Marketers today are competing against so much noise in the online world. And the din has grown exponentially louder during COVID-19, through applications like Clubhouse and messaging from your competition. But these strange times also bring an opportunity to amplify the voice of your corporate brand (as well as your own). Let's explore how your brand can stand out:
- How to build trust, influence and sway through a meaningful thought-leadership speaking strategy.
- Ways to determine which of the audiences along your customer journey to address and with what information; and who in your repertoire of speakers should be relaying the message.
- Where to focus your time and effort given today’s plethora of available mediums.
Virtual Events Created a World of Opportunities
True story. It’s the beginning of the pandemic. Marketing budgets and departments have been decimated. I’m talking to a client who freaked out and fired their entire events staff but then had to quickly pivot once they realized that conferences were going virtual. And no, you can’t just shift your social media manager into the role of virtual events coordinator.
But where 2020 brought adversity — and let’s face it, panic — it also brought opportunities, especially around reach and the ability to amplify your voice of the brand via virtual, and now hybrid, events and speaking opportunities. Virtual events gave exponential reach. Events and conferences became less expensive to produce, participate in and attend. They were more inclusive to both speakers and attendees. You no longer needed to be a company executive with a big travel budget to attend and absorb information and content. They were open to all: from the project manager to the CMO to the social media manager to the engineers and sales teams. There was more opportunity to contribute and collaborate. In essence, there were more opportunities to build trust, grow influence, and amplify your brand's voice across your customer journey.
Our audiences were looking more for conversation, not pitches. Companies were trying to show a softer, more empathetic, “authentic” side. And with higher stakes on every decision our prospects and customers are making, marketers need to ensure their programs continue to build trust. With 2021 half-way done (yes, you read that right), it’s time to put in place a plan for the remainder of the year and well into 2022, leveraging virtual and hybrid speaking events to help amplify your brand’s voice.
Related Article: The Exciting Future of Events: Online, In Person, Hybrid
Step 1: Leverage a Thought Leader Program to Build Trust and Influence
If you don’t already have a thought leader program or it needs a little refresh, drop everything and focus on this. Thought leaders help your target audiences and customers understand what it is they need and why, but more importantly, how your offering is the answer. They provide a trusted source of information and inspiration. They will showcase your product or solution and position it to show how it resolves the pain, and even report on the results. Finally, thought leaders can provide validation for your solution, so the people sticking their neck out in the buying decision have some “proof” this was a good decision.
When looking for thought leaders, certainly look inside your organization. But don’t limit it to executives and other obvious leaders. As we mentioned, virtual events provide more opportunities for all levels in an organization to have representation. Also, you want to think about your customers and end users. They may not seem like an obvious choice, or even have a well-developed platform, but this is where you can help. You also want to think about industry experts and influences you can use. They don’t have to be users of your product, but they do need to be respected and have a following that you can leverage. Finally, don’t forget to think about how your partners can be used to help sway your audience.
Related Article: A 6-Step B2B Influencer Marketing Program
Step 2: Determine Who Your Addressable Audience Is and Why They'd Want to Hear From You
Your audience might include other industry experts and influencers, the press and bloggers. But when defining and building a strategic thought leader program, you want to understand your customer journey, and all of the players along that journey. Who are the prospects and buyers? Who are your customers and end users? For example, in the sales process, you might be dealing with folks who are not actually the end-users. But the customer success team is dealing exclusively with these folks. Who are they, what are their roles, and what are they looking for from you?
What is keeping them up at night and how can you help them? You can find out by simply asking them, doing surveys, looking at your support tickets, talking to sales, checking out reviews, and seeing how your competitors are addressing issues.
Once you know your audience, what their issues are, and how you can address them, think about who they might want to hear the solution from. For example, if there is a new feature coming out that will solve for xyz, they might want to understand what it is from product, learn how to use it from customer success, and understand how it will help them from a customer standpoint.
Step 3: Strategize on Where to Speak and What You Want to Share
Great, now you know who and why. But what about where and what? You need to understand where your audience is, especially when they are looking for answers. Is it on social media, and if so, which ones. If they are more technical, maybe they are looking on GitHub or Reddit. What do they read and where? Who do they listen to, and where? What events and conferences are they attending? (And where is your competition going?) Do they listen to podcasts or attend webinars? Be where they are, talking about the information they are looking for and absorbing.
Events come in so many shapes and forms these days. There are industry specific events, user groups, partner events. For some of you, social media live events might be a great place to position a thought leader. Maybe a podcast speaks to your audience, or a club or room on Clubhouse. Some platforms you might be able to leverage better than others, such as your community or your website. And think about how you can extend these venues, events and platforms. We’ve done live events (webinars, virtual conferences, etc.) and then had a follow-up discussion on our community site or Clubhouse. Go wherever your audience is talking and listening.
What information are they looking for and what do you want them to learn or understand? Best practices? Use cases? Maybe you want them to better understand your offering, value prop or ROI. Let’s say you sell cybersecurity to IT organizations. You might want to go to a conference on security, but if it’s heavily attended by CTOs, you may want to adjust your content accordingly.
Related Article: Shifting to a Virtual Events Strategy
Step 4: Implement and Chart a New Path to Amplify Your Brand’s Voice
Now the fun starts. Pick your spokespeople, thought leaders and topics as they align to your customer journey. Determine which events you want to attend and which spokespeople to represent based on what points you want to get across. Then build the content necessary for your thought leader to be impactful — whether you are taking a pillar piece and creating a presentation from it or you are developing talking points you want to make sure your speaker hits. By providing the presentations and talking points you are building consistency into your overall messaging. And you're also helping your speakers prepare while being thoughtful of their time.
Now make sure you train them (if possible) on everything. Help them understand their audience. Make sure they know the pain points and can speak to them. Make it really easy for them to amplify your brand.
I like to turn my thought leader campaigns and tactics into actual programs that run quarter over quarter. Therefore, I make sure we put markers in place so we can measure their effectiveness over time. Are we closing more deals? Are they closing sooner and/or at a higher price point? Can you track who attended your talks? Were the speakers effective? Did the event meet your expectations? Work with the usual ROI for events, but understanding that the idea is to leverage other folks to speak about the good your company is doing and how your solution and offerings can help.
Seems pretty simple, and maybe even obvious. But oftentimes thought leaders are slotted into other campaigns and programs. A rich and strategic thought leader program can help amplify your brand’s voice in new and meaningful ways.