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Is it more valuable to engage with your customers or be a thought leader?

I recently read a debate concluding that thought leadership is more important than deepening customer relationships.  That prompted us in the OgilvyOne Business office to debate whether the two are not in fact part of the same customer journey.

To be a thought leader a brand must understand it’s customers and the marketplace – and that comes from serving those customers, long term and through adding value.  Unless a brand also has engaged and satisfied customers its credibility as a thought leader will be diminished.

Identifying key messages for a thought leadership strategy

Successful customer engagement strategies can yield enough data (from social sentiment to purchase timescale, from added value opportunities to social conversation) to allow prediction of the product or service that a customer requires.  This knowledge is invaluable in converting individual customers but the sum of that knowledge can also lead to important insight about potential customers real requirements from a brand.  This can in turn give guidance as to some key messages on which to base an effective data led approach to thought leadership.

How and when to engage

Our recent Social Value Benchmark study found that B2B brands particularly are great at publishing content but reluctant to engage outside owned channels. Direct response to questions, comments and of course complaints offers a valuable engagement and insight opportunity.

An in depth understanding of the buyer cycle and it’s key trigger points provide the targeted approach vital to making thought leadership relevant and timely.

Measurement

The key to measurement is knowing what is useful.  An increase in views and shares is interesting, and can indicate the relevancy of content.  However, true ROI has to be around sales. If a brand can prove that a white paper was downloaded by a CEO who bought a £1m software solution, the cost of that White Paper should be added to the ROI of acquiring the customer, rather than the ROI of the white paper itself.

Credible thought leadership comes from successful customer engagement and the two should feed each other.