As in past years, this report is based on research that we conduct on Prudential’s behalf and includes the views of 1000 employee benefits decision-makers, over 1000 plan participants and over 600 employee benefits brokers and consultants.
“I don’t like to hear cut-and-dried sermons. No, when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Questions? Click here to send us an email with your request.
This month, in a departure from our long-standing tradition of having our newsletters penned by either Mark or Julie, we have invited one of CSR’s most senior research managers, Marissa Glowac, to share some of her observations regarding how our clients make the most of their thought leadership efforts.
Marissa has led many of our thought leadership support initiatives. Today, she focuses on the design of a successful thought leadership study. Take it away, Marissa!
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
Leading Through Thought Leadership
Our last newsletter, The One Thing an Oscar Winner Will Never Know, talked about the single element that all Academy Award nominees share in common – none of them, whether winner or loser, ever learns the “why” behind the final result.
Not to say the results are entirely unpredictable, however. For example, as expected, Daniel Day-Lewis walked away with the Best Actor award for his role as Abraham Lincoln. And while the film won neither Best Picture nor Best Director honors (sorry Mr. Spielberg, your 15-year dry spell lives on), the film captured our collective imagination.
In particular, Lincoln helped us appreciate one of the things that great leaders do: they use information to influence other people’s point of view. The movie included many examples of how Lincoln successfully influenced the thinking and point of view of others, even when such points of view were anathema to his colleagues’ personal opinions and/or to their constituents.
Today’s newsletter takes a page from our 16th president as it explains how thought leadership – using information to persuade others – can best be used by your organization.
What is Thought Leadership?
Typically, when marketers think of market research, they think of asking specific audiences (e.g., customers, prospects, employees) about their views and experiences, the results of which are used only for the company’s internal purposes. Customer satisfaction/experience, branding, ad testing and “wins and losses” studies are examples of those most often shared primarily with internal parties.
Thought leadership studies, on the other hand, are fielded with the deliberate intent of sharing the results with the outside world.
For example, a high-tech consulting firm may conduct and publish research related to how C-suite leaders view the impact of an uncertain economy on innovation. The research isn’t about that company specifically, it’s about a larger issue of interest to those connected to that company and its industry. This may include current and potential clients, publishers active in the technology field, technology “market makers,” investors, and others – all groups whose actions and opinions might be influenced by the published results of this study.
Why undertake Thought Leadership?
To distinguish a company from its competitors in the minds of a particular audience. Particularly when a product or service is somewhat commoditized, an intriguing thought leadership study can help an organization stand apart from the crowd.
For example, one of our clients, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, publishes an annual study about trends in the employee benefits industry (see Twist and Shout sidebar). This company distributes its products through brokers, who sell many types and brands of insurance in addition to those of our client’s.
By publishing a study whose findings help these folks do their jobs more effectively, our client stands out to members of this critical distribution channel as a source of expert information. And, because that information is published periodically throughout the year, our client remains top-of-mind throughout the entire publication (and sales) cycle.
To present a point of view to the marketplace. The most effective thought leadership work isn’t just useful and relevant – it supports a point of view that is consistent with the objectives of the company conducting the study.
Another of our clients specializes in a particular type of retirement-oriented investment. By conducting and publishing the results of an annual study of those active in the retirement planning community, this company leverages these results to show how its investment offering represents a unique solution to the challenges that study participants face.
What makes a Thought Leadership initiative successful?
Because thought leadership research is conducted with the intention of being shared publically and broadly, it’s important to consider from the outset how to make the end product as compelling and useful as possible.
Begin with the end in mind. Craft questions and discussions whose findings tie back to your products, services and offerings, as well as any “point of view” or position you want to be able to express in your final communications about the study. Not only will planning ahead save you time and money, it increases the likelihood that your findings will be of value when you’re done.
One of our clients, for example, begins the process by identifying “theme areas” of interest. From there, the team develops related questions, with the expectation that the answers will support a story that relates directly to specific products and services our client offers.
Involve the right stakeholders. This is critical in any research study, of course, but it’s even more important in thought leadership studies.
First, because the topics are typically broader and therefore more likely to be of interest to a wide range of possible users and readers, one decision maker (or even a small team) can’t possibly consider every nuance, “angle,” or “spin” in a way that is both interesting and relevant to this wide variety of interested parties.
Often, such “story-telling” and interpretation requires a reach to specialized expertise within the organization. New product designers, Legal, investor / shareholder relations, and public policy influencers are a few that come to mind.
Second, and because these results will be published, you want to get the buy-in and support of those within your organization who might benefit the most from your findings. For example, if your results might suggest a different distribution method, product enhancement, or marketing strategy for a key product or service within your company, you’ll want to make sure the “right” colleagues are aware of the research up front, so they can ensure the results are actionable.
Plan as if this will be more than a one-time event. Not all thought leadership studies need to turn into ongoing campaigns. That said, by planning as if they might, you give yourself flexibility in the future.
For example, think about how your survey instrument is structured and consider whether moving questions or sections around will disrupt the logic flow, a survey-taker’s thinking patterns, or your ability to compare responses from year to year. Your ability to change questions (and often, their position in the survey) can be limited if tracking changes over time is an important goal of the study.
Here’s the Twist: Thought leadership is a different approach to research and one which, if managed well, can provide tremendous benefits to the companies involved.
Think about the big questions in your industry on which you would like to be able to influence key audiences, the way Abraham Lincoln did so many times in his short but incredible life!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
Here are three specific suggestions we recommend to clients as they are setting up a research study that will be used for thought leadership purposes:
Establish a calendar that involves all study elements. The thought leadership study itself is just one element in your campaign to bring your findings to the outside world; there will be many other moving parts involved, including press releases, sales documents, speaking engagements, etc.
In order to manage this information, take time to create and continually update a comprehensive calendar. Be sure to monitor progress against key dates, such as specific publications or conferences you are targeting for articles or presentations, no matter how far away they appear at the onset of the project.
Communicate delays or changes to stakeholders along the way. As described above, you need the buy-in and support of many people if you’re going to create a successful thought leadership campaign. Make sure these folks are appraised of changes along the way; a missed milestone at any point could have a cascading effect on future activities.
Test as you go. We’ve long been advocates of the “slow launch,” i.e., making sure a research study is eliciting the kind of information that’s expected, before moving to full fielding. So, and despite pressures to get a study moving, always test the instrument thoroughly. Give yourself time to ensure that skip and logic patterns, screening-in and screening-out questions, and any visuals or pop-ups, are working as expected.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
Secondary Sidebar Widget Area
This is the Secondary Sidebar Widget Area. You can add content to this area by visiting your Widgets Panel and adding new widgets to this area.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. 101 Federal Street · Suite 1900 Boston, MA 02110