The Marketing Strategist:
How to Focus Thought Leadership on Customers' Needs
Thought leadership can be a waste of time and money if you’re trying to look smart in an area that customers no longer care about. GE Healthcare had long focused on helping make hospitals more efficient (along with most of its competitors). But then the company decided to do some in-depth research with customers to see if the priority on efficiency was still valid. It wasn’t, said Bret Barczak, CMO, Service and Solutions, GE Healthcare. Instead, the research revealed that hospital leaders were desperate for creative ways to grow and that few of GE’s competitors were focusing on that need. So GE targeted its thought leadership strategy on growth. Finding the right subject matter is important, but if you want customers to consume your thought leadership, you must know them and the ways they like to interact and consume content. Here, GE’s research revealed some challenges. The target audience—high-level hospital administrators—is nearly all older, white males. Digital and social media do not interest them at all. But they do like to network with each other. Though they tend to change jobs frequently, the administrators rarely leave the field and they form long-term relationships with peers through third-party meetings. With this knowledge, GE created a thought leadership strategy based on four pillars:
- Marketable people. The research showed that GE’s target audience trusts its peer network more than anything else. Personal referrals are key. So GE developed a strategy to highlight its top subject matter experts to create a peer relationship with customers.
- Proprietary content. GE’s target customers said that deep knowledge of the subject matter was one of the most important factors in choosing a provider. So GE focused on creating unique content that displayed the company’s deep knowledge in specific specialty areas.
- Demonstrated success. GE’s customers want to see proof that the provider has done similar work with another customer that they recognize. In-depth case studies are critically important.
- Multitouch distribution. GE’s research found that its customers don’t have a strong preference for any single thought leadership delivery channel (white papers, events, etc.). So it was important to disseminate the thought leadership content through multiple channels to ensure that customers would see it.