Your Thought-Leadership Effort Rocked. So What?

How To Measure the Hard-To-Measure

A client of mine just completed a major, global thought-leadership effort that we had worked together on for about five months. In the data center space, the outcome was better than we all could have hoped; it achieved our stated objectives of U.S. media interest, drove significant social media engagement and has taken on a life of its own around the world, inspiring several extensions. Anecdotally, it’s generated significant interest and conversation.

That coverage and those interactions are ultimately not about things a customer can buy. These forms of measurement aren’t the whole picture and require another layer of inquiry to determine value—more inquiry, or staunch faith in the concept of thought-leadership. Here’s a look at the spectrum of measuring the results of thought-leadership initiatives:

Quantitative Measurement: The Holy Grail. Luckily, in this instance, there exists a benchmark of where brand perception was prior to outreach on a key attribute addressed by the content. After the year’s efforts conclude, we’ll have the opportunity to repeat the qualitative research to see if this initiative – in conjunction with the others focused on driving the same core message – has moved the needle.

In this, we have a succinct and specific thought-leadership measurement opportunity that, in my experience, is rarely available. Research is not cheap and it’s not quick, so doing it twice – a benchmark and a follow up to determine movement – is a rare luxury in my sphere.

And this opportunity exists assuming a company has moved past practicing “random acts of thought leadership,” as described by Jeff Ernst of Forrester. I’m not sure that Jeff would agree, but I feel like even random acts of thought leadership – taking stabs here and there at anything educational and non-promotional with no thread of a content theme – are better than none. Still, organizing all thought-leadership efforts to drive home one core point or attribute is definitely the next step in thought-leadership sophistication. (So glad this program operates within a larger thought-leadership platform.)

Progress Toward Set Objectives: It’s tempting to say that you’ll know success when you see it, but putting a stake in the ground based on discreet, black-and-white outcomes will undoubtedly give the initiative a little more urgency. It may be arbitrary to set the goal of garnering coverage in 60 percent of your priority publications from the first “wave” of outreach, but it will feel less arbitrary the next time around when you have an initiative to use as a comparison. Granted, this approach requires a little faith – faith that reaching your audience with your message translates into moving the needle of brand awareness and perception.

The Extras and Anecdotes: For the data center thought-leadership effort I mentioned earlier, it didn’t make sense for us to set an objective around content shared through social media, but we were encouraged to see our fans, connections, followers and interactions grow considerably as we shared the initiative. It wasn’t a quantified objective, but the outcome reinforces the fact that the material connected with our target audiences’ interests. It’s important to look at all interactions with a thought leadership initiative when evaluating – views to linked assets, like videos; downloads; average time spent on a related microsite; etc.

Similarly, when you learn that a major brand your company admires uses your content to drive a point home regularly with its internal audience, you know you’ve done something right. Or when a motorcyclist – decked out in very serious looking tattoos and attire – wears the patch your campaign used to communicate a cause with motorcyclists – you’ve clearly succeeded in reaching your audience with your message. No amount of counting or quantitative research can unearth those real-world proof points.

Ultimately, it’s often a combination of these elements that determine the success of a thought-leadership effort.

What Not to Measure:  Since thought leadership plays a role very early in the purchasing process, trying to tie it to immediate qualified leads would be counterproductive. It would be like taste-testing your turkey before you put it in the oven. The raw turkey – or the interest you’ve attracted – is not yet ready for “consumption.” The uncooked poultry would not be reflective of the delicious bird you’d serve after several hours of baking. Similarly, any prospects you attract or foster with a thought-leadership effort likely require significant nurturing before those prospects become qualified leads. They aren’t yet ready to enter the purchase process. They need time to “bake,” or to be nurtured. More and more clients have automated tools that facilitate the process of identifying when a lead is ready for the next stage in the process. This could take years depending on your products’ purchasing cycle.

For the most effective engagement, it’s best not even to require registration to gain access to thought-leadership content. This is the time for reaching as broad an audience as possible. Any gates you place in the way of that objective threaten to cut into your success.

What form of measurement do you use to assess the value of thought leadership? Have you heard of any method that challenges the status quo?

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