By Clare McDermott published August 4, 2013

Is Your Thought Leadership Strategy Using Research Wisely?

George Stenitzer

George Stenitzer, CMO of Tellabs

According to CMI, 57 percent of marketers feel publishing original research is an effective content tactic. But let’s be frank, much of what passes for “research” is just a small cut above a Survey Monkey experiment led by your summer intern (no offense to hard-working summer interns).

Tellabs happens to do original research well. Really well. And George Stenitzer, CMO of Tellabs, did not disappoint when we asked him to talk about Tellabs’ success using original, robust original research as part of its thought leadership strategy.

This is the difference between what is normally thought of as thought leadership versus what is thought provoking. A lot of thought leadership is like your term paper in school. You’re proving you know your stuff, but you’re not offering a new viewpoint or challenging the status quo in any way. We shoot for thought provoking content that challenges customers’ notion of the status quo and shows change is needed.

Every marketer who works in professional services — those industries that have been doing thought leadership for 20+ years — should read the above paragraph twice. Thought leadership strategy is not about proving your intelligence to customers, but rather it’s about moving beyond “showing off” and actually providing something of value.

Explains Stenitzer, “We think it’s important to bring customers thought-provoking content… content that helps identify trends coming 2-3 years in the future, and enables them to address needs now, rather than later, when course-corrections are more expensive.

Using analysts to stay ahead of the trends

And yet anyone who has produced content for a C-level audience in a niche field knows this type of stuff is not easy. To teach something new and valuable to an executive audience takes deep intelligence, access to data, and a bevy of talented writers and the keen eye of an analyst. Says Stenitzer, “The best people we’ve found to help us look into the crystal ball are industry analysts. We work with a variety of analysts to identify and quantify trends in a way that’s meaningful to our customers.

Stenitzer credits Tellabs’ success to the work of CC Group, an agency based in London. CC Group specializes in mobile and telecom, knows what the key issues are, and can identify which analysts to partner with to create the most powerful content. Stenitzer also says the marketing group works closely with sales to understand their customers and their particular pain points.

Unique positioning of thought leadership content

Tellabs’ most successful research report in recent years is, The End of Profitability. Relying on original research and analyst interviews, Tellabs’ report discusses the biggest threats to telecom profitability and how telecom companies can bend the curve to forestall the end of profitability.

Explains Stenitzer, “At the time, we fielded calls from huge companies we had not worked with before — such as [the chief technology office at] Telefonica S.A. — to discuss the findings. (Telefonica S.A. later became a customer.) The report was subsequently published in article format with Tellabs’ media partner, Total Telecom, and by year-end became one of their top 10 stories” (according to Nielsen NetRatings).

Because Tellabs publishes content that is regarded to have such high value, it can do something most marketers might only dream of: use content to have a one-on-one, in person conversation. (No, we’re not talking a 3-second tweet with a customer, but rather a face-to-face meeting. In the real world.)

After completing an original research report, Tellabs provides the findings to its sales force exclusively in the form of a slide deck, an executive summary, and a full report. This gives the sales team time to share it with their customers and prospects before the research gets released more widely.

Next, Tellabs releases summary forms of its report to the public (specifically a news release, executive summary, infographic, and video). To get the full report, however, readers must make an appointment with a member of the sales team. This one-to-one engagement opportunity is the most prized aspect of Tellabs’ content marketing program.

Explains Stenitzer, “The big opportunity with content marketing is to provide your customers with information that’s so valuable it compels the conversation. We are looking to have an in-depth conversation. We share part of our content publicly, but the majority is shared in private. We are focused on getting the right conversation going — one that points to a solution. My job is to turn conversation into revenue.

Stenitzer says he arrived at this way of working after reading “The Challenger Sale,” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. “Dixon changed our thinking,” says Stenitzer. “He writes that the most successful salespeople are those who challenge the status quo. We realized we had content that could do that.”

Interested in more insight from influential thought leaders in the content marketing industry? Sign up for your free subscription to our quarterly magazine, Chief Content Officer.

Author: Clare McDermott

Clare McDermott is the editor of Chief Content Officer magazine and owner of SoloPortfolio, a Boston-based content marketing provider for professional service firms. You can follow her @clare_mcd.

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  • Nolin LeChasseur

    If there is no new idea or perspective, I’m not sure it would be accurate to call it thought leadership, would it? Kudos for executing research that creates new insights, though. Should be the norm for “thought leadership” research and content.

  • Craig Badings

    Clare yes, yes and yes! Finally someone who gets the interface of research and thought leadership. Great to hear George tell us how they go about it with some excellent examples.

    Every marketing and PR manager is jumping on the content boom bandwagon but the result is a cesspool of crap content. Unfortunately many of them who do decide to do a bit of research do, as you say not much more than a Survey Monkey survey, or what I call ‘pop’ research – four or five questions that barely scratch the surface of a topic which is then bundled up and self labelled thought leading content. Um no it’s not!

    Critically thought leading content is all about the clients issues and challenges. Why can’t brands get it into their heads they don’t want to hear about their products or services?

  • Jennifer Goforth Gregory

    I totally agree. I have been asked to write thought leadership that is actually thought provoking. Very good point about it needing original research.

  • Bryce Kramm

    Thank you for sharing! This was very helpful to provide our marketing team with a concise example of how to effectively leverage the research our organization recently conducted with an advisory board on leadership development.