Keeping it real


Capturing the power of thought leadership


As we wrote in our previous post on this topic, marketers are the stewards of thought leadership. They often function as a megaphone for big ideas, and without their strategy, planning, and expertise around developing portable and scalable marketing campaigns, those ideas may never be heard.

Harnessing thought leadership truths as a strategic program offers an opportunity to inspire, to influence, and to take the lead on big industry conversations that can change how customers and future customers see a company.

Up until now, it was difficult to quantify thought leadership. Now it’s becoming clear (through research like this LinkedIn study) that high-performing thought leadership pays off.

As a reminder, we at Sappington believe that ideas that rise to the level of thought leadership must be:

Original — Offering something new and fresh

Authentic — Coming from real people

Actionable — Usable in real-life application

We’ve spent several years working with executives and product marketers on successful thought leadership strategies. Let’s look at a few examples of how we’ve gone about it.

Getting people to see a company and its products in a new light

Sharing great ideas that truly capture the imagination are valuable when an organization is moving into areas not yet conquered. This could be a new company trying to secure its place in a competitive market, an established brand venturing into a new arena, or any other kind of key transition that offers opportunities to envision a different future and share it.

For one client of ours, VMware, thought leadership was crucial in its effort to transition from being known only as a firmly established virtualization company to expanding its identity to encompass security and networking. 

This transition started with certain leaders sharing their ideas and technology approach on stage in a series of industry keynote speeches more than four years ago. At the time, these were bold statements, and at first not 100% accepted. The message needed greater exposure and evidence for it to be recognized as reality, as it is today. 

We were committed to helping VMware’s Networking & Security group tell this new narrative. We collaborated with passionate leaders to identify the fresh themes and elements that would redefine their value proposition, adding security and networking to virtualization—not an easy feat in a very competitive security landscape. 

Over the course of the past four years, this message has been road-tested and refined through keynotes and presentations at major events. Through product marketing, the messaging that resonated is now being extended into field materials, product presentations, blog posts, social media, and more.

The constant and consistent drum beat across channels and formats is creating the momentum to effect change.

Incubating thought leadership to support executive conversations

An organization can also create conditions for the incubation of great ideas that will inspire and inform new and existing audiences, and support conversations in the field.  

For example, our client Amazon Web Services is working with more business-focused customers in the enterprise cloud arena, and non-technical thought leadership is an important part of their discussions.

Amazon is famously one of the most customer-obsessed organizations on the planet, so the method to building thought leadership around enterprise cloud is to listen and engage and not proclaim.

The result is a community called Executive Insights, which facilitates idea-sharing between customers and AWS executives. The ideas come from conversations and interviews with a variety of smart people with compelling opinions on topics—not on the cloud, per se, as you might think, but how cloud is changing big areas like leadership, culture, and diversity.  

The resulting content doesn’t just live on the new site—it’s also shared out to the field so they can use it in their engagements with customers, executives, and beyond.

From thought to action

Thought leadership often starts as abstract or high-level ideas, but product marketers can employ the tools they already have at their disposal—company vision, a strategic mindset, and their own creativity—to make thought leadership both sticky and portable. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of practical ways to fan a spark into a flame that captures your audience and offers real results.

Thought LeadershipErik Wirsing