“If your clients repeat what you just shared with them and they use your data to support their own debates internally, you can’t beat that.”
Áine Bryn is a Partner and UK Marketing Leader at Mercer, the human resources consulting giant. Before joining Mercer, she spent 14 years as Global Financial Services Marketing Leader at PwC.
To coincide with the release of the Thought Leadership Network’s Proving our value report earlier this year, Áine reveals how organisations need to link their thought leadership directly to business imperatives – and why pure data isn’t always the best way to go about it.
How would you describe your approach to thought leadership, and what do you want it to achieve?
If you separate thought leadership from the business, you’re setting yourself up to fail. The business has to own it. That means having a clear understanding of what success looks like, and if you keep thought leadership as a separate project, it won’t work.
Part of my role at Mercer is UK marketing and growth, and the growth element is my segue into working with our sales leadership across our lines of business. We’re a commercial organisation, so our thought leadership and all elements of content marketing relate to what we want to achieve – adding value for our clients. That’s woven into the fabric of how we go to market.
It’s about being client focused, articulating “What does success look like?” and understanding the business imperatives. There’s no point creating something that’s so leftfield it’s not going to have any commercial impact. You won’t get the engagement. But if you focus on the issues that are important to your clients, understand the business strategy and where the organisation needs to get to, you can be creative – as long as you’ve got the buy-in from the business leaders.
How important is that backing from the leadership?
I think if it’s seen not as a marketing initiative but as a business initiative, and the business owns it right up to the C-suite, that sets the tone from the top.
We’ve all been in situations where people say, “Oh that’s just marketing. I don’t need to worry about it. I’m not sending it out to my client.” But I think if the tone is set from the very top and from the very beginning, you’re in a better position to weave thought leadership into how you go to market, and then the business will support the initiative and you’ll get more success that way.
Are there other ways to get everyone on board with your thought leadership content?
You need to be very clear about communicating to everyone how it makes them relevant to their clients, and then how it can make their client look good in front of their boss.
You also need clear objectives and milestones. I’ve seen a lot of projects where people lose the will to live because it’s just so staccato, and people think, “It’s not going to work – I’ll move on to something else.” And you lose their engagement.
So you need to keep up the pace, and if people see it as a part of the organisation’s DNA, they’re going to run with it, and they’ll start seeing success and think, “While this content may not generate sales immediately, that’s okay, because I’m building my pipeline and it’s helping me add value and stay relevant to my clients.”
People are busy. How do you make sure you involve them when it matters?
It’s about being very specific about everyone’s role – what’s in scope and what’s not. And it’s up to Marketing to keep it on track. When I hire people, I look for good project management skills, because otherwise you get slippage, and people say, “I don’t have time to write the article.” So then we’ll say we’ll write it for you – we just need your insights. This keeps momentum!
And you need to quickly identify who might be a blocker or have a veto, and get them inside the tent by ensuring they understand the value so they become advocates for the initiative. That way, the people who might have been the ones to stop something can be the ones to drive it.
What about measuring success? How do you link the metrics from thought leadership to the business objectives?
It’s about understanding the business strategy and the client’s needs, as well as what the business needs to achieve and knowing what will make the business successful. Applying that frame to the metrics will help to ensure everyone is pulling in the right direction.
But the big thing for me is the engagement to the business with our content. Are we using it in our proposals? Are we using the coverage we get from a piece of thought leadership to answer the question ‘Why work with Mercer?’
And how are we using the content? Blanket emailing of your CRM list is just not strategic; it has to be about targeting. So that goes back to the beginning: who are we writing for when we create a piece of content? Ask that question and you get the usual answer: the C-suite. But which member of the C suite? Because the CEO has a very different agenda from the CFO. Content must be relevant to the person you’re sharing it with – help them see the value to them, and that enhances engagement.
Sometimes, we need to re-educate the business about what marketing is and what it’s not. I always use the analogy of a relay race: marketing passes the baton to the business and the business passes the baton back – because what’s really key is getting client feedback. If we don’t get that feedback loop, we can’t be sure it lands well. That’s why it’s a relay – back and forth to ensure we are meeting the needs of our clients.
So is qualitative and anecdotal feedback more powerful than quantitative?
I think so, but you’ve got to have a bit of both. Numbers give you one dimension but by adding qualitative insights you get depth. It’s all in the interpretation and what you do with the data.
However, no matter how good your content is, if the business doesn’t leverage it with their clients it won’t have the impact required. The business has to share the content with clients and be proud of that intellectual capital. And nothing beats sitting in front of your client and having that conversation. If your clients repeat what you just shared with them and they use your data to support their own debates internally, you can’t beat that.