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What Is Thought Leadership? 5 Steps To Get It Right

Michael Brenner

what is thought leadership?What is thought leadership?

Like most buzzwords, thought leadership is an often misused and misunderstood term. But what is it really? And why do you need to consider developing and publishing thought leadership.

2013 may finally be the year when content marketing becomes a mainstream discipline in marketing departments. Thought leadership is a key component of content marketing. So let’s nail down what it is, why you need it and the steps to get it right.

What Is Thought Leadership?

To highlight the problem with most buzzwords, Wikipedia calls thought leadership “business jargon.” And defines it as content that is recognized by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.

This post here on Forbes went so far as to define a Thought Leader as a person or firm that is not only recognized but also who profits from the recognition of authority.

And just recently, Daniel Rasmus provided this definition:

Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.

To me, Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.

While it can include your unique perspective on hot topics relevant for your customers, the key for me is that the agenda is set by your audience. They determine what the questions are. You simply need to answer them. So your level of authority is really determined by how well you answer those most important questions.

Why Is Thought Leadership important?

Thought leadership is important for both Consumer (B2C) and B2B companies but I think it is especially important in B2B (Business-to-Business). This is because of the complexity and length of the decision-making process in B2B environments and the large number of people involved.

Thought leadership content can help anyone involved in the business decision making process to gain alignment across their company regarding the problems they are facing. It can help them to “name” the problem.

For marketers, Thought Leadership allows us to define the category of our solution in customer terms. I believe branding is all about being associated with the questions our buyers are asking.

Where Does Thought Leadership Come From?

Thought Leadership can come from any source – executives, customers, product managers, designers, customer service reps, sales people. We all have knowledge, experience and a point of view.

But ultimately, thought leaders need to inspire our buyers to act – to take the next step in their journey. Of course, the challenge is in the telling!

What Are The Benefits Of Thought Leadership?

The benefits of Thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership you become part of the conversation, early in the buying journey. You allow your audience to get to know you.

Ultimately, Thought Leadership is one of the outcomes of a solid Content Strategy. And content is bigger than marketing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders and you begin the process of becoming a social business – real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers.

How To Create Thought Leadership That Drives Results?

  • Identify the questions your customers are asking. Identify them all. Then prioritize them.
  • Answer those questions across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important and work your way down the list. All you have to do is have the right content to answer the basic questions.
  • You gotta “Give to Get”  so do not promote or put registration hurdles in front of your thought leadership content.
  • Make it interesting. My SAP colleague Timo Elliott calls this the “Return on Interesting” that you get when your content rises above the noise of all the boring, overly-promotional, gated content that is bombarding your audience.  Educate them? Yes. But try to entertain them in the process. Tell stories. Use examples.
  • Invite customers to participate: I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content or curating content from other sources while adding your own perspective.

Now tell me what do you think? What does Thought Leadership mean to you? Please follow the conversation on Twitter (@brennermichael),  LinkedInFacebook or Google+.

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.

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Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.

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About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Social Media Matters: 6 Content And Social Media Trend Predictions For 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

Julie Ellis

As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.

Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.

Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.

1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines

Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.

However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:

  • Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
  • Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.

2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify

Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:

  • Sending and receiving emails and messages
  • Making purchases
  • Researching products and services
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or writing reviews and comments
  • Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
  • Visiting news and entertainment websites
  • Using social media

Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.

This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.

3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms

Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.

This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.

However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.

4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age

In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.

However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.

However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.

5. Content production must reflect quality and variety

  • Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
  • While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
  • The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
  • B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
  • Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.

Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
Small Business Video infographic

A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.

6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement

Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.

For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.

For a deeper dive on engaging with customers through storytelling, see Brand Storytelling: Where Humanity Takes Center Stage.

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About Julie Ellis

Julie Ellis – marketer and professional blogger, writes about social media, education, self-improvement, marketing and psychology. To contact Julie follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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Are AI And Machine Learning Killing Analytics As We Know It?

Joerg Koesters

According to IDC, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to become pervasive across customer journeys, supply networks, merchandizing, and marketing and commerce because it provides better insights to optimize retail execution. For example, in the next two years:

  • 40% of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by cognitive computing and AI capabilities to provide critical, on-time insights for new operating and monetization models.
  • 30% of major retailers will adopt a retail omnichannel commerce platform that integrates a data analytics layer that centrally orchestrates omnichannel capabilities.

One thing is clear: new analytic technologies are expected to radically change analytics – and retail – as we know them.

AI and machine learning defined in the context of retail

AI is defined broadly as the ability of computers to mimic human thinking and logic. Machine learning is a subset of AI that focuses on how computers can learn from data without being programmed through the use of algorithms that adapt to change; in other words, they can “learn” continuously in response to new data. We’re seeing these breakthroughs now because of massive improvements in hardware (for example, GPUs and multicore processing) that can handle Big Data volumes and run deep learning algorithms needed to analyze and learn from the data.

Ivano Ortis, vice president at IDC, recently shared with me how he believes, “Artificial intelligence will take analytics to the next level and will be the foundation for retail innovation, as reported by one out of every two retailers globally. AI enables scale, automation, and unprecedented precision and will drive customer experience innovation when applied to both hyper micro customer segmentation and contextual interaction.”

Given the capabilities of AI and machine learning, it’s easy to see how they can be powerful tools for retailers. Now computers can read and listen to data, understand and learn from it, and instantly and accurately recommend the next best action without having to be explicitly programmed. This is a boon for retailers seeking to accurately predict demand, anticipate customer behavior, and optimize and personalize customer experiences.

For example, it can be used to automate:

  • Personalized product recommendations based on data about each customer’s unique interests and buying propensity
  • The selection of additional upsell and cross-sell options that drive greater customer value
  • Chat bots that can drive intelligent and meaningful engagement with customers
  • Recommendations on additional services and offerings based on past and current buying data and customer data
  • Planogram analyses, which support in-store merchandizing by telling people what’s missing, comparing sales to shelf space, and accelerating shelf replenishment by automating reorders
  • Pricing engines used to make tailored, situational pricing decisions

Particularly in the United States, retailers are already able to collect large volumes of transaction-based and behavioral data from their customers. And as data volumes grow and processing power improves, machine learning becomes increasingly applicable in a wider range of retail areas to further optimize business processes and drive more impactful personalized and contextual consumer experiences and products.

The transformation of retail has already begun

The impacts of AI and machine learning are already being felt. For example:

  • Retailers are predicting demand with machine learning in combination with IoT technologies to optimize store businesses and relieve workforces
  • Advertisements are being personalized based on in-store camera detections and taking over semi-manual clienteling tasks of store employees
  • Retailers can monitor wait times in checkout lines to understand store traffic and merchandising effectiveness at the individual store level – and then tailor assortments and store layouts to maximize basket size, satisfaction, and sell through
  • Systems can now recognize and predict customer behavior and improve employee productivity by turning scheduled tasks into on-demand activities
  • Camera systems can detect the “fresh” status of perishable products before onsite employees can
  • Brick-and-mortar stores are automating operational tasks, such as setting shelf pricing, determining product assortments and mixes, and optimizing trade promotions
  • In-store apps can tell how long a customer has been in a certain aisle and deliver targeted offers and recommendations (via his or her mobile device) based on data about data about personal consumption histories and preferences

A recent McKinsey study provided examples that quantify the potential value of these technologies in transforming how retailers operate and compete. For example:

  • U.S. retailer supply chain operations that have adopted data and analytics have seen up to a 19% increase in operating margin over the last five years. Using data and analytics to improve merchandising, including pricing, assortment, and placement optimization, is leading to an additional 16% in operating margin improvement.
  • Personalizing advertising is one of the strongest use cases for machine learning today. Additional retail use cases with high potential include optimizing pricing, routing, and scheduling based on real-time data in travel and logistics, as well as optimizing merchandising strategies.

Exploiting the full value of data

Thin margins (especially in the grocery sector) and pressure from industry-leading early adopters such as Amazon and Walmart have created strong incentives to put customer data to work to improve everything from cross-selling additional products to reducing costs throughout the entire value chain. But McKinsey has assessed that the U.S. retail sector has realized only 30-40% of the potential margin improvements and productivity growth its analysts envisioned in 2011 – and a large share of the value of this growth has gone to consumers through lower prices. So thus far, only a fraction of the potential value from AI and machine learning has been realized.

According to Forbes, U.S. retailers have the potential to see a 60%+ increase in net margin and 0.5–1.0% annual productivity growth. But there are major barriers to realizing this value, including lack of analytical talent and siloed data within companies.

This is where machine learning and analytics kick in. AI and machine learning can help scale the repetitive analytics tasks required to drive leverage of the available data. When deployed on a companywide, real-time analytics platform, they can become the single source of truth that all enterprise functions rely on to make better decisions.

How will this change analytics?

So how will AI and machine learning change retail analytics? We expect that AI and machine learning will not kill analytics as we know it, but rather give it a new and even more impactful role in driving the future of retail. For example, we anticipate that:

  • Retailers will include machine learning algorithms as an additional factor in analyzing and  monitoring business outcomes in relation to machine learning algorithms
  • They will use AI and machine learning to sharpen analytic algorithms, detect more early warning signals, anticipate trends, and have accurate answers before competitors do
  • Analytics will happen in real time and act as the glue between all areas of the business
  • Analytics will increasingly focus on analyzing manufacturing machine behavior, not just business and consumer behavior

Ivano Ortis at IDC authored a recent report, “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits,” in which he provides further insights on this topic. He notes how retail leaders will use new kinds of analytics to drive greater profitability, further differentiate the customer experience, and compete more effectively, “In conclusion, commerce and technology will converge, enabling retailers to achieve short-term ROI objectives while discovering untapped demand. But implementing analytics will require coordination across key management roles and business processes up and down each retail organization. Early adopters are realizing demonstrably significant value from their initiatives – double-digit improvements in margins, same-store and e-commerce revenue, inventory positions and sell-through, and core marketing metrics. A huge opportunity awaits.”

So how do you see your retail business adopting advanced analytics like AI and machine learning? I encourage you to read IDC’s report in detail, as it provides valuable insights to help you invest in – and apply – new kinds of analytics that will be essential to profitable growth.

For more information, download IDC’s “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits.

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About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.