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The Right Thought Leadership for the Perfect Content Strategy

Ask the Experts

This is a guest post from Fred Isbell, Senior Marketing Director, SAP Digital Business Services and SAP HEC Marketing at SAP.

Thought leadership is a bold phrase. It conjures up ideas of a person or company whose ideas and understanding are so advanced that they truly stand out. And when it’s done correctly, that’s the impression it leaves on the audience. But behind the scenes, it’s really a collective team effort, requiring a wide range of skills to create your content strategy and drive increased awareness as well as marketing pipeline. As SiriusDecisions teaches us, you need:

  • Thinkers: People like senior executives, R&D engineers, product managers, and others who have big ideas to share
  • Orchestrators: Solution marketers, content strategists, corporate communications, and others who are skilled at connecting the different parts of the team together into a well- run, integrated program
  • External collaborators: Authors, industry leaders, and analysts who can help you relate to your industry or wider community with a relevant point of view
  • Program leadership: The corporate communication & strategy and solution marketing people who can supervise your thought leadership efforts as part of a strategy for your entire organization

When all those people come together in just the right way, it’s a miracle to behold. We call this the “perfect storm,” and happened with a thought leadership program for SAP run with ON24, our strategic webinar partner globally.

The thought leadership challenge: Digital transformation

In 2016, we did a webinar series on Digital Transformation featuring a webinar called, “Thought Leadership: IT Leadership for the Next Phase of Digital Transformation.” It was a very timely and relevant topic. Digital transformation has become part of virtually everything businesses do, and IT and business leaders need to grow beyond their traditional roles. They need to become strategic leaders to businesses, working with stakeholders from the ground floor to the C-suite to ensure their solution addresses the evolving needs of the entire business.

Our approach to building and promoting the thought leadership webinar series was based upon a solid tactical execution, featuring valuable content and speakers and heavy on social media promotion. I wrote a pre-event blog tied to the ON24 registration page, and we sent out targeted customer invites and used extensive social media promotions across multiple channels to increase our reach. That’s a great example of a 360º marketing approach leveraging multiple channels of communication and outreach to customers. We focused upon building a forum for an executive-level, conversational format with an interview format — and not a traditional PowerPoint-heavy format (“death by PowerPoint”).

We used consistent SAP branding throughout our program featuring quick and strong follow-up. That included a follow-up blog discussing the key things we learned from the webinar. It was a thorough summary and drew attention to our thought leaders own points of view, and also drove readers to the on-demand webinar replay.

What made the difference was our webinar panel — representing an internal, external, and customer-focused points of view:

  • Pete Russo: The Vice-President of SAP S/4HANA Marketing. He’s a former PAC analyst, who once ran the SAP Services Marketing field engagement and SAP RDS teams. Not only is he my good friend and one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with, but he’s also someone who brings insider expertise — key to thought leadership — and the ability to articulate the intrinsic value of the solution.
  • Geoff Scott: The CEO of America’s SAP user group, representing thousands of small, midsized and large SAP customer companies. He created a bridge between the company’s perspective and the needs and interests of the users and shared some recent ASUG customer research on the topic.
  • Pete Swaby: This Economist Intelligence Unit leader brought the perfect outside perspective as a Senior Editor, and EMEA and Global lead. His team did great work on one of our IT audience marketing campaigns to combine thought leadership and analyst insight into a series of campaign offerings, providing a great offer for this webinar.
  • Fred Isbell: That’s me — Senior Director & Head of Thought Leadership at SAP Digital Business Services Marketing. I brought in the leadership skills to coordinate all these brilliant thinkers, and the project management and event hosting skills to bring the whole project together and server as moderator.

With good thought leaders, our content strategy connected

This truly represented the “perfect storm” of speakers, subject matter experts, and marketing and promotion all coming together nicely. We supported our webinar series with a powerful content strategy leveraging the SAP Digitalist thought leadership platform to connect with our community. That meant publishing on this platform along with blogs from internal and external thought leaders that provides a rich set of executive quarterly tablet magazine, and white papers, infographics, and other research — all shared and promoted through social media marketing.

The results of the Digitalist speak for themselves:

  • Over 3.7 million page views YTD
  • 1.3 million unique visitors YTD and an audience drawing largely from C-level and senior executives
  • A conversion rate of up to 45%

It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of promotion and a true team effort to get so many eyes on our webinar series, and clever marketing to keep bringing in new viewers. But it wasn’t overtly hard either. With the right thought leadership team, the “perfect storm” of a solid approach based upon best practices, and a solid team of subject matter experts, anyone can drive increased awareness as well marketing pipeline via thought leadership.