Your Thought Leadership Content Marketing Team: To Build or To Buy?

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Whether you realize it or not, the highest-ROI form of marketing your company can engage in is thought leadership. Most of us don’t know when we’re being swayed by thought leadership because we simply assume that the books we read, programs we watch, and presentations we engage in are all just there for our learning pleasure. The truth, of course, is that nearly every time we learn something, we’re silently associating our teacher with expertise and leadership, and will think of them the next time we want to make a purchase in their industry.

There are countless examples of thought leadership in our society. One of the earliest examples in my own life – which I didn’t realize was thought leadership until I began studying this stuff – was with the Princeton Review. When I was studying for my SATs in high school, I devoured the book Word Smart, a vocabulary book put out by the Princeton Review. It taught me the most common SAT words, along with clever pneumonics to help me remember them. Well, when it came time for me to take an SAT course, guess who I thought of first? And 4 years later, when I needed a prep course for the LSATs, once again, the Princeton Review got my business. That $10 vocabulary book that I spent so many hours studying in high school led to $5,000 in business down the road. Why? Because I was branded. In my subconscious mind, every time I picked up that dog-eared book and saw the shiny logo on the cover, I associated The Princeton Review with being an authority in test prep.

 Every day, our minds are affected by thought leadership. But unlike that other form of product-shilling we encounter every day – advertising – we actually LIKE thought leadership. Why? It brings us value. We appreciate the value that a thought-provoking article, a helpful how-to video, or an authoritative report brings us so much that we are excited to give our business to the companies that make them. That, to me, is the essence of why thought leadership is so much more effective than advertising.

The crazy part is – and this is what none of us think about when we’re being affected by thought leadership – that this thought leadership may have been pretty simple to create. We all look up to the organizations that publish thought leadership in some way, thinking that they must be sophisticated bastions of research, incubators of brilliant ideas. But creating thought leadership is not necessarily so hard to do. For instance, that book I was so impacted by, Word Smart, was probably created by one single vocab nerd over about 6 months. And let’s say that person was paid $25,000 to write that book. Think of how many people like me were influenced by it and went on to become customers of the Princeton Review’s other services? I’d estimate that the ROI on that book was at least 50x what the author got paid.

The real magic of something like the Princeton Review, of course, is that it creates lots of books, in virtually every subject area that students are tested in. It also creates guides to colleges, graduate schools, and even private high schools. In addition, its staff does PR for their books and guides, landing them television and radio spots where they offer expert commentary on the subjects they claim to be thought leaders on. This is thought leadership at its best, a layering and compounding of various forms of thought leadership until the thought leader’s brand is burning white hot. (Add to the mixture the fact that the Princeton Review named themselves after one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, and you can begin to see how they built a multi-billion dollar brand.)

So all of that is well and good – exciting even. But how do you do it for your own company? How do you make your company into a thought leader in its industry? Well, you have 2 choices: build or buy.

Building a thought leadership team in your small or medium sized business is not an easy task – but if you are truly serious about it, it can be done. First you will need to decide what kind of thought leadership content you plan to create – will it be an industry-leading blog that covers every niche aspect of what your potential customers are looking for (which is essentially what my company sells), an authoritative annual report, a set of rankings, an FAQ, perhaps a series of white papers? And once you know what you’re creating, who will actually produce this content (and do it in a timely manner)? Who will edit it? Who will handle the design and user experience of it? And, once all that is finished, who will distribute your content far and wide so that your industry sees it and it results in lots of new exposure and links?

To me, building a thought leadership team in your organization means having at least 4 people: a writer, an editor, a web designer, and a PR/distribution person. Those people must be dedicated to the task, not doing this project in their spare time or over the course of a Fall internship. While most small and medium sized businesses don’t feel they have the bandwidth to support a team doing only this work, they might feel differently if they realized that it could double or triple the revenues of the company. Managing this team and making sure they’re on course can be a full time job in and of itself, of course, which is why many companies turn to the other option: outsourcing.

Getting a thought leadership team producing content for your company can happen near-instantly if you find an external team to build your thought leadership content for you. If this team is experienced, efficient with their time, and part of a larger content marketing firm that shares its resources amongst many clients, you will also pay far less to have the content created than you would if you did it yourself. (And still own 100% of the content as well.)

Our model at First Page Sage is to offer a 7 person team – a writer that we recruit from your industry, 2 editors, a web designer, an outreach person, an account executive, and a “conversion optimizer” to ensure that the effort is resulting in a strong ROI for your business. That team would probably cost you upwards of $350,000 per year if you built it yourself, let alone the time it would take to train everyone on best practices in SEO and thought leadership. We charge substantially less than that, though, due to the scale of our company.

Whether you decide to build or buy your thought leadership team, it would behoove you to start thinking about it sooner rather than later. Every week, we see companies making huge strides simply by getting the idea into their potential customers’ minds that they are the industry leader.

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