd party endorsement, beneficial coverage must be properly integrated into the firm’s direct communication strategy with clients, prospects and referral sources.

Merchandise conference participation. Investor conferences are high-cost tactics that can be effective for hedge funds. But these events also yield low results because firms fail to properly re-purpose the related thought leadership they’ve produced; which can serve as raw material to influence target audiences that are much larger, and sometimes of higher value, than those in attendance at the conference. Doing all the heavy lifting (in terms of content preparation, travel, time away from office and home), but failing to benefit from that investment – both before or after the event itself – represents a tangible opportunity loss.

Forget advertising for now, and perhaps forever. Regulators have not made it easy for hedge funds to understand the rules of the new advertising game, so the industry is better off encouraging the very large players – with deep compliance muscle – to be the first ones on the field. But there are more significant reasons why most hedge funds should never include advertising in their marketing plans. Notably, institutional advertising is expensive, requires a long-term commitment to be effective, and is very difficult to measure or generate a market response. More importantly, at most hedge funds there is an extensive list of marketing strategies and tactics (for example, building an effective website) that should be addressed first, and that will provide a more meaningful return than advertising.

As market dynamics of the investment world drag hedge funds, however reluctantly, into the new era of transparency, there is some good news for those firms. Hedge funds have long demonstrated their ability to sustain a successful business enterprise without traditional marketing tactics. So any benefits that effective market communication might provide for them are very likely to result in incremental asset growth.

Additionally, because hedge funds do not currently depend on marketing for survival, they can act in a deliberate, strategic manner. Hedge funds have the luxury of being able to design and implement their marketing programs incrementally, and to focus on doing a limited number of things very well.

In that regard, other vertical industries may eventually point to hedge funds as examples of best practices in branding and marketing. But at the current rate of change, that’s unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

 

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Managing Brand Alpha: The Next Frontier for Investment Firms

Performance remains a critical selection factor for investors; but increasingly in a post-Madoff world, it’s not what’s most important to them.

Although investment firms understand this, many choose to ignore the qualitative factors that have significant influence on investor decision-making, which include:

 

  • What You Stand For: INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL is what motivates investors to place their capital at risk. This does not involve how much you know. Investors need to understand what you believe in, and to appreciate what you’re attempting to achieve.

What does “intellectual capital” sound like?

Here’s a letter to investors from Phil Goldstein of Bulldog Investors, regarding one of his funds: “As these statistics suggest, we are risk averse. Thus, we tend to outperform in down or choppy markets. On the other hand, we expect to underperform the stock market when it booms…For the most part, we eschew any attempt to predict the markets. Instead, we focus on trying to find investments where we think we have an edge. By seeking out and exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace, we hope to generate above average returns for our Fund with reduced risk. We also will use activism when necessary to try to unlock the value of our investments. This strategy has worked quite well for us in the past and we see no reason to alter it.”

  • Who You Are: PERSONAL INTEGRITY qualifies you for consideration by investors. Lacking confidence in your character and reputation, both as a firm and individuals, they will dismiss your performance and your ideas.

What does “personal integrity” sound like?

Here’s what Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates stated in an interview, “I started Bridgewater from scratch, and now it’s a uniquely successful company and I am on the Forbes 400 list. But these results were never my goals—they were just residual outcomes—so my getting them can’t be indications of my success. And, quite frankly, I never found them very rewarding. What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning—and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.”

  • What Others Think of You: CREDIBILITY must be validated by respected third parties, to provide investors with the confidence they require to consider you as their financial fiduciary.

What does “credibility” look like?

Media exposure in objective, respected publications is one of many ways to achieve third-party endorsements. Here’s the head, subhead and opening of a recent Barrons’ profile: A Top African Hedge Fund Is Buying Markets Others Are Deserting: Andrew Lapping, who runs the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund, has been moving into markets like Zimbabwe and Nigeria that others are deserting. “Investing successfully in Africa’s volatile and illiquid stock markets requires as much patience as courage. Andrew Lapping has acquired a bit of both as the South Africa–based portfolio manager of the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund…”

Investment firms with the talent and discipline required to generate consistent risk-adjusted returns are entitled to investor interest on that basis.

But firms that focus exclusively on their performance to attract and maintain assets — without addressing the selection factors that build understanding, trust and loyalty among investors and their advisors — demonstrate a reckless approach to enterprise brand risk management that not only compromises their financial acumen, but should provide current and prospective investors with some cause for concern.

How an investment firm manages its enterprise brand alpha should be part of the due diligence process for investors.

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