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From Thought Leadership to Knowledge Marketing

Having spent over 10 years in the professional services industry, both client facing and in-house, I’ve seen my fair share of ‘thought leadership’ initiatives. “Our aim is to be seen as the thought leader in the atrial fibrillation sphere” goes the brief – but it’s not just limited to internal documents. Some companies quite openly use the term ‘thought leader’ in their marketing and positioning (see this examples from Xerox – I dare you not to cringe whilst watching the cheesy videos!).

But in the new collaborative, digital economy I wonder if the traditional approach to thought leadership – which seems to consist of constantly telling customers and consumers that your company is expert a certain field – holds water.

It’s something I wrestled with in my last permanent role at Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies). Like any professional services and many other businesses, we had spent years trying to find new ways of telling prospective clients that our consultants were some of the leading thinkers in their fields, with the best knowledge, insight and experience. Most of the time they believed us. We were story tellers and we told our story convincingly – but we didn’t have much to demonstrate it beyond sanitised biographies and case studies.

Blogs as thought leadership

Then social media came along in the form of blogs (remember those – a bit like Twitter but for people who could string more than one sentence together 😉 ). What better way to bring this knowledge, insight and experience to life. And so, in August 2005, Collective Conversation was born (it’s still live – as is my original blog – if a little unkempt) .

Between then and my departure in 2011, it was attracting over five times the traffic of our corporate website (having spent a lot less than a fifth of that budget on it), was leading the search engine rankings for the topics we wanted to be thought leaders about, brought about speaking gigs, media opportunities and book deals, and even got us on pitch shortlists and won (and lost, I might add – there is no policy that can stop someone doing something stupid) us business.

It was this experience that brought about the concept of knowledge marketing – the idea that knowledge wasn’t just something to be managed internally, but to be marketed externally, not only to provide ‘no strings attached’ insight that might just be of value to someone and that someone might just find it valuable enough to remember us and come back for more one day, hopefully on a more commercial basis.

Content marketing vs knowledge marketing

Fast forward eight years and there are more opportunities than just blogs to bring your employees’ knowledge to life. From professional social networks like LinkedIn to social knowledge networks like Quora, there are a multitude of channels available to the knowledge marketer.

Some might say this is just content marketing, but I respectfully disagree. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling”. So basically, use content as a way to market your messages. I think knowledge marketing is different – for me, it’s about using knowledge as a way to market your expertise. So, whilst it may often look the same (eBooks, white papers, etc.) the principles – and more importantly the people who originate it – are fundamentally different.

It’s something I’m keen to look at afresh, so please get in touch if you have come across any good examples of knowledge marketing.