OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

How to get the business on board

Gareth Lofthouse

The real reason why your business colleagues are not backing your marketing campaign – and what you can do about it.

We need to talk about why the business does not make enough time for your B2B marketing campaign.

I am being presumptuous – perhaps you work at an organisation where the leadership team understands the value of thought leadership and is fully committed to it. But this is rare.

Few things make a marketer feel more unsupported than when they have poured heart and soul into planning a thought leadership project and the response from their business colleagues is apathy. But even the most senior marketers often find themselves struggling to get the business to invest serious time, money (and proper thought) in their thought leadership campaigns. The experience is all the more frustrating when you’ve spent weeks or months trying to drum up support from different business stakeholders.

What causes business apathy?

Surely a business that invests sizeable resources into marketing would want to get behind your campaign? But in the fight for attention, recognition and support, B2B marketers often struggle to get a proper hearing.

How do we tackle this? First, we need to understand the underlying problem. There are five barriers that marketers need to overcome to get the business on board:

  1. They do not understand what you are trying to do
    Executives see a lot of bland content masquerading as thought leadership, so it is not surprising that they can be sceptical about its value. As marketers, we need to educate, and show them what constitutes real thought leadership.
  2. The business case is fuzzy
    Your business colleagues do not believe that thought leadership really delivers a return on investment, so it is seen as a nice to have.
  3. They do not feel like they have a stake
    They do not see how the campaign will support their personal goals. For them to put effort into supporting the campaign, they need to know how they will benefit personally.
  4. They do not agree with the strategy
    They think you should have picked another topic or focused on a different customer segment.
  5. The content has not been good enough
    This is probably the most painful barrier for a marketer to acknowledge, but previous content and campaigns may have disappointed. If that is the case, you need to invest in the quality of the idea and execution – and show them why this time it will be different.

Here are five ways to overcome these barriers and improve alignment and engagement at a high level. We will be expanding on this with more in-depth pieces in the coming weeks.

Five ways to get the business on board with thought leadership

  1. Show them the vision
  2. Make a solid business case
  3. Engage their deeper motivations
  4. Run a stakeholder workshop on your strategy
  5. Invest in a content quality framework

 

  1. Show them the vision

You need to educate the business about what a thought-leading brand does. If they have never seen real thought leadership before, people tend to revert to dull-looking white papers. We need to excite them with a bigger vision.

If you have a competitor that produces good thought leadership, show this to your stakeholders. Explain why it is vital that your company competes with the quality of its ideas. The more you can paint a picture of what you are trying to achieve – and what is at stake for the business – the more likely you are to generate excitement around your vision for thought leadership.

  1. Make a solid business case

Once you have established an exciting vision for your strategy and campaign, you need to build alignment around clear objectives and measures for success. A good business plan requires consensus around specific and measurable objectives. For example, which audiences are you addressing, how will the campaign influence thinking or behaviour, and how will you measure success?

Vague objectives will lead to a similarly vague commitment from the business. So be specific – and get your key stakeholders involved. At Longitude, we use an Outcomes Diagnostic to help our clients document precise goals and KPIs for their content programmes.

  1. Engage their deeper motivations

Building a business case is a vital step, but it won’t get you passionate support for your campaign. As any consensus-building politician would tell you, you need to engage on a more personal level and tell them what is in it for them. With a real stake in the plan, they are much more likely to invest quality time and thinking.

Given the choice, most people will only invest serious energy in initiatives that connect with their personal passions, build their public profile or further their careers. If possible, select a lead business sponsor for the project who likes the limelight, and show them that this is a prestigious project to be associated with. And when you pitch the idea you could mock up how a lead executive or partner will have clever pieces written in their name and opportunities to participate in interviews, podcasts or events.

  1. Run a stakeholder workshop on your strategy

How do you secure agreement on the strategy and plan for your project? Even when the business is very keen to produce thought leadership, there is often disagreement about which topics to focus on and how campaign or content should be targeted. We find that it helps to invite the most important stakeholders to a workshop where their views can be heard – but crucially, ideas can be tested and refined in the context of your objectives.

A workshop is more than a meeting. It is an opportunity to recap the objectives and then work through a structured set of questions that will inform the strategy. These sessions require planning, with stakeholders briefed in advance about what is expected of them.

The workshop should be led by a strong facilitator, and ideally you will have a lead business sponsor who has the clout to arbitrate between the different agendas in the room.

  1. Invest in a content quality framework

By the time you get to this stage, you will have a compelling vision and plan that align well with the business strategy and with stakeholders’ personal aspirations. Now, you need to reassure everyone that the content will stand out in a crowded marketplace.

This is where it makes sense to invest in a robust quality framework for your thought leadership. Go back to the competitors’ thought leadership content that your colleagues admired, and draw out the characteristics of good content that you can use as a filter when you select topics and judge the quality of your execution.

Once again, documenting the criteria you use to judge quality will help build confidence and consensus among your business stakeholders. Of course, you also need to ensure you have the skills in the project delivery team (including editorial, research, design and data visualisation, campaign management and activation skills) that allow you to meet those criteria.

 

So getting a range of business stakeholders aligned with your plan is easier said than done. To succeed, you need this kind of structured approach – one that combines consultation with strong leadership. Create consensus around and passion for your marketing vision, and you will be surprised by just how many colleagues are willing to invest their time and effort. And that is because it is no longer just your campaign – you have turned it into their campaign.

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About the author: Gareth Lofthouse

Gareth manages Longitude’s growing commercial team as they continue to advise some of the biggest B2B companies in the world on their thought leadership strategy. He works with clients to design thought leadership that delivers maximum commercial impact, both in terms of building client relationships and improving brand visibility.

Before joining Longitude, he spent nine years as editorial director for EMEA at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Gareth was instrumental in building the EIU’s thought leadership and survey business, and he has overseen hundreds of custom projects for the Economist’s clients across a range of industries and subject areas. Before that, Gareth led an editorial and creative team for a PR and marketing agency. He has also held several senior editorial positions in business and technology publishing.

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