A Discussion with Karthik Nagendra, Thought Leadership Marketing Manager - Wipro Technologies
"In the current hyper-competitive marketplace, it's hard for suppliers to think objectively about what makes their business truly different from their competitors," observes Brenna Garratt, CEO of The Delve Group, a Manhattan company specializing in working with outsourcing suppliers. So, how do companies distinguish themselves when everyone's offerings sound alike?
According to Karthik Nagendra, thought leadership marketing is one way. "It's a powerful branding tool. I call it Intellectual branding," he observes.
Karthik, thought leadership marketing manager for Wipro, says companies used to consider advertising and media relations as primary tools for creating a brand image for the company. Today pretty pictures and messages "are not enough to create a brand."
He says thought leadership marketing as the new tool for branding is gaining ground because business executives today "are increasingly up to date with the latest technology and no longer expect vendors or solution providers to provide that for them. Instead, they seek experts who can help them battle the direct and indirect forces in the market that are pressuring them, forces I believe will only increase in the future," he explains.
The IT Services Marketing Association, a trade group based in Massachusetts, surveyed companies to determine what factors caused their customers to select them. Ninety-seven percent said thought leadership contributed to their companies winning business. According to its 2007 study, "When done well, thought leadership can help differentiate a company from its competitors, drive business through use in targeted campaigns, and stimulate dialogue with customers and prospects."
Four steps to create thought leadership marketing
What exactly is thought leadership? Karthik says "it's a big idea, a new idea, a strong point of view, or an insight into future trends."
So, how can companies use thought leadership marketing to win new business? Karthik says thought leadership marketing is more than having experts write thought-provoking papers and presenting them at conferences. "Today executives need to treat thought leadership marketing as a full-fledged program designed to showcase their knowledge externally through the involvement of all the stakeholders in the ecosystem," says the Wipro executive.
Companies can do that in four steps. They are:
1. Define and understand your company's thought leadership ecosystem.
Karthik says the first step is to create a thought leadership ecosystem. This ecosystem has multiple stakeholders which include:
- Alliance partners
- Industry bodies
The Wipro executive says each stakeholder acts as both a contributor and a recipient of the knowledge base they are creating. "Together they create the thought leadership platform," he explains.
For example, customers can provide insights into the company's products or services. "They can tell you trends they see in the industry. They will tell you where they want you to invest in new products or services," says Karthik.
University professors study technology, industries, and geographies. "They may be the ones to define the next big thing," he continues.
Similarly, analysts also typically spot trends. "They also evaluate companies on various parameters, so they can tell you how to improve your image in the eyes of your clients to win new business," he observes.
"An amalgamation of all these aspects together forms the nucleus of an effective thought leadership marketing program," he adds.
2. Recognize thought leadership is a process that requires a structured approach.
First, companies must identify "the pulse of the market." What are the trends? What are customer concerns? What solutions do they need?
Second, companies must identify the correct source to study the issue and provide insights. Third, they have to come up with a defining and differentiated point of view.
One way to do this is to set up a dedicated council that does nothing but focus on thought leadership issues. Wipro, for example, established the Council for Industry Research, comprising of domain and technology experts from the organization, to address the needs of customers. It specifically looks at innovative strategies that will help them gain competitive advantage in the market. The Council, in collaboration with leading academic institutions and industry bodies and other stakeholders in the thought leadership ecosystem, studies market trends to equip organizations with insights that facilitate their IT and business strategies.
3. Identify and design a communications strategy.
Once the process is in place, companies need to clearly articulate the core message. This is critical as it clearly differentiates the route the company is taking vis-‡-vis its competition. Like conventional branding, thought leadership marketing also focuses on themes or messages. However, in thought leadership marketing companies use solid research to craft them, which creates a stronger impact compared to a conventional ad campaign.
The next step identifies the various channels the marketing team will use to reach out and collaborate with the thought leaders in the ecosystem. Like conventional marketers use billboards, newspaper ads, journal ads, TV commercials, and Web content, to name a few, as channels for promotion branding, thought leadership marketing also adopts some innovative channels.
For example, Wipro created some innovative thought leadership marketing channels like the "Expert Speak Series," inviting professors to hold seminars on the Wipro campus to share views and best practices that can help in the company's strategy formulation.
Wipro also created an awards program focused on innovation. The first was an internal awards program to encourage thought leadership around innovation programs within the organization. The second award was an external awards program where Wipro partnered with industry groups like IAOP and ITAA to recognize innovations from different companies globally.
Wipro has also established a Speakers Bureau. The team booked speakers at events to present their viewpoint.
Again, the key aspect is this is part of a structured program. "We've had good results with these programs," reports Karthik.
4. Define the metrics so you know if the program is successful. If not, the metrics will tell you how to fix it.
The goal of the metrics program "is to determine if the program is effective or not," says Karthik. One way is to engage a third party to measure the quality of the message, the effectiveness of the channels adopted, and the skills of the leadership.
For example, the firm checked out the Web site, rated the speakers, tracked media mentions for the research published, tabulated the number of leads generated, and monitored the quality of the research. "This helped our chief marketing officer know if the program is having a business impact," says Karthik.
Is it? Karthik says, "Wipro will definitely have an edge because we are one of the early movers in creating a structured thought leadership marketing program."
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Companies can differentiate themselves in the marketplace with thought leadership marketing. There is a four-step process to do this properly:
- Define and understand your company's thought leadership ecosystem.
- Recognize thought leadership is a process that requires a structured approach.
- Identify and define a communications strategy.
- Define the metrics so you know if the program is successful.